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Barbara Walking in the Valley
A weekly column for those who live and walk in Silicon Valley

by Barbara Dahlgren

Column for the week of May 25-31, 2003

Veterans Day, which occurs on November 11 each year, honors all veterans of U.S. wars. Memorial Day on the other hand, observed on the last Monday in May, is a time to honor those Americans who died defending our country. There is something quite special about a person giving up his life for someone else. Just like the Bible says in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” It has to be even more meaningful when you lay down your life for those who may not really appreciate it.

Attending a military funeral can be quite moving. It has the folding of the flag that’s presented to the loved one, the gun salutes, and Taps. Easily recognized, Taps is that poignant bugle tune, consisting of only 24 notes that urge us to remember those who have given their lives for our country with valor and honor. It’s played at military funerals, lowering of the flag, the end of a military day, and memorial services. You’ll hear it a lot on Memorial Day. Just like Memorial Day, the roots of Taps come from the Civil War.

The story goes that one night during the Civil War a Union Captain, Robert Ellicome, was with his men in Virginia and happened onto a dead Confederate soldier. It was a shock to find out it was his son who had been studying music in the South when the war broke out and enlisted in the Confederate Army. Even though his son was in the Confederate Army Captain Ellicome requested a full military burial. He wanted a group of Union Army band members to play a funeral dirge. The Army could only spare one bugler. The dad asked him to play a group of notes he found scribbled on a piece of paper in his son’s pocket which was what we now know as Taps. It’s a nice story, but unfortunately there isn’t even evidence that a Captain Ellicome ever existed, much less the rest. Thus another myth is born.

A more likely explanation is that during the Civil War, General Daniel Butterfield thought the traditional bugle call for “lights out” was too formal so he reworked it a bit with his bugler, Oliver Wilcox Norton, and they came up with Taps. It was first used at a funeral a few months later when a soldier died and was buried in the woods. Since the enemy was close at hand it was unsafe to fire the traditional three volleys over the grave, so Taps was substituted. Not quite as poetic as the myth but at least it can be documented.

There are no official lyrics to the tune but many verses have been adopted over the years. Here are a few:

“Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake,
From the sky.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.”

Another: “Go to sleep, peaceful sleep,
May the soldier or sailor,
God keep.
On the land or the deep,
Safe in sleep.”

And another: “Thanks and praise, for our days,
'Neath the sun, ‘Neath the stars,
'Neath the sky,
As we go, This we know,
God is nigh.”

It’s surprising how many of the lyrics mention God. Perhaps those who are willing to fight and die for our country know their lives are in God’s hands. You’ll probably hear Taps a lot on Memorial Day. I hope when you hear it, you won’t just think of someone dying, but rather, think of someone dying for you. “Greater love hath no man.....”

©May 2003

Be sure to visit this page every week to read the next edition of Walking in the Valley. You can write to the author at bdahlgren@wcgsouthbay.org.



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