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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

The Last Time Playing Taps


A Letter to My Father Dear Dad,

I had played Taps hundreds of times. It was a duty, a part of a professional trumpet player’s life. This time it was different. We walked over to the gravesite and gathered in a circle. I wasn’t sure if I could breathe, but somehow I did. Suddenly, I didn’t really know what to do next. I wasn’t used to being one of the mourners. I bowed my head in prayer, and then, at the sound of a cardinal’s bright song, I knew that I should distance myself from the circle.

With my cornet in hand, I slipped away and headed for one of the only trees in sight. I know Dad… me and trees. The servicemen were close by. I recognized a few of them from the countless parades and other times I had played Taps.

They murmured amongst themselves and prepared for the salute—the three volleys. I think that’s when I summoned my courage and stepped out from behind the tree. No fear. I wanted to play in full view with pride and conviction. Again, it seemed like I was watching from somewhere else.

“Ready? Aim! Fire!” I felt the gunshots inside the walls of my chest and into my gut. I waited until they were finished, and I paused. I always played Taps with sincerity, but this time it was different. It was for you, Dad. Suddenly, all of that strength that I got simply from being “Ramsey’s Daughter” came to the forefront. I played as a daughter—your daughter. This was no ordinary gig.

I played forte so that the sound would carry sweetly and consistently throughout the cemetery. I did not rush. In fact, I may have paused in between the musical phrases more than I had ever paused before. Musically it was beautiful—emotionally and spiritually necessary for my own survival. I savored each note and honored you as a man, a soldier, and as my father—the final tribute that I would pay to you in front of family, friends, and God.

Yes, Dad. It did change me. I became stronger, as you knew that I would. Of course, I cannot say the same for the other music I played at your funeral. Still, Taps was a symbol of our bond, based on a pillar of strength, the “Pettengill way” that all of us have so adamantly owned. Dad, it does not fade; it remains.

The silence following Taps was filled with love and profundity. I stayed near the tree and smiled at my sweet Anna as she gave me her look of love, brown eyes to brown eyes. That was the push that I needed to be able to return to the circle beside your grave.

Love Always,

Maryjane ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Ramsey Pettengill served in the US Army at the end of WWII in what is known as Occupied Japan. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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