A Thought For Memorial Day
“TAPS.” Only 24 notes long, just four different pitches, yet so full of meaning. Known all over the world for its use at funerals and memorials, it, like many universal traditions, had a modest beginning.
For centuries, bugle calls were used by armies in the field to send commands such as “Charge” or “Retreat.” By the 19th Century, each country had their own calls, often many different ones in each army. During battles, it was not uncommon for buglers to steal their opponents’ signals in order to add confusion.
In the summer of 1862, the darkest days of the Civil War were still ahead. During the Peninsular Campaign, Union General Daniel Butterfield listened as his bugler sounded the call for “Lights Out,” which had been adapted from a French tune. He asked his bugler, Andrew Norton, to come up with a new melody. The simple four-note tune was instantly popular, and allowed the soldiers to get past the day’s stress and get some rest.
The new call proved very popular, and was soon adopted by units on both sides of the conflict. After the war it came into use for military funerals. The rifle salute, the folded flag, and “Taps” all reminded the living of the ultimate sacrifice of their loved one for their country. In time, wars, assassinations, and other tragedies cemented “Taps” into our national consciousness. Several sets of words were written, and the most widely-used are by Horace Lorenzo Trim.
Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.
Fading light, dims the sight,
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright.
From afar, drawing nigh, falls the night.
Thanks and praise, for our days,
‘Neath the sun, ‘neath the stars, neath the sky;
As we go, this we know, God is nigh.
Sun has set, shadows come,
Time has fled, Scouts must go to their beds
Always true to the promise that they made.
While the light fades from sight,
And the stars gleaming rays softly send,
To thy hands we our souls, Lord, commend.
As we celebrate this day let us never forget the countless times “Taps” has rung out over battlefields all over the world. From Bunker Hill to Gettysburg, the Alamo to Havana Harbour, from Flanders to Omaha Beach, from Iwo Jima to Gudalcanal, from Inchon and Khe Sanh to Kuwait, Fallujah and Kandahar, let us honor our men and women who have fallen in defense of our great nation and remember the words of St. Matthew:
Well done my good and faithful servant.