I can still hear the sound. Though many years have passed and many memories have drifted along the ebb and flow of my consciousness, I can still hear the sound.
I attended The Citadel many years ago and the memories from the experience could fill volumes. What sticks out though, what comes to me in those silent shades of memory, is not the endless parade of wool and grey or the youthful cadence of a thousand formations. It is not reveille or retreat or the smell of sweat and Brasso. What comes back to me is the sound of Echo Taps.
You have all heard Taps at some point or another. Taps is that familiar bugle call, played primarily by the military at funerals or to signal the end of the day. It is slow and mournful, but somehow reassuring. It provides closure. Echo Taps is a variation of this bugle call with a slight modification: a faint echo from another bugle is added. The effect is significant given the circumstances under which it is played.
Just before bedtime, when the rigor and restlessness of the corps has begun to settle, the order is given for everyone on campus to extinguish their lights and remain quiet. Everyone, the entire student body, is silent. The announcement is made that Echo Taps is to be played in memory of a fellow cadet or parent who has died. Many times, this is the first news of the loss. I can remember looking out onto the moon-lit parade ground, the entire campus otherwise dark, listening to that sweet sound and feeling the perspective hovering on every note. At that moment, as the nighttime fog drifts slowly across the campus, the entire corps is unified, more so than in the regimented parade formations of Friday afternoons, more so than in the pomp and circumstance of the marches to the football field, more so than at any other time I can remember.
The outside world does not see this. It is not on display.
There are lyrics to Taps, and although there are several official and unofficial verses, the following seem to be most often used:
“Day is done, gone the sun,
“From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;
“All is well, safely rest;
“God is nigh.”
Taps is song, somewhat poetry, very much prayer. It is, in the end, what makes the place special. It also makes a small, insignificant kid realize that he is part of something larger than himself. It reminds him that humanity is not too worried about the small details of his life. It reminds him that he doesn’t need to know someone in order to have a bond with them. It reminds him that an instance of shared respect, mourning, and love for each other can create something which was not there before.
It would be nice if we as a country could hear Echo Taps together after the stress and suffering so recently visiting our nation. It would be nice if we could all stop and look out our own windows and let the song drift through our own lives. It would be nice if it could carry at least some of the pain and suffering away and remind us also that no matter what: “All is well, safely rest; God is nigh.”