Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 20, 2005

If any of you have ever been to a military funeral in which taps were played; this brings out a new meaning of it. We in the United States have all heard the haunting song, &uot;Taps.&uot; 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 interested to find out about its humble beginnings. And you might hear it played many times this year and next as us old World War II veterans make the final trip to the new permanent veteran’s rest stop on Milner’s Road. Not me, of course, and I had that same attitude during combat over in France and Germany. And I was right.

Reportedly, it all began in 1862 during the Civil War, when Union Army Captain Robert Ellicombe was with his men near Harrison’s Landing in Virginia. The Confederate Army was on the other side of the narrow strip of land. During the night, Captain Ellicombe heard the moans of a soldier who lay 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 his encampment.

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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 son. His 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 of his superiors 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 turned down since the soldier was a Confederate. But, out of respect for the father, they did say they could give him only 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, we now know as &uot;Taps,&uot; used at military funerals was born.

The words 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 nigh. 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.

We have all felt the chills while listening to &uot;Taps&uot; but I have never seen all the words to the song until now, didn’t even know there was more than one verse, and never knew the story behind the song. Maybe you haven’t so I thought I’d pass it along. Remember Those Lost and Harmed While Serving Their Country, then and now.

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A word about the mayor being the first &uot;paid&uot; customer at the Hilton. Of course it was his money, not the city’s, and he will spend the night…he might be the only customer. And Bobby Ralph has taken the pulse of the entire 73,000 residents and has determined the majority is in favor of relieving VDOT of its road burden. So much for the referendum. So one man, and three others under pressure from city hall, the same pressure that prefers there be no referendum, decides for all of us. And we probably will not get a chance to elect the next mayor. I liken it to a dictatorship and the people will again knuckle under.

Robert Pocklington lives in Suffolk and is a regular News-Herald columnist. He can be reached at robert.pocklington@suffolknewsherald.com.