Sounding Taps for heroes

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Jerry Mays is part of a network of 4,000 Bugles Across America volunteers from around the country who play Taps at military funerals and other memorial and veterans ceremonies. (Photo by Joe Moses, The Standard Newspaper, Waukon)

As bugler, Mays honors veterans at military funerals

By Audrey Posten

 

“Taps is 21 notes. About 55 seconds if you time it out,” said Jerry Mays. “But it’s how you play it—reverently.”

Mays would know. The rural McGregor resident has played the country’s most revered call on a bugle or trumpet at well over 500 military funerals and memorial and veterans ceremonies in the tri-state area since 2007.

He’s part of a network of over 4,000 buglers from around the country who sound Taps for heroes with Bugles Across America. The non-profit organization was founded in 2000 by a retired Marine, Tom Day, after Congress passed legislation stating that all veterans have a right to at least two uniformed military personnel to fold and present the flag and play a recorded version of Taps at their funerals. But through Bugles Across America, Day wanted to take that a step further: he felt every service member deserved a live rendition of Taps by a real bugler.

“There’s just something about a real bugle,” Mays said. “It has a totally different sound” than a recorded version played with a ceremonial bugle.

The non-profit began seeking capable volunteers to provide the service to veterans and their families. Mays was prompted to join after watching a report about Bugles Across America on TV.

“I thought, ‘I can do that,’” he said. “I’ve always had the ability to play a trumpet or bugle throughout my life.”

After passing an audition, he was in.

As a bugler on duty, Mays is on call 24/7. People request buglers through the Bugles Across America website at www.buglesacrossamerica.org, and volunteers have 24 hours to respond.

“We try to get to as many as we can,” Mays said, “but logistics can be hard, so we can’t get to them all. I’ve driven anywhere up to 100 miles to provide Taps in the tri-state area—Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota. I’m retired and able to do it.”

Veterans and their families receive the honor at no charge.

“We don’t expect compensation,” Mays added. “We do it as volunteers, out of respect for people who served our country.”

Mays himself has never served in the military—although he has done two stints in the Peace Corps—but has veteran family members who have.

“I’m just a patriot,” he remarked. 

“We all have different talents, and one of mine is playing the bugle and trumpet,” Mays added. “For me, there’s no greater honor I can do than provide the final call for a veteran. Veterans provided our way of life. It’s our duty to honor them in a way that’s respectful and profound.”

Out of all the military funerals he’s played, Mays said the hardest was a service for a soldier killed in action in Iraq just days after deployment. No matter the situation, families are appreciative.

“It’s the very last thing the family hears,” he said.

Mays hasn’t been as busy during the pandemic. Fewer funerals have been held, and some Veterans Day events are not being held this year. 

“Normally I’m all over on Veterans Day, playing five or six times,” he said. “But we’re celebrating this year the way we can.”

One spot he plans to play is in Marquette, at the downtown city park, for a short program on Wednesday, Nov. 11. The event will start at 11 a.m.

At 72, Mays said he plans to play as long as he’s able. He encourages others to join Bugles Across America.

“We’re always looking for volunteers. You have to interview and audition, but it can be done over the phone,” he explained.

According to Bugles Across America, bugler volunteers can be male or female. They can play a traditional bugle with no valves, or they can complete the ceremony on a trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn, or a one-, two- or three-valved bugle. The bugler can be of any age as long as they can sound Taps with an ease and style that will do honor to both the veterans, their families and the burial detail performing the service.

“You have to do it reverently and professionally,” said Mays.

Learn more at www.buglesacrossamerica.org.

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