by Charles McKelvy
If you take those so-called Corporal Works of Mercy seriously, then you know a key one calls for us to bury the dead.
And one way we can fulfill our duties on that front is to learn to play Taps on a wind instrument, preferably a trumpet or bugle.
In my case, a clarinet will simply have to do.
Case in point:
You must be prepared to play Taps on a real wind instrument on a moment’s notice, because there will surely come the funeral at which the mourners gathered at the grave will painfully notice the complete lack of Taps.
Oh yes, oh yes.
Painful but true, because I have truly attended two funerals for decorated World War II veterans—one an Army survivor of the Battle of the Bulge and the other a Navy Seabee who served in the Pacific—and I watched in horror each time as an American Legion honor guard failed to play Taps at the emotional climax of the graveside services, just as the 21-gun salute was fading into the hills and forests and just as the tear ducts were opening for a cathartic outpouring of Taps on the bugle.
In the first instance, at the graveside service for the modest man who had faced the Third Reich’s onslaught at the Bulge, there was a long, long pause, followed by a muttered: “Shit! These batteries are dead.”
Then, at the funeral for the Navy Seabee, for the man who never talked about his valiant service in the Pacific, there came after the gun salute a too-pregnant pause and a terse announcement from the unit commander that there “would be no Taps today.” That was followed by the bungling bugler’s churlish muttering “that this thing worked before you got here.”
In the first egregious episode, I was powerless to comfort the family of the Army veteran because I had not then resumed my studies of the clarinet.
But when the same thing happened some years later at the grave of the Navy Seabees, I was equipped with a clarinet and trained to play it and thus able to say to the ashen-faced children of the deceased Navy Seabee: “I will play Taps for you at the luncheon.”
And I did play Taps for them at the luncheon.
I played Taps for them at the luncheon, which was held—you guessed it—at the Legion Hall, because I just happened to have my clarinet in the trunk of my car.
I took a page from that old American Express ad and had not left home without it, and, yes, I nailed Taps at the Legion Hall because of the resolution I made at that first fumbled funeral:
Be prepared to play Taps next time the fake bugle blows up or has dead batteries or whatever.
And I was, and I was able to work a corporal work of mercy without breaking a sweat.
And I am certainly not breaking a sweat now as I finish with this friendly advice:
- Learn to play Taps on the trumpet and/or clarinet, and be prepared to play it on short notice.
- Never leave home without your horn.
- Have a blessed day.
- That’s all, folks; go in peace to love and serve the Lord.