Most of us have attended a funeral, a wreath-laying ceremony, or a graveside service and heard the solemn music of “Taps.” This tune, created on the battlefield of the Civil War, has sounded officially over soldiers’ graves since 1891. When played at dusk, these 24 notes signal “lights out” at the end of day. But when played during daylight, “Taps” carries the sobering message—a soldier has fallen.
Many of us remember the single bugler who paid the nation’s final tribute to President John F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery in 1963. Seldom has the stirring melody had a larger audience than on that day. But that same tune has filled the air for small families clustered on a windy hillside around the grave of a young private and for aging veterans gathered to say good-bye to a wartime buddy. “Taps” is the dignified tribute played for fallen soldiers of every war and every rank, for the famous and the unknown. It humbly reassures the mourning families of these soldiers that the nation mourns with them.
“We cannot listen to Taps without our souls stirring,” Air Force Chaplain Edward Brogan has said. “Its plaintive notes are a prayer in music—of hope, of peace, of grief, of rest.” ¹This simple but noble melody expresses, in a way only music can, these deepest of human emotions as we honor our fallen heroes.