By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
VOLUSIA - Four notes arranged in the nation's most familiar bugle signal, "Taps" turned 150 this year, and a local bugler believes all veterans should get a live playing of the beloved call at their funerals. However, many don't.
"I started working for (the Florida Army National Guard Military Honors Program) about five years ago in the honor guard doing military funerals," Richard Puckett said. "I counted it up the other day - I've done around 400 (funerals)."
Mr. Puckett started playing "Taps" at funerals before joining the Army back in 1955. He's played trumpet since the fifth grade.
"One of the first times I played 'Taps,' I was in high school," he said. "I played 'Taps' for an individual, I don't remember his name, but it was in Roanoke, Va. I remember it well."
Mr. Puckett spent 31 years in the military. Much of it in the 29th Infantry Division, Virginia Army National Guard, band.
"I was the enlisted band leader," he said.
Mr. Puckett used to play "Taps" at veterans' funerals throughout the area, from Volusia north to Jacksonville, and westward to Ocala and Gainesville. He hasn't played a funeral for the National Guard's honors program for about a year. The program stopped paying buglers.
Daniel Blackman, military honors state coordinator, said budget cuts mean few veterans are getting live performances of "Taps." Most are getting digital performances done with music players that fit into bugles' bells. A user presses a button, and has a few seconds to raise the instrument to his or her lips to appear to be playing.
"The correct name is the ceremonial bugle, which is a recording made by a soldier," Mr. Blackman said. "I'd love to have a live bugler at every service."
But he can't. Mr. Blackman said he has to pay buglers $50 to perform "Taps" at funerals, or get unpaid volunteers. He said the price of travel often keeps the handful of buglers that do exist from volunteering, so members of the honor guard stand with ceremonial bugles and act like they're playing "Taps." He said the honor guard attends about 425 funerals a month.
Tom Day, founder of Bugles Across America, said use of the ceremonial bugles has become so commonplace throughout the country that it's becoming rare for veterans to get live performances of "Taps" at their funerals. The organization is trying to change that.
"The guy who invented (the ceremonial bugle) - I'm on his list, but not his Christmas card list," Mr. Day said.
The organization has about 8,000 volunteers throughout the nation who'll perform "Taps" at veterans' funerals.
Mr. Day said there's a popular story about a Union officer composing "Taps" for his son, a Confederate soldier who fell in battle. While it's a terrific story, he said, it's not true.
"Taps" was a variation on an extinguish-lights bugle call that'd been in use in the United States since about 1800. That, in turn, was a variant on a French bugle call.
In 1862, General Daniel Butterfield and brigade bugler Oliver Wilcox worked out a less formal sound for the end-of-day call. The men of the Third Brigade, First Division, Fifth Army Corps, Army of the Potomac were the first to hear "Taps."
Mr. Pucket said veterans' families can call him to play "Taps." His number is (386) 569-9943. He will, time and finances permitting, perform at veterans' funerals for free. Volunteer buglers can also be found by visiting www.buglesacrossamerica.org.