- Associated Press - Sunday, May 24, 2020

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) - As a low and steady tune escapes through the branches of blooming trees, it drifts up into the sky, but before it disappears, an echo of the song begins to repeat the same solemn notes alerting those who can make out the melody to stop, just for a moment, and listen.

For about a year and a half, Tom Walsh has been carrying his bugle down to Veterans Memorial Plaza on Chaplain Schmitt Island in Dubuque to play taps every day at 5 p.m.

“It was just me and the snow, and some nights, it’s just me and the seagulls,” Walsh told the Telegraph Herald. “It was just something I started doing. I just felt it was a tribute to play for all of those military folks.”

But recently, with Veterans Plaza under reconstruction, Walsh, 72, has moved to American Legion Post 6 off of Delhi Street. Walsh said he will continue to play outside the building every night until the construction at the memorial center is complete.

After he first started playing, it didn’t take long before he gained a few followers who wanted to be a part of his nightly ritual honoring lost veterans or those who continue to serve today. Among the veterans who stood outside on the blistering cold winter evenings or humid summer nights was Gary Kircher.

A legion member and part of the honor guard, Kircher, 72, yearned to play alongside Walsh and hoped to track down his own bugle. Recently, Kircher’s wish came true when he found a bugle online and ordered it.

Now every night at exactly 5 p.m., Kircher begins to press on the keys of his bugle as the notes flow from his instrument. But right as his song ends, Walsh begins and echoes his melody.

Kircher said now, with so much of the state locked down due to COVID-19, it is more important than ever to play taps and let the veterans who cannot have funeral services know they are not forgotten.

“It’s for the veterans who aren’t here, including my father-in-law who was going up Omaha Beach (France) when he was only 20 years of age,” Kircher said. “We’re playing for all those ones who can’t be here, and all the ones who recently died.”

It wasn’t every night, but there were times, Kircher recalled, when those playing baseball next to the Veterans Plaza heard the song and paused their game to listen.

“One night, they stopped playing ball and took their hats off and held them over their hearts until it was all over,” Kircher said.

Nights like that fill him with pride as he lifts his bugle and once again begins to play.

From the side of the legion’s parking lot, tears fall down Julie Schilling’s cheeks as she listens to the somber song almost every night at the new location.

Schilling listens for her husband who also attends the nightly event, she listens for members of her family who served in the military and she listens for all the others who fought and died for their country.

“It never gets old,” Schilling said. “It is just beautiful. Sometimes the echo is different, and it just gives you goosebumps. People have to realize the sacrifices that people made so that this country could be free. People gave their lives, they suffered prisoner-of-war experiences, (and) we are losing our World War II veterans every day.”

This Memorial Day, Walsh said he and Kircher plan to put on their American Legion uniforms and play. Next year, he hopes to be back outside at Veterans Memorial Plaza again.

Regardless of the location, Walsh said he has no intentions of stopping.

“It gives you that lump in your throat,” he said. “I see how it affects other people, (and) I have gotten to the point where they count on it. For some reason, if I couldn’t be there, I feel like they would feel like they lost something. Especially now the way things are, it gives them a place to go.”

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