- The Washington Times - Monday, February 21, 2005

BATH, N.Y. (AP) — Once the pastor intoned, “May he rest in peace,” a Marine Corps honor guard lifted the flag off Thomas Wagner’s casket and held it aloft. Right on cue, from an adjacent hilltop at Bath National Cemetery, there rose a stirring bugle call.

Played by an American Legion post chaplain, the Civil War dirge known as taps endures as a final salute to fallen veterans ” most of whom, like Mr. Wagner, were warriors long ago.

“For the families of those who served, it adds a beautiful, somber tone, a feeling of finality,” said Fran Look, a World War II paratrooper who performs at a dozen funerals each year and played at Mr. Wagner’s ceremony.

With an average of 1,800 U.S. veterans of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars dying every day, live renditions of taps at military funerals have become a relative rarity.

The 24-note melody usually is delivered digitally — via a compact-disc player placed near the grave or, increasingly since 2003, a Pentagon-approved, push-button “ceremonial bugle” that anyone can mimic playing by raising it to his lips.

The armed forces have about 500 musicians who perform taps, but many have been dispatched to the Middle East. A few thousand civilian volunteers in the Bugles Across America group also fill in wherever they can, but there aren’t nearly enough buglers to go around.

Now, to spotlight the scarcity and help address it, horn players are planning a dramatic musical performance, called the Echo Taps project.

Stretched across 41 miles between two national cemeteries in rural western New York, hundreds of musicians will play a cascading arrangement of taps on Armed Forces Day, May 21.

“Once the first bugler plays the first three notes, the second bugler will start and then, three notes later, the next,” said Les Hampton, a Corning Inc. engineer who served on a Navy destroyer in the Vietnam War.

“If we have a bugler every 10th of a mile, or 410 buglers, the rate of sound traveling through the valley would be 60 miles an hour and last 41 minutes,” he said.

The Echo Taps project’s goals are to enlist more volunteer buglers, honor military service and raise the profile of the United States’ 120 national cemeteries.

It’s open to all brass horns, from trombones to mellophones. A mile-long span in Coopers Plains will be devoted to tubas — in memory of a tuba-loving soldier from the village who died young.

The song will start up at Woodlawn National Cemetery in Elmira and bind a string of small towns from Painted Post and Campbell to Savona and Bath. Organizers hope to get a mention in the Guinness World Records book for the longest line of brass instruments playing the same tune.

“Each bugler has to be within audible distance,” Mr. Hampton said. “Where it’s hilly, where we have a lot of bends in the roads and when we go through Corning, where there’s a lot of traffic, we’re going to have buglers closer.”

Already, more than 500 musicians, some from as far away as California, have said they’ll play. The more the better, Mr. Hampton said.

“If we get 2,000, we will have them all in there.”

The seed for the project was planted two years ago when two buglers happened to show up for the same funeral and played a duet. Mr. Hampton and the honor guard commander, Gerry McDonald, came away impressed and wondered what a multi-instrument tribute would sound like.

Since 2000, families of all honorably discharged veterans have been entitled under a federal law to a two-person uniformed funeral honor guard, the folding and presentation of the flag and the playing of taps.

Staff Sgt. Allen Moon plays taps at as many as 500 funerals per year as part of an honor guard burial detail with the Stratton Air National Guard base in Scotia, 15 miles from Albany.

Although the whole service is moving, Staff Sgt. Moon said, “We’ll see a lot where the whole mood will change when someone starts playing taps. That’s when the memories of the veteran, and their service to the country, start to come back.”

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