Taps And Armistice Day
Editor’s Note: Veterans Day is Sunday, Nov. 11. We thought it would be fitting to run this archived column by the late Adam Kelly, Editor Emeritus.
“Day is done”
The words are not as familiar as the haunting melody of the song first used as a signal for “lights out” during the civil war, composed by an obscure general who never was otherwise particularly distinguished himself.
Taps now usually is heard at solemn military funerals and the word itself has come to mean, figuratively and colloquially, the end.
“Gone the sun”
A generation remembers when the sound of the Taps melody could be heard in school rooms across America on Armistice Day, during the gentler years between November 11, 1918 and Pearl Harbor Day. We still had time then in our land for unabashed sentiment and patriotism.
It isn’t Armistice Day anymore. For other wars had other days we called Pearl Harbor and V-E and V-J. The historical luster of Nov. 11, 1918 as the end of World War I has long been dimmed. Now, by act of Congress in 1954, it’s Veteran’s Day.
“From the hills”
Veterans hardly form an exclusive club. There have been in our American History 45 million of them. Some 29 million are still living.
The ranks of those doughboys who remember the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month back in 1918 are thinning now. Then jaunty youths, they held the line from Sedan to Moselle when the order from Marshall Foch came to cease firing on the stroke of eleven. Now we play Taps for them.
“From the sky”
No veteran ever can forget the first time the sad notes of Taps were heard at the end of the day, the disembodied sound floating softly over frightened acres of saddened men, who had just learned to respond when called “soldier”, men who still yet were and would remain forever civilians.
“All is well”
The agony of Auschwitz and other concentration camps, the blinding atomic obliteration of Hiroshima, the tragedy of My Lai in Vietnam, events such as these somehow have numbered the sensitivities of the world, so that Taps no longer seems appropriate in a universe where violence is the accepted norm.
The government offices and banks will be closed Nov. 11, 1981. That’ll be about it, as far as observance of the day is concerned. What happened in France on that day 63 years ago has little meaning for today’s blase Americans, that there actually were men and women who volunteered to fight for their country and die for it if need be is of little note and not long remembered. That some fell to make the world safe for democracy is only of academic interest now.
In 1921, we buried an American unknown but to God in Arlington National Cemetery, one who fell in France. And they played Taps.
“All is well.”
The sacrifices of a generation to “make the world safe for democracy” were in vein. They didn’t make the world safe for anything except madmen, who plunged our world into another great conflict just 21 years after the war to end all wars had been fought and won.
“Fading light, dims the sight”
And after death in the searing shock of Pearl Harbor and the stinking jungles of Guadalcanal, in the sands of North Africa and Iwo Jima and the mud at Salerno, in the steel grey sea at Normandy which was stained brown with blood on another day: D-Day, when victory came at last we buried another unknown American at Arlington. They played Taps. For we had peace, if only for a little while.
“And a star, gems the sky”
Just five years later there was another conflict in a place many had to locate in an atlas, Korea. But we soon learned the strange names, Inchon, Pyongyang, Pusan, Chosin. For death came to Americans in all these places and in some others we named ourselves, like “Porkchop Hill.”
“Gleaming bright, from afar.”
And yet another unknown was laid to rest in Arlington, while the notes of Taps floated out over the acres of the dead and the broad Potomac.
“Drawing high, falls the night.”
Another war a few short years later, this an unpopular conflict in Vietnam. Americans died there too from Viet Cong booby traps in the Mekong Delta and Sidewinder missiles over Phu Qui. The will to win in Vietnam always was there among the dying to do. It was sadly lacking among the leaders at home. But finally it all ended with a whimper.
They are just as dead, those 53,000 who fell in Vietnam, as the 33,629 in Korea or the 291,557 killed in World War II.
Play Taps for them all.
And remember as you smile at a paunchy middle aged chap trying desperately hard to keep in step with two comrades as they carry the flags in the Veterans Day parade, without the expenditures of part or all of their lives American veterans have made there would be no United States today.
Whenever duty called, they responded.
Play Taps for them and as the last sad notes fade away, try to remember yet for a little while the sacrifices which have made it possible for us to enjoy life as we have it in America today.
“Day is done, gone the sun”