CINCINNATI -- The rifle shots ring over the cemetery followed quickly by the melancholy notes of a lone bugler.
He plays “Taps,” the traditional music played at the grave site of a military service veteran.
While federal law dictates that eligible veterans be provided the playing of “Taps,” the ranks of those able and willing to play the 24-note tribute is dwindling. Instead, many players who perform at funerals aren’t playing the song at all but are using a ceremonial bugle and acting as if they are playing while a recording of the solemn song plays.
The digital option has allowed for easier scheduling for funeral directors who are typically charged with arranging military honors, including the bugler, said Bart Pindela, funeral director with Linnemann Funeral Homes. If a live bugler isn’t available, the law allows a recorded version of “Taps” to be played and the ceremonial bugle, which has an electronic insert to play the song. That allows for the symbolic appearance of the bugler, unlike the use of CDs and other recorded methods.
Dan Lummers has attended hundreds of services as commander of the American Legion Post 4 Honor Guard, one of only two in Northern Kentucky. Use of the ceremonial bugle has allowed him to pay honor and respect to his fellow veterans though he doesn’t actually play the instrument.
“For the families -- the widows, the mothers, the sons, the daughters -- they think their loved ones just served and that no one cares about them, but someone does. I do,” Lummers said.
Many families may not even realize the music is recorded and others don’t mind, but for some, only a live bugler can pay the proper amount of respect during the services. When these occasions arise, Pindela can reach out to a fellow funeral director who plays or to the few local players who volunteer their services.
Kenton County Sheriff Chuck Korzenborn has played the bugle since grade school and regularly provides his services at veterans’ final services. He plays whenever his schedule will allow, for those he knew and strangers alike.
“The Lord blessed me and it is a way to give back. We owe so much to our veterans,” said Korzenborn, himself a veteran who achieved the rank of staff sergeant in the Army. He was inducted into the Kentucky Veterans Hall of Fame last year. “As long as I have teeth in my head and lips to purse I won’t refuse to play.”
Korzenborn speaks passionately about the importance of honoring those who served. Playing at their services allows him to show his respect and admiration.
While he prefers the sound of a live rendition of “Taps,” he recently purchased a ceremonial bugle to will allow another member of his department to perform on those occasions when he is unavailable.
Meanwhile, an Illinois man is doing his best to make sure that live buglers are available for all veterans’ services.
In 2000, when the federal law was passed, Tom Day founded Bugles Across America, an organization that brings together buglers from across the country. Now, Day has 5,000 players who have auditioned to have the right to volunteer to play at a veteran’s funeral.
“In recognition of the service these veterans have provided to their country, we felt that they each deserve a live rendition of “Taps” by a real bugler,” said Day, who plays regularly at funeral services. “You’re there almost independently. You put the horn by your face, put your breath through it, and put forth the best 24 notes you can possibly do. Then you lower your horn and then you are gone.”
Using a ceremonial bugle doesn’t pay the proper respect, Day said. He added that it allows for technical problems that live buglers don’t have, such as dead batteries and playing the wrong song with the push of a wrong button.
In addition to the playing of “Taps,” the law also states that veterans shall be provided, at a minimum, a two-person honors detail and the folding and presentation of a U.S. flag to the family. The Department of Veterans Affairs provides these honors at no cost to the veteran’s family.