The powerful sound of a bugler playing “Taps” is a call to remember those who gave their lives in the service of the United States.
Born of a French bugle call, the melody we know as “Taps” was rearranged and used during the Civil War as a call for lights out. In the late 1800s, the Army formally adopted the tune for use at military funerals and memorial services.
Today, the 24 mournful notes comprising “Taps” are played to commemorate the memory of members of all five branches of the armed forces: the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Air Force, and the Coast Guard.
On Memorial Day, this pensive melody—so ingrained in our national identity—is heard at commemorative ceremonies throughout the nation. The final bugle call is a sign of respect and a tribute to those known, and unknown.
In addition to military funerals, wreath-laying and memorial services, “Taps” is also played in the evening at U.S. military bases. Congress designated “Taps” as the nation’s official “Song of Remembrance” in the 2013 Defense Authorization Act.
A bugler plays “Taps” every evening at Arlington National Cemetery to signify the end of the day, and as a tribute to those who’ve died for their country.
No formal protocol accompanies the sounding of “Taps” at dusk, but when it’s played at military funerals and memorial services, members of the military salute from the first note to the last. Civilians may place their right hand over their heart, but it’s not required.
NPR’s Allison Keyes interviewed “Taps” historian Jari Villanueva in 2011 about the history, evolution and meaning of “Taps” and Memorial Day. Villanueva spent 23 years playing “Taps” at military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. If you’d like to hear the interview, and learn more, click here.