- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Thomas Day calls taps “the hardest 24 notes,” and he has been playing them — and recruiting others to play them — at military funerals to honor American veterans.

Now 70, the self-styled “bugle man” from Chicago organized Bugles Across America in 2000, when Congress enacted a law allowing recordings of taps to be played at veterans’ funerals because of a shortage of buglers.

The recordings are just not the same, said Mr. Day, who started playing taps at funerals 60 years ago.

“I just love doing this stuff, and I know God put me here to do things like this and keep the memory of our veterans alive,” Mr. Day told The Washington Times. “We call it the hardest 24 notes there is, and it really is. When you finish and lower the horn, bringing your right arm up to a salute, it’s an unbelievable feeling. Later, the handshakes, hugs that you get, there is no amount of money that can buy that feeling.”

Playing taps live “gives the families closure and something to remember their heroes and the sacrifices they have made,” he said.

Mr. Day started with only a handful of buglers in 2000. Since then, his organization has grown to more than 7,000 volunteers from children to old-timers. About 2,000 of the volunteers are women.

Gerald Pallesen, 80, from Marcus, Iowa — who is known by the buglers in the organization as “Ol’ Gezzer” — said he will brave any type of weather to attend a service. He began playing the bugle in 1943 and said he has lived his life playing taps in honor of veterans.

“I’m a World War II veteran,” Mr. Pallesen said proudly. “My father was a veteran of World War I. I guess my reason for doing this is, it gives me an opportunity to participate in honoring our true heroes of this nation, to be a part of that. I consider it an extreme privilege to do this, and I don’t mind the time it takes or the weather. When I need to get to a service, I get there.”

Mr. Day said too many funerals still depend on recordings. That is a “sad situation,” he said, when more than 39 percent of the nation’s 23.4 million living veterans are 65 or older, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 5,300 American troops have been killed in action or died of other causes during their service.

More than 656,000 veterans — predominantly those from World War II, Korea and Vietnam — died in 2009, according to estimates from the Census Bureau.

The Defense Department employs about 500 buglers, Mr. Day said, so the services his organization provides are important to veterans’ families, Mr. Day said.

Because of his efforts, a new generation of buglers is learning that the “real thing is much better than a recording, especially for the families,” said Kelly Kilbride, 13, from Sac City, Iowa.

Kelly, who was born with an inherited form of rickets — an ailment that causes bones to weaken and fracture — has dedicated her free time to playing for families of deceased veterans since she was 11 and heard about Mr. Day’s group from a news program.

The girl, who has gone through two painful surgeries and wears braces on both her legs, travels to funerals with her mother, Sandy Kilbride.

“When people first see me, they think, ‘Oh, she’s so small — how can she play taps?’ and then when they hear me play, it’s a completely different reaction,” said Kelly, who began playing the bugle in the fourth grade. “I play vibrato. I lay on the notes a little bit, so it’s sweeter. The families are just so grateful that I volunteer my time. One family was so grateful that they sent me $10, and I gave it right back to the veterans.”

Despite the time and money her family invests to get Kelly to the funeral services, she said, she accepts no payment. She opened a special bank account for donations that are given back to veterans and their families, Mrs. Kilbride said.

“She really is a remarkable person,” Mr. Day said of Kelly. “She is the youngest female bugler in our group.”

“I hope more young buglers volunteer their time to the men and women who’ve given so much to us,” Kelly said. “Sometimes I can’t make a funeral service because it’s too far, and it would require me missing too much school. I try to make as many as I can, but I mostly do the funeral services in our area.”

Kelly, whose dream is to become a pediatrician, said she plans on playing taps throughout high school and college.

“Knowing what I’ve been through after surgery, the pain, you feel like you want to crawl under a rock,” she said. “Then I think the pain is only temporary. But the men and women who give their lives for our country because they volunteered, now that’s real sacrifice.”

Kelly’s brother-in-law, Nicholas Rohmiller, who serves with the Iowa Air National Guard, just returned from a three-month deployment to Iraq.

“I feel like what they’ve done for our country is so good that we should at least give back to them, because some have even died for us,” Kelly said. “We need as many volunteers as we can get. All people have to realize is that the satisfaction of giving back is the greatest gift of all.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide