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Remembering Memorial Day With Lyrics

May 25, 2011

BY TRACY STEFFENSON

While we all prepare to celebrate Memorial Day on Monday, May 30, 2011 a friend of mine, Verne Jackson, passed on some interesting information. And I was surprised when I read it and realized I didn’t know it.

This is something that I feel every American should know. We have all heard the haunting song “Taps” that is commonly played at soldier’s funerals. It is the song that gives us chills and can bring a tear to your eye with only a few notes.

But how many of us know the story behind this famous song? Not many right? I know I didn’t. This song had extremely humble beginnings.

According to records, during the Civil War the Union Army Captain, Robert Elli, was with his men near Harrison’s Landing in Virginia and the Confederate Army was on the other side of the strip of land. During the night, Captain Elli heard the moans of a soldier who was severely wounded. Not know if it was a Union or Confederate soldier, the Captain decided to risk his life and bring the soldier back for medical attention.

Crawling on his stomach through the gunfire, the Captain reached the soldier and began pulling him towards his encampment. When the Captain finally reached his own lines, he discovered it was a Confederate soldier, but it was too late, the soldier was dead.

The Captain lit a lantern and suddenly caught his breath and went numb with shock. In the dim light he finally say the face of the soldier, it was his own son. His son had enlisted in the Confederate Army while studying music in the South when the war broke out.

The following morning, heartbroken, the father asked for permission from his superiors to be allowed to give his son a full military burial, despite his enemy status. His request was only partially granted. The Captain had asked if he could have a group of Army band members play a funeral dirge for his son at the funeral.  

The request was turned down since the soldier was a Confederate.   But, out of respect for the Captain, his superiors did allow him to have one single musician. The Captain chose a bugler.  He asked the bugler to play a series of musical notes he had found on a piece of paper in the pocket of the dead youth's uniform, and his wish was granted.  

And that is how the haunting melody we now know as 'Taps' was born.   Along with the story of the birth of the song, many also do not know that there are words that accompany it, and more than one verse. The words are: 

“Day is done.  Gone the sun. From the lakes, From the hills.  
From the sky.  All is well.  Safely rest.  God is nigh. 

Fading light. Dims the sight.  And a star. Gems the sky. 
Gleaming bright. From afar. Drawing nigh. Falls the night. 

Thanks and praise.  For our days.  'Neath the sun, 'neath the stars.
  'Neath the sky, as we go. This we know.   God is nigh.”

Now that you know the story behind the song and the words that go with it, the song takes on a much more personal touch, as a matter of fact it teared me up while writing this article. As we go forward and celebrate Memorial Day with our friends and family, do not forget why we celebrate, to remember, to honor and to celebrate the lives of the fallen men and women who paid the ultimate price to allow us to be a free nation.

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