". . . to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan . . . " Abraham Lincoln
April 7th, 2008, I hid my eyes deliberately from the crowd in the dining room as I walked outside into the night that was chaste with the glow of natures cannon fire . . . or perhaps I fantasized, they were mortars falling in the distant darkness, leaving behind a thundering roll of them falling to earth. On any other night in any other town, it would have merely been lightning , a precursor to a coming storm.
But On April 7th, as I sat in the dining area of the motels restaurant, I heard the faint crying of a lone bugle from somewhere in the darkness beyond the reach of the motels lights . . . a song of mourning . . . of despair . . . the sound of a heart crying through the note of a single trumpet . . . somewhere beyond the veil of night, and it called to me. There was such a needing to be near it, to listen to its reverence . . . and tears formed and fell across my cheeks . . . and I hid my eyes from the folks in the dining room as I made my way out of the restaurant, past the pool gate and headed into the expanse of grass east of the motel to the small forest lining the property . . . shielding the motel from highway 69.
I followed the cry of that trumpet . . . barely able to see the bushes . . . and finally I stepped into a small opening where a gazebo stood resolutely in the flash of the thunderstorm forming to the south.
I stood there letting my eyes adjust to the darkness after a particularly brilliant and blinding strike . . . .the thunder began rolling . . . like a chorus of many drums that herald a coming finale . . . and then the song of the bugle began again . . . Taps . . . and it is impossible to tell of the longing and the loneliness of that sound . . . a cry of honor for the fallen . . . a single horn playing a symphony of ‘I remember you" and gratitude and respect and good-bye . . . and it tore at my heart.
I could see the silhouette of a man . . . standing in the gazebo . . . bugle to his lips . . . holding the last note of the ‘good-bye' for what seemed like minutes . . . without breathing. I wished I could have recorded that moment for all to see and hear . . . the lone figure silhouetted in the gazebo against a backdrop of lightning and thunder playing in the background.
Finally he stopped and sat down on the bench that lined the inner circle of the small gazebo and I hesitated . . . not wanting to disturb him . . . but finally said, "That was probably the most beautiful rendition of taps I've ever heard"
And he looked in my direction briefly . . . then turned away . . . and I could see as he pulled a hanky from his pocket and wiped his eyes, that he had heard me. Finally he spoke in a voice that had tasted the good and the bad of his eternity . . . "Thank you . . . that's kind of you to say. I hope I wasn't disturbing you"
And I was nearly offended by his gentle unspoken apology to me. "May I join you?", I asked him.
And he motioned to the bench across from him. "My names Leo . . . short for Leonard . . . but friends call me Buzz . . . an' I reckon yer ok . . . you can call me Buzz if ya like".
"I gotta tell you Buzz . . . you brought tears to my eyes, like your heart was in that Bugle".
"Has been", he said, "For nearin' 70 plus now, and tomorrow is the last good-bye to a fellow soldier. I been playin' Taps for my buddies funerals now since '64, been blowin' the horn since boot in '41. I got no other way to let' em go." He stopped, visibly fighting back hurt and memories of so many years. "I'm 92 last week, and tomorrow I'm playin' for ‘Golpher'. His plaques gonna read Staff Sergeant Patterson , Geoffrey S, but I'm playin' for Golpher", his voice cracking a bit. "We was in the same outfit in the war ya' know . . . him n' me and 27 others . . . an' we made a pact that the last ones standin' would blow the horn for each other as we got laid down. Last year, Golpher n' me played at 3 funerals . . . .tomorrow . . . I'm playin' for Golpher . . . .an' then its just me left."
"I'm am so very sorry to" . . . But he held up his hand to stop me . . . and I stopped.
There was a long pause . . . punctuated with the chorus of rumbling drums in the background . . . flashes of mortar in the distance . . . streaking across the night.
"I have had the honor and the humblin' privilege", he said after a few moments, "of being able to say good-bye to so many. Esther, my wife of 69 years, has been there with me at every one of ‘em . . . and she is waiting in the room for me to try on my dress blues again. Don't cry for me sonny, and don't give me your pity . . . I am the luckiest man on earth to have played at nearly every National Cemetery . . . an' bein' the last one standin' to say good-bye."
We talked for a bit . . . well I mostly listened . . . as he took some time to cross the familiar bridges of his memory . . . about how he'd played at San Bruno, Little Rock, San Diego, one called Zachary Taylor in Kentucky where "the trees cried at that one", he said, and on and on, naming off places he has said good-bye. "An' ya know somethin'? It's awful dang fillin' to stand up an' be the last one to say good job soldier. I'll see ya later. An' it never meant nothin' to me that most times, my wife an' me was the last ones there, when everyone else was gone on. I kept my word, an' I'm proud o' that". He wet his lips, put the horn up to blow and paused to say . . . " If ya don't mind, I gotta practice one more time . . . since this is the last good-bye I'm gonna play . . . it's gotta be perfect."
I said simply , "Thank you sir, and God Bless you. You are someone I will treasure having met".
He looked at me, smiled and said in a grunt, "My friends don't call me sir. They call me Buzz." And he began again . . . allowing the Bugle to cry the song of his heart.
Nor do I think he heard me say . . . "God Bless you Buzz." But I have a feeling that God will do that . . . even with out my permission. And as I walked away through the veil of trees to my room, I heard a bugle cry, and the mortars fell, and their flash that streaked through the night seemed to say "Amen".