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What does ‘Taps Across America’ mean on Memorial Day?

Americans will stop what they are doing on Monday during Memorial Day in a moment to honour and remember those who have died in military service.

Memorial Day should not be confused with Veterans Day
Kevin LamarqueREUTERS

On Monday, America will be remembering and honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

It was president Richard Nixon who made Memorial Day a federal holiday in the United States on 31 May 1971 “to pay homage to those who have fallen in defense of our land, our people, and our principles”.

Since then, the last Monday in May has been dedicated to paying homage to the men and women who lost their lives in the line of duty.

Why do we have the remembrance day moment of silence at 3p.m?

On Monday, several events have been planned as part of this year’s Memorial Day. One of the most poignant moments of the day will be when members of the public, wherever they are and whatever they might be doing, are asked to spend one minute in silent reflection from 3 p.m.local time.

The time was chosen as it is when most people are the least likely to be busy and many businesses (banks, stock market, schools, libraries… etc) will be closed.

One sound that will be heard at 3 p.m. while many are deep in thought remembering lost relatives, loved ones and friends will be the solemn bugle call, Taps, the national call of remembrance which is synonymous with the US military.

What are the origins of Taps?

Taps, a haunting 24-note piece for bugle or trumpet was composed by General Daniel Butterfield, a self-confessed rudimentary bugle player, as a signal call for his own brigade (Third Brigade, First Division, Fifth Army Corps, Army of the Potomac) in the summer of 1862, one year into the American Civil War.

Still not quite happy with the melody, Butterfield admitted in a letter published in the August 1898 edition of Century Magazine that he had called in a skilled musician, someone who could actually read and compose, to adapt the notes to make it sound “smooth, melodious and musical”.

In the same article, Oliver W. Norton, a bugler in Butterfield’s division, claimed he was the one who revised and amended Taps.

No one knows the full facts of how Taps emerged and who was responsible, opinions are divided and perhaps we will never know. One theory suggests that Butterfield had somehow adapted an earlier bugle call, called Tattoo which has similarities. Lyrics have been written to accompany the music over the years, although no official words exist.

Taps Across America is a campaign set up by Jari Villanueva to promote a event to encourage thousands of buglers across the nation to simultaneously sound Taps at 3 p.m. local time.

It was set up in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic when many outdoor activities, picnic and parades, were cancelled. It brought together over 10,000 musicians and has been a regular feature of Memorial Day ever since.