Monday, May 30, 2016

Decoration Day

We used to call it decoration day, for it was a time of placing flowers and flags on the graves of America's war dead. Later it became know as Memorial Day to honor all those who died in service to their country.

And again this year we have new names and places to put the flowers and flags. The greatness of democracy is that we acknowledge the value of dissent, discussion and demonstration, but Memorial Day is not the time for that exercise. It is the time for honoring the choice of service of so many, so young that have crossed the eternal threshold to the light of another place.

In many places today along with small town parades and family barbecues and flags waving in the holiday breeze you will hear the somber, but clarion call of taps.

Daniel Butterfield an upstate New York businessman, with no musical training, who became a General during the civil war, wrote taps.

Following the Peninsular Campaign, the General's brigade was camped overlooking the James River in Tidewater, Virginia. His troops were tired and as they settled in for the night the bugler played "extinguish lights".

It's a stuffy, un-inspiring, call with no emotion.

Hearing the bugle that night, General Butterfield thought the final call of the day should bring comfort and peace to his men. Scribbling on the back of an envelope, the General wrote late into the night and the next morning he called for his bugler. He listened to his notes being played and made a few minor changes. He then ordered it to be played each night as the last call for his brigade.

Even though the term "taps" goes back to the 16th century, it soon became connected to General Butterfield's final call.

Taps was first sounded at a funeral in the civil war, when a Union captain was concerned the usual rifle volley might spark an attack from a nearby Confederate army encampment. He ordered "taps" played instead.

There is no greater honor than remembering in public appreciation the final act of service of others. Taps has become the prayer of sound for warriors past and present.

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