Air Force Sergeant Traces Bugle’s History
By Rudi Williams
ARLINGTON, Va., Nov. 8, 2000 – Military buglers have been communicating with troops and their families for centuries.
Bugle calls told troops when to go to bed, when to wake up, when to eat, when to attack and when to retreat. There were stable calls, water calls, drill calls, sick calls and church calls on Sunday.
Bugles were first used for signaling in America by the British army during the Revolutionary War. The sound of the bugle made it possible to convey commands over a great distance. The sound could usually be heard above the roar of battle.
But tracing the history of military bugle calls isn’t easy, according to Master Sgt. Jari Villanueva, a member of the U.S. Air Force Band. Villanueva, a brass player with the band, is the man who sounds “Taps” during funerals and at ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington (Va.) National Cemetery.
His extensive research has made Villanueva one of the military’s foremost authorities on bugle calls, and he likes to share his knowledge with others.
When the weather isn’t too cold, the Air Force sergeant and other bugle-playing history buffs from as far away as New Jersey pitch tents at Arlington National Cemetery. They lay out Civil War-era military gear on blankets, set up a table display of bugles, play bugle calls and talk to curious passers-by about the life of military buglers, particularly during the Civil War.
The bugling enthusiasts represent the Confederate and Union infantry, cavalry and artillery. Decked out in Civil War- era uniforms, they reenact the past.
“We do a live history of field musicians,” said Villanueva. “Everybody brings their equipment, such as what a cavalry musician would have carried. An infantry musician would have carried his knapsack, blanket, rifle and sword.”
The group also displays the different types of bugles used during the Civil War. That’s everything from large clarion bugles imported from France, to cavalry trumpets to a keyed bugle, which Villanueva said is a cross between a saxophone and a bugle.
“The keyed bugle was an early attempt to have chromatic notes played on a bugle, which is a valveless instrument,” he said.
The bugler’s reenactment is an outgrowth of an exhibit in the cemetery’s visitors’ center called, “Taps: The Bugle in History and Ceremony.” The exhibit opened more than a year ago and will remain until September 2002.
The bugle used at President John F. Kennedy’s funeral is the centerpiece. Oliver Wilcox Norton (1839-1920), the 22- year-old bugler who played the first ever Taps, is also featured in the exhibit. “Taps,” which has been sounded over soldiers’ graves since 1862, is the most recognizable bugle call today, Villanueva said.
Villanueva said the exhibit also features the spurs and duty sword of Union Maj. Gen. Daniel Butterfield (1829- 1902), who is the supposed composer of the call. The artifacts are on loan to the cemetery from the Onieda County, N.Y. Historical Society.
Villanueva said “Taps” is sounded more than 30 times a day at Arlington, and that’s why cemetery officials are featuring the bugle exhibit and hosts the living history sessions. Buglers sound the poignant tune for funerals, wreath laying ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknowns and memorial services, he said.
Of all the military bugle calls, none is so easily recognized or more apt to render emotion than “Taps”, Villanueva said. “The melody is both eloquent and haunting.”