Day is Done

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Timothy Mcguire walks with his military working dog after completing a detection exercise on Forward Operating Base Geronimo in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, Aug. 16, 2012. Mcguire, a military working dog handler, is assigned to Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 6.

This image evoked the distantly-heard sound of “Taps.”  A note on the background of “Taps:”

The term originates from the Dutch term taptoe, meaning “close the (beer) taps (and send the troops back to camp).”  “Military tattoo‘ comes from the same origin.  The melody of “Taps” is composed entirely from the written notes of the C major triad (i.e. C, E, and G, with the G used in the lower and higher octaves). This is because the bugle, for which it is written, can play only the notes in the harmonic series of the fundamental tone of the instrument.  (Wikipedia)

“Close the taps and send the troops back to camp.”   That may have been day’s end in the 1860’s (when “Taps” came into common use) and earlier, but it’s not usually the image we see when the tune is played.  On non-deployed military bases, personnel and vehicle traffic comes to a stop, respecting the announcement of the end, generally, of business for the day and the  fall of darkness (“lights out”).  As in 1860, the war and the battles go on, but a halt is called in that day’s work, strenuous activity, and, sometimes, what feels like chaos if not madness.  When “Taps” is played, a pause ensues; at least a pause.

It is fitting that “Taps” was ordered in 1860 by a Medal of Honor recipient, Union BrigGen Daniel Butterfield, to replaced a French bugle call.  Fitting that soon both Union and Confederate armies played the call in tandem at end of day, recognizing the cessation of hostilities on both sides.  Fitting that it was first played at a military funeral for “a most excellent man,” a corporal in Capt John C. Tidball’s battery.  Fitting that it is played at each of the 2,500 wreath laying ceremonies that occur every year at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  Fitting that it has been played to “send the troop(s) back to camp” at U.S. military funerals since 1891.

You may already know the words to Taps; but if you don’t here they are:

Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky

All is well, safely rest
God is nigh.
Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
From afar, drawing near
Falls the night.
Thanks and praise for our days
Neath the sun, neath the stars, neath the sky
As we go, this we know
God is nigh.

In memory of my uncle, Kenneth Erickson, U.S. Marine Corps, “called to camp.”

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