I’ve been putting off writing about Dad’s funeral. I guess because I’m not sure what to say and kinda sorta didn't want to relive it, but I need to say SOMETHING. So today I decided to just begin writing and see what happens.
The day of the funeral began with preparing for the after-party. Set-up of the room and shopping and whatnot. The Medford, Oregon weather cooperated and the sun shone for my dad’s final goodbye. We arrived at the Eagle Point National Cemetery at 12:45pm and the afternoon began at 1:00 p.m. with the playing of Taps and the flag-folding ceremony. Much tears were had (and are still being had) over Taps. If my dad were here, he and I would be discussing the history of Taps and the flag folding. I’d pull it up on my iPad and he on his Google and we’d spend about 45 minutes in deep research over the history of Taps.
Taps is traditionally played on a bugle and features a mere 24 notes. It is taken from a French bugle signal that notified soldiers to stop drinking and return to camp (called, “Tatoo”). The last five measures of Tatoo, apparently, resemble that of Taps. This last call came an hour before the final bugle call to end the day and turn out the lights, which was called, “L’Extinction des feux.”
Today’s Taps was created during the Civil War by Union general Daniel Adams Butterfield in Harrison Landing, Virginia. He decided the “lights out” music was too formal and so in July of 1862 he hummed what he remembered of Tatoo and an aide wrote it down in music. Butterfield then asked the brigade bugler, Oliver W. Norton, to play it and, after some work, it became the call at the end of each day. Union and Confederate buglers alike began using this as the call at the end of the day. It was given the name, “Taps” in 1874 after the command, “Tap Toe”, which was to shut the tap of a keg.
With its beginnings as a call to end the day, Dad and I might wonder when it started to be used in military funerals. While fitting (what more end to the day could one possibly have???), there was already a three gun firing over the grave as part of a military funeral. So we’d find that later in 1862, Captain John C. Tidball began the custom when one of his soldier’s died. They were not allowed to fire the guns due to giving away their position. But they were allowed to play Taps. And the tradition began. By 1891, it was a standard component in US military funerals.
Following Taps, the soldiers performed the flag folding ceremony, whereby two soldiers truly made a ceremony of folding the flag. I found these instructions on publications.us.gov and this is pretty much exactly how it went:
FOLDING THE FLAG
- Two persons, facing each other, hold the flag waist high and horizontally between them.
- The lower striped section is folded, lengthwise, over the blue field. Hold bottom to top and edges together securely.
- Fold the flag again, lengthwise, folded edge to open edge.
- A triangular fold is started along the length of the flag, from the end to the heading by bringing the striped corner of the folded edge to meet the open edge.
- The outer point is turned inward parallel with the open edge, forming a second triangle.
- Repeat the triangular folding until the entire length of the flag is folded.
- When the flag is completely folded only the triangular blue field should be visible.
“A properly proportioned flag will fold 13 times on the triangles, representing the 13 original colonies. The folded flag is emblematic of the tri-cornered hat worn by the Patriots of the American Revolution. When folded, no red or white stripe is to be evident, leaving only the blue field with stars.”
Dad’s flag was presented to my Dad's wonderful wife Molly as a keepsake for his service in the U.S. Navy. The soldier knelt before her with the flag held out and said the words, “On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Navy, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's honorable and faithful service.”