I Played “Taps” for Sammie!

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Tonight was the viewing for Sammie Baisden, an 88 year old WWII veteran. Sammie was a volunteer at Villa Springfield where I volunteer also, heading up a men’s group there. He was also a member of the Purple Heart Chapter 620 and we meet on the third Thursday of each month.

I thought I would go and “pay my respects” to Sammie and his family, and also to be there with the Purple Heart members. When I walked through the entrance door, the first person I see is Betty Deane (92), the wife of WWII veteran, Harold Deane (94). I have known them for years now, and love them dearly. Before I could get to her to say hello, Dave Baurer, an officer from the 620 Purple Heart Chapter pulled me aside and asked if I might help out with the Purple Heart Ceremony that evening for the friends and family. I asked what they wanted me to do and Dave replied, “Play Taps!”

Now I know what you are thinking, “Randy can’t even blow his nose, much less, a trumpet!” And that is what I tried to tell Dave Baurer. He wasn’t taking no for an answer. “It’s a piece of cake,” he says. He then shows me this very expensive horn with a little techno-device mounted inside the big horn part that plays taps when you push the right buttons. He showed me the on/off switch and the tiny button that was pushed to play “taps” when the time was right.

I recently had eye surgery and I am not able to focus on anything up close. The funeral home was darkened and where I was supposed to stand was even more dark. To add to my nervousness, the device inside the horn with its tiny switches and buttons was black on black. So my immediate mission was to memorize the location of the switches, dials, and buttons before I hit the darkened area, which I did. I did not want to mess this up.

Sharply at 6:00 pm I marched into the viewing area with the others from Chapter 620 with visitors and family standing along the sides, making a way for us. We walked smartly up to the casket one at a time and saluted Sammie, ex-marines and soldiers from three different wars, wounded veterans paying their final respects to a comrade in arms. There were many Marine jackets and Purple Heart jackets and Purple Heart hats. It was very solemn and very respectful. I was honored to be there participating.

After saluting Sammie and returning to the line of veterans, Dave motioned for me to exit with him to the corridor to get ready with my trumpet at his signal. I took the trumpet from its case, checked the position of the buttons one last time and positioned myself in the darkened, double doorway facing Sammie’s family standing across the room by the casket. Dave had returned to the viewing room with a Bible in hand and he and Doug Woods, the 620 Post Commander, presented Sammie’s son with the Bible and turned sharply toward me.

“Present…Arms!” That was my signal! I pressed the buttons in the sequence as I was instructed, placing the horn to my mouth as if I were playing. Tears rolled down my cheeks as that soulful sound of “Taps” broke the silence of the room. My hand began to tremble a bit and the horn followed suit. I held steady, thinking of Sammie and his life. I did not know Sammie well, but I knew that he had experienced war, that he was wounded in war, and I knew that he had a kind heart for others. That is all I needed to know at that moment.

As the song wound down and concluded, the ceremony was soon over. It was one of those moments when you catch your breath and say, “Wow, what just happened?” If someone this morning would have told me that tonight I would be playing “Taps” at the viewing of a WWII veteran, I would have said, “Right!”. But I did, and I am so glad for this life’s experience that I never would have planned on my own. I’m glad it all happened at Sammie’s viewing, it just seemed right. Like I said, I was honored.

I will always remember Sammie’s smile and his firm handshake. I liked him from the first time we met. Some folks are like that.

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