One day, the music teacher, Mr. Salvo came into our classroom. He told us about the music program and how we could all learn to play an instrument. Sounded good to me, so when he was listing various instruments, kids would raise their hands. When he said “Trumpet,” my hand shot up. I’m not sure why I chose the trumpet, except perhaps I liked the sound of the word, trumpet. Those early group trumpet classes were painful. When we did manage to make some air come through the bent tubing which is a trumpets design, the sound we corporately produced resembled a herd of elephants in distress.
I dutifully carried my school trumpet back and forth from home every day for the next three years. I had lots of fun learning to play and perform.
So, in 1969 at the age of twenty-one, I enlisted in the Marine Corps. After graduating from boot camp, we entered into our next phase – infantry training. Those in charge of us at that time were called “Troop Handlers.” You see, we left the “Drill Instructors” back in boot camp. We’d moved up, although the resemblance between drill instructors and troop handlers was striking.
Anyway, our troop handlers wanted to have a bugler for our company of fresh, young Marines. Yours truly was deemed worthy of this dubious honor. Actually, the only time I had to blow the horn was taps at night (10:00), and reveille in the morning (4:30). This meant that everyone else got to hit the sack ahead of me, and then I had to be awakened every morning at 4:00 to blow reveille at 4:30.
One morning after blowing reveille, I heard the bellowing voice of a troop handler, calling, “Bugler!” I sprinted to their hooch (Quonset hut), screeching to a halt to announce my presence, “Sir! Bugler reporting as ordered, sir!” What happened next was terrifying to me. I actually thought this might be my last day on earth. It just so happened that one of the troop handlers had been out on the town the previous evening and was sleeping off a serious hang-over. Several troop handlers had gathered in the hooch, snickering and grinning like they’d just eaten the canary. I could see nothing but bad things resulting from this confab, but there was no place for me to go.
The troop handler who had initially called for me proceeded to tell me what he wanted me to do. “Now you take that little horn you’re holding there, see, and blow reveille in this troop handler’s ear. As you can tell he’s sound asleep in his rack. I want you to blow real loud, do you understand me? Now, wake him up!” I stood there terrified. When this guy comes up off the rack he’ll be looking to kill me! The troop handlers all gathered around for the fun. I put the horn to my lips and gave a full rendition of reveille. Fortunately for me, when this troop handler shot up off his rack, he realized he’d been had. His pals were doubled over in laughter, enjoying the moment at his expense. I was quickly dismissed, at which point I beat a hasty retreat. I was sure this guy was going to hunt me down, but nothing more was ever said, to my great relief.
The day we completed infantry training, several of my fellow Marines came up to me to thank me for blowing taps and reveille every day. But I’ll always remember how one Marine put it. He said, “I loved to hear you blow taps every evening. I’ll never forget that.” I smiled and thanked him. However, he wasn’t done. “But,” he said, “I will not miss hearing you play reveille in the morning!”
At this particular juncture in our service in the Marine Corps, all of the guys I’d gone through training with had orders to other places. I was headed for Jacksonville, Florida where I learned to work on the electrical black boxes on jet airplanes. Training days were over. No more bugle calls.
I long for the days when a bugle, or at least a trumpet or cornet was used during training. A real person would blow the horn! A real person who could put feeling and emotion into the sound emanating from the instrument. Today, most of what I hear whenever taps is played (usually at a military funeral) is an electronic horn. All the “bugler” has to do is stand there, put the horn to his lips (simulation of playing), and turn on the button to start the tinny, lifeless rendition of “Taps.” At that point in the ceremony I’m usually distracted by the squawking noise being emitted from this artificial horn, which sounds altogether unnatural.
The bugle and bugler may have gone the way of the dinosaur in the military. However, I am looking forward to another bugle blast! When the angel Gabriel puts that golden trumpet to his lips, it means just one thing – Jesus is coming! Hallelujah!