When Spc. Jacob Buchanan of the Eastern Oregon Honor Guard in Hermiston sounded "Taps" at two Memorial Day services in Pendleton May 25, my spine tingled as it always does when I hear those 24 haunting notes.
I'm not a veteran, so it isn't a military connection that brings those feelings, it's that I've been the bugler at several military funerals, Memorial Day and other services. I love the melody and it always gives me the chills when I hear it.
But it sounded different this time as I stood away from Buchanan at the funeral home that Monday morning, positioned to photograph him as he played. Instead of the brassy sound of a bugle resounding as he raised the instrument to his lips, I heard a tinny sound as if the notes were coming from a cheap tape recorder.
The longer I listened, and watched Buchanan's lips, I realized he wasn't playing the bugle; it was playing itself. The tune was recorded and a small speaker imbedded in the bugle's bell toned "Taps."
I shook my head. It just wasn't right, pretending to play "Taps." This was a memorial service recognizing Umatilla County's war dead. They at least deserved the real thing. Then as I scanned the crowd, most of whom had lived through World War II, I realized many probably didn't even hear the difference. They just heard "Taps" played flawlessly, and that's all that mattered.
Then I flashed back to March 1982, when I stood back from the crowd gathered in the snow at the Granite Cemetery in northern Grant County for the funeral of Deputy Edward "Bud" Morrow. He'd been the village lawman for 12 years, but was gunned down March 6, 1982, in his home as a result of a grudge two residents held against him. The mother and daughter arranged to have a visiting trucker murder Morrow. A snowmobiler who stopped by to visit the well-known deputy and mayor found his body that afternoon.
I was a bugler in the Baker Elks Drum & Bugle Corps at the time, and was among those whom Baker funeral directors invited to play "Taps" at military funerals. I was tapped for Morrow's funeral.
It was an extremely cold day in Granite when Morrow was laid to rest, but a large crowd stood shivering in the Granite Cemetery as the graveside service proceeded. I was glad when I saw my cue and raised the frigid bugle to my trembling lips. What came forth as I blew, however, was not the sweet sound of "Taps" but a butchered tune that sounded more like a 2-year-old trying to toot a toy horn. I couldn't sustain the long notes and I couldn't hit the high ones. It was embarrassing, and I made myself scarce as soon as I finished.
Now I know why the military uses a self-playing bugle. I would've given anything for one on that dreary day 27 years ago.
Dean Brickey is a senior reporter for the East Oregon. Readers may e-mail him at email@example.com or call him at 541-571-5277.