On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated while on a trip in Dallas, Texas. Four emotional days later, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors in a ceremony witnessed by millions around the world.
On hand that chilly Monday afternoon to sound Taps, the call that marks the end of every military funeral, was a bugler from the United States Army Band, Sergeant Keith Clark. Clark had performed Taps countless times, including sounding the call 11 days earlier at Veterans Day ceremonies at Arlington with the President in attendance. Roused at an early hour on the morning of the funeral, he waited on the slope by the Custis-Lee mansion where Kennedy had once said, “I could stay here forever.” That spot was now to be the final resting place for the nation’s 35th president.
At the conclusion of the service, following the traditional firing of three volleys, Sergeant Clark raised his bugle and began the call. The song resounded over the heads of all assembled.
On the sixth note, his tone briefly cracked. “It was like a catch in your voice, or a swiftly stifled sob,” wrote author William Manchester. Clark stiffened his embouchure and without pause finished the rest of the call flawlessly.
“Day Is Done, Gone the sun, From the lake, from the hill, from the sky. All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.”For 50 years that one note has lived in the collective memories of Americans who remember that sad weekend. As one viewer stated in a letter to Clark, â€œIn your one sad note, you told the world of our feelings.â€
That one slight imperfection has reached almost folklore status in our country. Like the crack in the Liberty Bell it remains part of our national heritage.