I was in junior high when I was asked to play “Taps” on Memorial Day for my hometown Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post and Ladies Auxiliary. My grandpa was a member, along with my pastor and other men I knew.
The day began with an early morning ceremony in Forrest Park at the Veterans’ Memorial. I stood under a towering oak tree away from the crowd, watching closely for the head nod, my cue to play. I was terribly nervous; wobbly leg and butterflies-in-the-stomach nervous. I had listened to a cassette tape recording of the 24-note bugle call and practiced it over and over, but I still said a silent prayer.
I hit the notes, and with one ceremony under my belt, I had a little more confidence as I joined the VFW and Ladies Auxiliary members for ceremonies at the Appleton City Cemetery and two country cemeteries south of town. At each place, a fallen soldier was honored and family members thanked for the sacrifice made by their loved one.
Grandpa didn’t talk about the war that day as we drove from cemetery to cemetery. We talked about the weather and the Royals. He commented on crops as we passed fields and speculated when the fescue seed would be ready to harvest. He made a quick stop at a gas station for an afternoon snack — RC Cola and a Nestle 100 Grand Bar.
For the next few years, I played “Taps” on Memorial Day and at funerals on occasion. It was my special bond with Grandpa, and playing my trumpet was one small way to show respect to him and his fellow VFW members. Some of those men have since passed away, including Grandpa.
When I hear “Taps” today, I don’t feel butterflies in my stomach but a lump in my throat. I think of cemeteries dotted with American flags, and the soldiers represented by those flags. I am humbled and forever grateful.
Thank you to the men and women who have defended our freedom — past and present.
Garrett Hawkins is the president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization.