Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Just about everyone, at one time or another, has heard "Taps." As a piece of music, heard without context, it is unremarkable although evocative. To me - and to anyone else who's been to a military funeral or memorial service - it is so much more than that.

As a soldier, and a pilot, I have lost my share of friends and comrades. But I'll never forget the first time I heard Taps played for someone I knew. He was a friend and company-mate at West Point. A year ahead of me, he was handsome, full of life and full of fun. He had a very bright future ahead of him. Except that one Saturday night, probably after a couple of beers, his Mazda RX-7 skidded on snow-slicked roads and flipped over the railing of an overpass on a winding, Hudson Valley road. A year and half from graduation and Mike Charbonneau was gone.

One evening a week or so later, at lunch the academy administration announced there would be a memorial service on "The Plain" - the large parade ground at West Point - that evening. At a little before 10:00, cadets started streaming out of the barracks; silently as only a group of soldiers can do. At 10:00 exactly all the lights went off throwing the entire area into darkness. And then there was that sound; a lone bugler standing in the middle of The Plain blowing the loneliest, the saddest sound in the world. Taps echoed off the grey stone buildings and off the grey stone mountains surrounding West Point.

When the last note had reverberated up and down the valley, the lights came on and we all filed back to our rooms in a silence that made our emergence seem raucous by comparison.

I had never heard or experienced anything like that before. Unfortunately I would hear Taps played many more times in my career.

Why this morbid trip into my personal past? In a recent piece in Times - other parts of which have been covered in the blogosphere - Anna Quindlen had a suggestion for Bush as we neared 2,000 deaths in Iraq. And it's a suggestion I'd heartily recommend that someone carry out.

At least Johnson had the good sense to be heartbroken by the body bags [of Viet Nam]. Bush appears merely peevish at being criticized. Someone with a trumpet should play taps outside the White House for the edification of a president who has not attended a single funeral for the Iraqi war dead. As I am writing this, the number of American soldiers killed is 1, 992. By the time you read it, it may have topped 2,000. Will I be writing these same things when the number is 3,000, 5,000, 10,000? If we are such a great nation, why are we utterly incapable of learning from our mistakes? America's sons and daughters are dying to protect the egos of those whose own children are safe at home. Again.
Does anyone know a good bugler?

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