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‘Taps’ sounds for dwindling vets

Carrol Vertrees

Carrol Vertrees

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Updated: April 26, 2014 4:42PM



Seventy years ago, they sent the world’s biggest ship to haul me across the Atlantic. I would have gone in a smaller boat, probably, but this made me and thousands of other scared young men feel proud.

We were bound for a war. Homesick. Seasick. I got even sicker when the British mess hall opened — an aroma like no other. I wondered if they were on our side.

It was a fast four-day voyage — no convoys for us — to a place called the Firth of Clyde, a docking place in Scotland. It was too cold for kilts so I didn’t get to laugh at Scottish guys showing off their anatomies.

A sobering thought — old vets like me are leaving on their final voyage every day. We served in places we had not heard of before the world went mad.

If I find a really quiet time I can hear the plaintive sounds of Taps as buglers send us home, honorably discharged from the service of our country. Our ranks diminish, hour by hour.

I wonder how many of the young fellows I met on the Queen Elizabeth are alive. How many, as Gen. MacArthur said so eloquently, have “just faded away.”

I wonder if the old bugler who made the news two decades ago is still with us. He vowed to keep on bugling until “It’s Taps for me.”

There is a wry memory in that bugle story. I blew through bugle school at Camp Lee, Va., in the land of confederate memorials and peanuts.

But some high-level war planning guys decreed that bugle calls would be recorded — no live tooting. This wounded my pride, because I had been told that I puckered really well doing the bugle things.

I played “Retreat” best of all. There went my military career — I was never the same.

I don’t know where civilization lost its way or why. It almost seems that the human family has entered a labyrinth with eyes closed and now we wonder why we keep on wandering. The killing and grief continue.

We sing of peace and goodwill in this season. It is a time of hope. I think we should just stop the noise for a brief spell and listen for the sounds of “Taps.” We can hear, even from great distances, because it is recorded in the great long-playing record of our lives.

I am not maudlin about nearing the end of a great trip. It is time for many of us to rest.

The poet Ogden Nash wrote this piece of eloquence about it:

“People expect old men to die. They do not really mourn old men.

Old men are different. People look with eyes that wonder when...

People watch with unshocked eyes … But the old men know when an old man dies.”

We old men and women who were there notice that our ranks are diminishing, and in spirit we move close, trying to fill the gaps in our lines.

In our hearts the sound of “Taps” unites us. Let us listen.



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