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Saturday, May 2, 2009

The History (?) of Taps, Memories, and My Uncle Bob

I have no idea if this is a true story--but it is a lovely one. It came to me in my e-mail, as so many stories do these days. Because no credit was given, I am publishing it anonymously because I think it is so important and because I think the author would intended for it to be passed around. I'm including a story of my own. The first one is mine. The second is the story (history?) of Taps.

Bob was my beloved first uncle. He served in WWII as a bomber pilot and died what seems to be yesterday at, I believe 81. Just before the funeral someone from his community (Ashland, OR) called to ask if Bob was a veteran. The answer, of course, "Yes."

"Then may I come by to play taps?"

That answer, of course, "Yes."

The bugler, acting on his own, stood an appropriate distance behind the graveside service so the sound was faint but so clear in the high Ashland altitude.

The universe takes good care of us all when we are sending out the right energy, just as it did this Union soldier. It is all about acceptance, after all.


> If any of you have ever been to a military funeral
> in which taps were played; this brings out a new meaning of
> it.
> Here is something Every American should know. Until I
> read this, I didn't know, but I checked it out and
> it's true:
> We in the United States have all heard the haunting
> song, 'Taps.' It's the song that gives us that
> lump in our throats and usually tears in our eyes.
> But, do you know the story behind the song? If not,
> I think you will be interested to find out about its humble
> beginnings.
> Reportedly, it all began in 1862 during the Civil
> War, when Union Army Captain Robert Ellicombe was with his
> men near Harrison 's Landing in Virginia . The
> Confederate Army was on the other side of the narrow strip
> of land.
> During the night, Captain Ellicombe heard the moans
> of a soldier who lay severely wounded on the field. Not
> knowing if it was a Union or Confederate soldier, the
> Captain decided to risk his life and bring the stricken man
> back for medical attention Crawling on his stomach through
> the gunfire, the Captain reached the stricken soldier and
> began pulling him toward his encampment.
> When the Captain finally reached his own lines, he
> discovered it was actually a Confederate soldier, but the
> soldier was dead.
> The Captain lit a lantern and suddenly caught his
> breath and went numb with shock. In the dim light, he saw
> the face of the soldier. It was his own son. The boy had
> been studying music in the South when the war broke out.
> Without telling his father, the boy enlisted in the
> Confederate Army.
> The following morning, heartbroken, the father asked
> permission of his superiors to give his son a full military
> burial, despite his enemy status. His request was only
> partially granted.
> The Captain had asked if he could have a group of
> Army band members play a funeral dirge for his son at the
> funeral.
> The request was turned down since the soldier was a
> Confederate.
> But, out of respect for the father, they did say they
> could give him only one musician.
> The Captain chose a bugler. He asked the bugler to
> play a series of musical notes he had found on a piece of
> paper in the pocket of the dead youth's uniform.
> This wish was granted.
> The haunting melody, we now know as 'Taps'
> used at military funerals was born.
> The words are:
> Day is done.
> Gone the sun.
> From the lakes
> 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
> I too have felt the chills while listening to
> 'Taps' but I have never seen all the words to the
> song until now. I didn't even know there was more than
> one verse . I also never knew the story behind the song and
> I didn't know if you had either so I thought I'd
> pass it along.
> I now have an even deeper respect for the song than I
> did before.

(I will happily credit if anyone claims it.)

Those of you who are regular visitors to this blog will notice that you can now follow and your little avatar will appear front and foremost on the blog. I welcome you.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson wrote the foreword for Eric Dinyer's book of patriotic quotations, Support Our Troops, published by Andrews McMeel. Part of the proceeds for the book benefit Fisher House. Her chapbook of poetry won the Military Writers Society of America's award of excellence. Find it at


Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

I am adding this at the request of Vet Mullins:

I forgot and when I wanted to post a comment was reminded that I forgot my google password, among many, when I lost my hard drive a few weeks ago. This is what I wanted to write.

Thank you Carolyn. I have heard different versions of the origins of Taps but for me this is the most touching. You are right about the impact of Taps. Everytime I hear it echo across a cemetery I feel that all the souls there feel it too, not just the person or persons for whom it is intended. It is as though they are being told that another special person is joining them in the hereafter, but that the new spirit is one who served a greater purpose and should be met with love as he or she enters. I am a romantic, if politically cynical man, but I feel the tingles and tears of this music. I have played it myself and hoped I could do it justice. In a few days we will celebrate Memorial Day. It is the music of the day then, and reaches more people's hearts...I hope.

Donna M. McDine said...

Carolyn...thanks for sharing this information on Taps. One I'm printing out to share with my children. Thank you.

Best wishes,
Donna McDine

Anonymous said...

Nice story, but Taps originated in France, Napoleon's army. It was played in the evening as a way of summoning the troops back to camp from surrounding villages, brothels, taverns, etc.

Anonymous said...

Here is another version of the history of Taps, also known as Butterfield's Lullaby: