Solemn Song

Published 11:08 am Wednesday, October 22, 2008

PROCTORVILLE — Those haunting notes. Only four notes of them, but their poignant wail can make battle-scarred veterans weep.

Taps. Any bugler or trumpet player knows the impact that refrain has.

Kira Dillon certainly does. For the past four years the 17-year-old has been the official bugler for the VFW Post 6878 in Proctorville, playing that famous melody at each funeral where the VFW members perform military graveside rites.

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“It is an honor. It is a special kind of honor,” Dillon said. “You are playing for someone’s funeral. They have had an amazing life. They went through the war.”

Dillon, a senior at Fairland High, started studying the trumpet in sixth grade. When she went into ninth grade, her band director recommended her to the Proctorville post that was looking for a new bugler. Every four years, the post picks a Fairland freshman as its official musician, who will continue that duty until graduation.

“I was more than happy to do it. My grandpa, my dad’s dad, he was a veteran,” Dillon said. “The notes aren’t hard. It’s getting a nice quality sound. That is what is hard. Everyone is listening to it.”

The melody was an adaptation of a military signal by Union General Daniel Butterfield, an upstate New Yorker who led a brigade of the V Corps of the Army of the Potomac in the Battle of Bull Run. He was later awarded the Medal of Honor for an act of heroism during the heat of battle.

Assisted by the brigade’s bugler, Oliver Willcox Norton, Butterfield took the musical call that had been used to signal the end of each day and transformed it into Taps. It was a refrain that so captivated soldiers that it was adopted not only by all Union soldiers, but also some Confederacy troops, according to the West Point Web site.

Dillon’s predecessor taught her the notes about a month before her debut, which came about unexpectedly. Originally she was simply supposed to observe her first military funeral, but it ended up that she had to stand in for the first-string player that day.

“Some of these cemeteries are way out in the county and he got lost so I had to play,” she recalled. “Luckily I had my trumpet. I was very nervous.”

Each time a veteran requests military graveside services, Dillon joins the post members at the funeral home where each veteran honors the deceased by saluting his casket. Then she travels with the veterans ahead of the hearse to the cemetery.

“The vets form a line and that is where the 21-gun salute is done. I stand behind them,” she said. “I play the Taps and they give the closest family member the American flag folded in a triangle.”

The number of times in four years Dillon has played at funerals can’t be counted, but her emotions are vivid each time.

“I have done it so many times, but it does still have an impact every time I do it.”