There are three standard times when the Ceremony of Taps is performed.
I capitalize it, because I understand the need for ritual, and I respect this ritual above most all others.
Ritual gives us actions to perform when thought is difficult. Action is the enemy of thought. I read that somewhere recently, then I saw the movie.
I am not a fan of action without thought but ritual, Ceremony, goes a bit deeper than mere avoidance of thought; trying to kill the thoughts. Ceremony is a rational postponement of thought; it breeds a state of Zen in times when that state is difficult to find.
Ceremony makes our hands busy, without thought, in order for us to keep acting when the mind is whirling.
The most often used Ceremony of Taps is at 2300 hours on a military base. It is the signal that the sentries used to give to those who were not on duty. It was the signal that we could sleep soundly, because someone, My Brother, was guarding the wall. I was safe. People have forgotten this, but that is where that ceremony started.
“Gone the sun, day is done” Hit the sack. I got your back.
The second most often used Ceremony is at a military funeral. Taps is played during the Flag Folding Ceremony. I used to do those while I was in the service, perform as flag bearer; it was my responsibility to acknowledge a loved one’s service to our nation. It was supposed to be nothing more than an additional duty that I pulled while we were on Red Cycle. BUt after my first, when I was still a private, I never heard Taps the same way.
I bet most people who pulled the duty didn’t respect the Ceremony. Or perhaps that is my cynicism. I felt quite often that soldiers did not take their duty seriously. Life is a game, it is true. It is to be enjoyed, that is certain. But there are times when it is necessary to put one’s game face on and play seriously. During the Ceremony of Taps is one of those times.
We weren’t supposed to show any emotion, I suppose, but every time, as I folded the flag, the tears rolled silently down my face as I thought of what Taps represented in this case. A soldier fallen, usually after discharge, but one who had served their country. Most of the people I folded flags for were WWII soldiers, veterans of Normandy and the march to the Rhine. They were holders of the Silver Star, Distinguished Service Cross, and a host of other medals. Never a Medal of Honor winner, because those were folded by field grade officers, not just a crusty old staff sergeant.
The most poignant version of the Ceremony is for a soldier who falls while still serving. It is the roll call. The First Sergeant calls out a number of troops, who answer giving indication of their presence, and then he calls out the name of the fallen.
“PVT Jefferson” “Here First Sergeant” “SPC Mulcahey” “Here First Sergeant” “SSG McAnarney” “Here First Sergeant” “SPC Nash”——-silence” “SPC Brian Nash”——-thunderous silence
Seven seconds after the second roll call, rifle or cannon are fired in volleys of seven, three rounds each. At the sound of the last volley, Taps is played.
The soldier now answers roll elsewhere, in Fiddler’s Green.
I am sad to say that this ceremony has been acted out again, though it has already been played far too much.
In Memorium 1SG Utt Taps, Iraq Roadside Bomb August 28, 2004 RIP