By Airman 1st Class Mercedes Muro
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
At the stroke of 8 p.m., a wistful tune resonates across Little Rock Air Force Base. The tune is known as “Taps” and is played in the evening hours at military installations to remember those who have fallen while serving our country.
Although many consider the bugle call to be melancholy, its origins were quite different.
According to Jari A. Villanueva, former U.S. Air Force Band non-commissioned officer in charge and expert on military bugle calls, “Taps” was rewritten from a bugle call that signaled to soldiers that the day was over. Upon hearing the call, soldiers would return to their stations.
“Tactics” by Silas Casey was the bugle call used for the announcement to extinguish lights before the Civil War. However, Union Gen. Daniel Adams Butterfield, a commander during the Civil War, felt the bugle call was too formal.
Gen. Butterfield and Oliver Willcox Norton, the brigade bugler, collaborated to create a new version to announce extinguish lights by lengthening and shortening notes. The new tune was then used to announce extinguish the lights.
Since the Civil War, the version made by Butterfield and Norton has been made into an official bugle call and is now known as the modern version of “Taps.”
The Civil War era was also the time period in which Taps became associated with funerals.
According to an article written by Villanueva, troops would traditionally fire three cannons during military funerals. Capt. John C. Tidball allegedly ordered the bugle call to be played as a substitute for the cannon fire at a funeral for a soldier killed in action during the Civil War’s Peninsula Campaign in 1862. Tidball feared that performing common funeral protocol would alert the enemy of their position and induce fighting.
Since then, Taps has been played to honor fallen service members and is performed by the local honor guard unit with extreme discipline.
“Our ceremonial guardsmen train every day, performing the same movements hundreds of times a day,” said Staff Sgt. Aaron Arazia, Little Rock AFB Honor Guard noncommissioned officer in charge. “Perfection is the standard and nothing less is acceptable for our fallen brothers and sisters.”
Although the meaning of Taps has been adjusted over the years, the bugle call’s historic tone will continue to reverberate over U.S. military installations in the evening hours.