Reflections of a Former Bugler

By David R. Berger

The morning started out like most mornings after a shift change, body struggling to function, eyes trying to focus through extra lubricant and my feet wanted to paddle along meekly. Just make it through the next eight hours. The I came to the realization it was Veteran’s Day. How ironic, I thought. It seemed just about everyday started out having to push yourself in Vietnam.

My yet-to-have-coffee mind started to wander. My first thoughts went back to my old unit in Nam. Then in my mind came the feel of dirty canvas, steel, the ribbed handle of my machine gun and my left hand wanted to pat the medical bag that I always had nearby.

As I drank my coffee and watched the operation of my production machine, I could smell diesel exhaust fumes and swamp mud. Then my mind got into a somber and almost depressing mood as I tried to picture faces of friends and acquaintances that had gone on before. Then somehow my mind sort of twisted and turned.

There, as clear as could be, I could remember back in high school playing taps at funerals for war veterans. Although I now understood, I didn’t at the time understand how living war veteran comrades could laugh, goose one another, goof off and maybe pass a flask around and almost seem disrespectful before the funeral program started.

When the final ceremony would start, these aged worn out veterans with their blank firing dummy rifles would stand their worn bodies straight and sure as wind worn granite forming a formidable line of resistance as if to say, “To the last man.”.

It was my job to play taps over the casket while my partner at a distance in the bushes would be the echo. I was not emotionally connected with the deceased. It was my job to blow that horn and end the burial ceremony.

When my partner and I were done, I could never understand the somber, mellow attitude of the old vets around me. My part was so small and yet I would get remarks of good job, well done or a clasp on the shoulder from people with heavy hearts. I just never understood.

Now that I am past middle age and have had a taste of war, I somehow look back to the time when uncertainty and the gloom of death seemed to surround a group of us then young men in uniform. No matter how bad the dogs of war seemed, we were somehow resilient and formed bonds of comradeship to cause us to rise above our abilities. Although we all stumbled miserably at times, it was in those roughest of times when the cloud of death would seem to cover us that a spark would flash from one of us in the form of a nod, a wink, a slightly raised fist or a pat on the head and resolve of a group of young soldiers would be, “We’ll all go down together”.

The dogs of war were no match for the friendship and comradeship that happens at those moments. Even though years pass, you never seem to forget those that went down around you. They are forever etched in your mind and heart.

When the coffin is lowered for one of those surviving comrades in civilian life, you find yourself standing with a body that is no longer a shining example of strength and fortitude but with a resolve of, “To the last man I will stand with those friends etched in my mind and heart and I will go down with them.”.

When my time comes, sing my song, “One Step at a Time, Dear Savior.” Then as the final act, blow those taps upon the air of the land.

Then as I so often experienced as a young bugler, I will try to respond with a gust of air, gentle breeze or, as it so often seemed, in almost a vacuum, a waft or a fluff of air will move as if to say, “Relax, I am in a restful and peaceful land”.