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The origin of "taps"

We have all heard the haunting melody of "Taps." It's the song that gives us that lump in our throats and usually tears in our eyes. But do you know the story behind the song?
If not, I think you will be pleased to find out about its humble beginnings.

Reportedly, it all began in 1862 during the Civil War, when Union Army Captain Robert Ellicombe was with his men near Harrison's Landing, Virginia. The Confederate Army was on the other side of the narrow strip of land.

During the night, Captain Ellisombe heard the moans of a soldier who was severely wounded on the field. Not knowing if it was a Union or Confederate soldier, the Captain decided to risk his life and bring the stricken man back for medical attention.

Crawling on his stomach through the gunfire, the Captain reached the stricken soldier and began pulling him toward the encampment. When the Captain finally reached his own lines, he discovered it was actually a Confederate soldier, but the soldier was dead. The Captain lit a lantern and suddenly caught his breath and went numb with shock. In the dim light he saw the face of the soldier.

It was his own son!

The boy had been studying music in the South when the war broke out. Without telling his father, the boy enlisted in the Confederate Army.

The following morning, heartbroken, the father asked permission to give his son a full military burial despite his enemy status.

His request was only partially granted. The Captain had asked if he could have a group of Army band members play a funeral dirge for his son at the funeral. The request was denied since the soldier was a Confederate. But, out of respect for the father, they did say they could give him one musician.

The Captain chose a bugler. He asked the bugler to play a series of musical notes he had found on a piece of paper in the pocket of the dead youth's uniform. This wish was granted.
The haunting melody, which we now know as "Taps" used at military funerals, was born.

Why the American Flag Is Folded 12 Times
  • The first fold of our flag is a symbol of life.
  • The second fold is a symbol of our belief in eternal life.
  • The third fold is made in honor and remembrance of the veterans departing our ranks who gave a portion of their lives for the defense of our country to attain peace throughout the world.
  • The fourth fold represents our weaker nature, for as American citizens trusting in God, it is to Him we turn in times of peace as well as in time of war for His divine guidance.
  • The fifth fold is a tribute to our country, for in the words of Stephen Decatur, "Our Country, in dealing with other countries may she always be right; but it is still our country, right or wrong."
  • The sixth fold is for where our hearts lie. It is with our heart that we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands one Nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.
  • The seventh fold is a tribute to our Armed Forces, for it is through the Armed Forces that we protect our country and our flag against all her enemies, whether they are found within or without the boundaries of our republic.
  • The eighth fold is a tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day, and to honor mother, for whom it flies on Mother's Day.
  • The ninth fold is a tribute to womanhood; for it has been through their faith, their love, loyalty and devotion that the character of the men and women who have made this country great has been molded.
  • The tenth fold is a tribute to the father, for he, too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since they were first born.
  • The eleventh fold, in the eyes of a Hebrew citizen represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon, and glorifies in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
  • The twelfth fold, in the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies in their eyes, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
  • When the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost reminding us of our nation's motto, "In God We Trust."

After the flag is completely folded and tucked in, it takes on the appearance of a cocked hat, ever reminding us of the soldiers who served under General George Washington, and the sailors and marines who served under Captain John Paul Jones, who were followed by their comrades and shipmates in the Armed Forces of the United States, preserving for us the rights, privileges, and freedoms we enjoy today.

World War II produced many heroes.

One such man was a Lieutenant Commander Butch O'Hare. He was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific.

One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission. After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized that someone had forgotten to top off his fuel tank. He would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship. His flight leader ordered him to return to the carrier. Reluctantly he dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet.

As he was returning to the mother ship, he saw something that turned his blood cold. A squadron of Japanese bombers were speeding their way toward the American fleet. The American fighters were gone on a sortie and the fleet was all but defenseless. He couldn't reach his squadron and bring them back in time to save the fleet. Nor could he warn the fleet of the approaching danger.

There was only one thing to do. He must somehow divert them from the fleet. Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, he dove directly into the formation of the Japanese planes. Wing-mounted 50 caliber's blazed as he charged in, attacking one surprised enemy plane and then another. Butch weaved in and out of the now broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until finally all his ammunition was spent.

Undaunted, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to at least clip off a wing or tail, in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible and rendering them unfit to fly. He was desperate to do anything he could to keep them from reaching the American ships. Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron took off in another direction.

Deeply relieved, Butch O'Hare and his tattered fighter limped back to the carrier. Upon arrival he reported in and related the event surrounding his return. The film from the camera mounted on his plane told the tale. It showed the extent of Butch's daring attempt to protect his fleet. He had destroyed five enemy bombers. That was on February 20, 1942, and for that action he became the Navy's first Ace of WWII and the first Naval Aviator to win the Congressional Medal Of Honor.

A year later he was killed in aerial combat at the age of 29. His home town would not allow the memory of that heroic action die. And today, O'Hare Airport in Chicago is named in tribute to the courage of this great man. So the next time you're in O'Hare, visit his memorial with his statue and Medal Of Honor. It is located between terminal 1 and 2.

Interesting Facts about the Tomb of the Unknowns
  1. How many steps does the guard take during his walk across the tomb of the Unknowns and why? 21 steps. It alludes to the twenty-one gun salute, which is the highest honor given any military or foreign dignitary.
  2. How long does he hesitate after his about face to begin his return walk and why? 21 seconds for the same reason as answer number 1.
  3. Why are his gloves wet? His gloves are moistened to prevent his losing his grip on the rifle.
  4. Does he carry his rifle on the same shoulder all the time, and if not, why not? He carries the rifle on the shoulder away from the tomb. After his march across the path, he executes an about face, and moves the rifle to the outside shoulder.
  5. How often are the guards changed? Guards are changed every thirty minutes, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year.
  6. What are the physical traits of the guard limited to? For a person to apply for guard duty at the tomb, he must be between 5"10 and 6"5 tall and his waist size cannot exceed 30".

Other requirements of the Guard:

They must commit 2 years of life! to guard the tomb, live in a barracks under the tomb, and cannot drink any alcohol on or off duty for the rest of their lives. They cannot swear in public for the rest of their lives and cannot disgrace the uniform {fighting} or the tomb in any way.

After two years, the guard is given a wreath pin that is worn on their lapel signifying they served as guard of the tomb. There are only 400 presently worn. The guard must obey these rules for the rest of their lives or give up the wreath pin.

The shoes are specially made with very thick soles to keep the heat and cold from their feet. There are metal heel plates that extend to the top of the sole in order to make the loud click as they come to a halt. There are no wrinkles, folds or lint on the uniform. Guards dress for duty in front of a full-length mirror.

The first six months of duty a guard cannot talk to anyone, nor watch TV. All off duty time is spent studying the 175 notable people laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. A guard must memorize who they are and where they are interred. Among the notables are: President Taft, Joe E. Lewis {the boxer} and Medal of Honor winner Audie Murphy, {the most decorated soldier of WWII} of Hollywood fame. Every guard spends five hours a day getting his uniforms ready for guard duty.

Submitted by Dick, Williamsport, Md.

May 28th Humor Page