On April 16, 2021, the National World War I Memorial in Washington, D.C., opened to the public for the first time. A month later, on Memorial Day 2021, a bugler dressed in a World War I-era U.S. Army uniform played "Taps" for the first time from the memorial grounds.
A World War I-era soldier -- not a real one, of course, the last veteran of that war died in 2011 -- has crossed the park at dusk to play the song every evening since.
"Taps" is a 24-note tune that has ended the U.S. military's workday since the middle of the Civil War. Before "Taps," American infantrymen ended the day with the French infantry call "extinguish lights," according to Taps historian Jari Villanueva.
Union Gen. Daniel Adams Butterfield changed the “extinguish lights” command bugle to the tune of "Taps" in July 1862, a tune he reworked from an earlier song, with help from the unit's bugler, Oliver Willcox Norton.
A uniquely American arrangement, "Taps" soon spread to the Army of the Potomac and then the rest of the Union Army for the same purpose. The French command was quickly forgotten. By 1891, the song came into use for another reason: military funerals.
The 1891 U.S. Army Infantry Drill Regulations manual is the first officially recorded instance of playing "Taps" being mandatory at a funeral, but it was likely used in an unofficial manner long before then. At least one Civil War funeral, for an artilleryman in Virginia, was recorded to have used the song.
"Taps" is still the final song played on U.S. military installations every day, worldwide. It is also the congressionally recognized "National Song of Remembrance," which makes it especially fitting for the National World War I Memorial, as there are no more living veterans of World War I and none was alive to see it under construction.
A daily rendition of "Taps" by a bugler dressed in the garb of the American Expeditionary Force is a joint effort by two nonprofit organizations: the Doughboy Foundation -- named after the nickname given to American troops fighting in World War I -- and Taps for Veterans.
The Doughboy Foundation was created to help the U.S. WWI Centennial Commission raise funds for the creation of the new memorial. Taps for Veterans is on a mission to ensure every military funeral and memorial ceremony has a live bugler or trumpeter on hand to play "Taps," as a shortage of buglers forces honor guards to use recordings of the song.
The National World War I Memorial was built on the former site of Washington, D.C.'s Pershing Park. It is the product of nearly seven years of conception, fundraising and construction and was built to honor the memories of 116,516 American troops who were sent "over there" and never came home.
"Taps" is played every night at the memorial to honor not just the memories of the fallen of World War I, but also the service of every U.S. military veteran since.
For those who missed the chance to see the Doughboy bugler at the National World War I Memorial, there are no plans to stop playing the song. You can catch the event every evening at the memorial grounds, which are right around the corner from the White House.
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