I. Today, about 450 to 500 people gathered at the Mat-Su Valley's Veterans Wall of Honor, just off the Parks Highway, to the south of the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center. The weather could not have been better, with light breezes, and a temperature working its way up through the 60s.
I was there to play Taps at the formal ceremony's conclusion. I've done that here and elsewhere many times on Memorial Day and on Veterans Day.
I played at the site's inaugural Memorial Day, back in the early 1990s. In 1995, I directed the combined Anchorage Community Concert Band and Mat-Su College Community Band in a patriotic concert there on Memorial Day, recognizing the 50th anniversary of VE Day in Europe. Scores of World War II Veterans attended that event. Most have since passed on, including my own dad. I've played bugle at some of their funerals or memorials in the intervening years, including Dad's.
When I play at these public ceremonies, I dress up. Other than the U.S. Army honor guard and uniformed military personnel on duty, I was by far the most "dressed up" person there. In the 20 years I've been doing this, public officials dress up less, each year. I can't. Perform Taps in polo shorts?
None went so far as Sarah Palin did yesterday in DC, wearing black leather and stiletto heels, but I find it disturbing that Sen. Charlie Huggins, Rep. Carl Gatto and Wasilla Mayor REDDI Rubereich had to look like they couldn't wait to put on their golfing shoes or hot dog BBQ aprons. The 150 bikers who were there showed more awareness in their attire:
Laddie Shaw, whose label in the public safety and vet affairs community is that of usefully contrarian yet loyal apparatchik, gave the keynote. It centered on the American demi-fascist meme "it isn't the politician, artist, bureaucrat, reporter, (fill in the space here) who gives you your "freedoms," it is the soldier (or sailor, airman or Marine).
Of course there is a lot of truth in that notion. Yet the way this narrative often plays at these ceremonies negates the beauty of the message, as either the speaker or the audience interpolates too easily the most recent object of their political, ideological, racial or sexual hatred into the unfilled spaces.
No mentions of the struggles that are ongoing for recognition of the seriousness of traumatic head injuries.
No cry by the dependable laddie, Shaw, for justice for our gay patriots.
No call to reach out to potential soldiers who fluently speak the languages and understand the cultures of people we are so relentlessly bombing every fucking hour.
I was pissed. My mouth was getting dry in the heat, as I sat between some Harleys, trying to figure out where it would be best to play Taps in the growing breeze. As the Scottish pipers began Amazing Grace - the beginning of the ceremony's close - I realized the best place to play would be under the POW/MIA flagpole, facing the monument and its hundreds of honored names, so the sound would reflect back over the audience as the breeze carried it toward them.
The pipers were playing, and people turned away to look at them. I walked toward the flagpole. A reporter saw me with my bugle in hand. I was already thinking of getting ready to play. He asked, as I walked by, "could I have your name?"
I replied "It's at the bottom of the program." It probably came off as curt, but I just wanted to think about breathing and getting the dryness out of my mouth for those 24 very serious notes.
II. After the ceremony, I went home, changed out of the white shirt, tie, slacks and blazer. Grabbed the dog and truck, and purchased more building materials for new steps and ramps down to the lake's waterline. When I got home, Eric, my faithful assistant for many things, was waiting to start hacking away at 4 X 6's for the steps. I suggested a beer and fishing poles. Eric caught the first Rainbow of the season. Strider was in dog heaven, watching the loons and grebes and fish.
Judy hiked Lazy Mountain with her friend Pam. Judy took this picture as she approached the peak.
What a great Memorial Day picture conclusion.