July 20, 2008
By Angela Arthur, Lowville, NY

A large, imposing crowd stands before me, some stand with their heads bowed in reverence, others stand staring into the far off distance, looking as if they have nothing in particular on their minds yet their hearts are saluting the fallen heroes of America’s past with solemn, dutiful respect. I wait in painstaking angst in front of these people, my nerves wanting to break out in a nervous frenzy of panic, but calming thoughts and deep breaths forcefully hold them back. These people are remembering a friend, a brother, a father who fought in the name of freedom for the people by the people, and who may have died defending that name. Hearts are solemn this sunny May morning, though my heart may be beating a bit faster than those around me. I take one last deep breath as seven guns are fired three times, I wait for the order to present arms, and finally, when it is called, I raise my trumpet to my lips and play the bittersweet melody of Taps.

It is the lullaby for our heroes that I honorably play, for the sacrifices they made in keeping me free. Taps means so much to those who have ever lost a loved one to war; it gives them peace, along with their fallen hero who fell nobly for his just cause. I have played Taps several times now throughout my high school career at various funerals and memorial services. Each time I am reminded of the price it cost our country to be free, and each time I am reminded that the fallen soldier had a family of his own that was left behind to pick up the pieces and move on, yet never to forget what had happened and the respect their child deserves.

I never fully understood the severity of playing Taps until after I played it the first time at the funeral for a local hero. There were two Taps players that day, another individual and myself. The other was supposed to stand amongst the crowd and play Taps, then when they finished I was to play the tune from distance, creating the effect of an echo. When I got home from the funeral, it was then I realized how important the task of playing Taps was. I walked out into the kitchen as my father explained in tears to my mother what a wonderful job I had done. I was thirteen years old at the time, and prior to that time I had never seen him cry.

I understand the importance of playing Taps and it has impacted me greatly. I have greater respect for the families that have lost a loved one because of war. It hurts to lose anyone, especially in such violent ways such as war. I understand because I’ve seen the 40 year-old hurt my father has had to go through because of the death of his brother in the Vietnam War. I’ve felt the praise and respect my father has for me for my courage and “nerves of steel” to be able to accomplish such a task. But in my mind playing Taps is not a task, it is an honor, an honor because I am serving my country, an honor because I am paying my respects to the fallen, an honor because I know how much it means to the families.

Before I had played I thought Taps was just another common thing, and I merely tossed its importance aside, in fact I didn’t believe that playing Taps was at all important to me. But after seeing the reaction of my father and learning more about my fallen uncle, it means so much.
After playing I realized how important the song was, especially to my family who has had to deal with the loss of a loved one due to war. I have a male friend that tries to act as manly as possible, but he confessed to me he cries whenever he hears the song. Its powerful notes have captured me completely, and I am fully aware of how it influences others, not just myself.

Taps consists of 24 notes and eight measures. It is one of the shortest songs yet one of the most powerful. It is played at every military funeral across America and it has been for decades. It is a song of solemn reverence and a song of passing. It is a song that has impacted my life because of the things it’s made me recognize that I hadn’t recognized before. The song has shaped my viewpoint about war, that war is truly devastating and unforgiving, yet it is necessary to defend America, to defend me.

The author's comments:
I wrote this as a college essay for a graduation requirement at my school. Since the essay topic was describing an experience and how it changed me, I chose the times I played Taps for funerals and other memorial services only because of the great meaning it has to me and my family.

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