A recent post on Twitter announcing the first Silver Taps ceremony of the semester at Texas A&M University brought back vivid memories of my first exposure to this cherished tradition. It was fifty years ago and I can still recall every detail of that night.
I was a freshman in the Corps of Cadets at the time just learning what it means to be an Aggie. I was frankly overwhelmed by the solemnity of fellow students gathering in silence to honor and remember other Aggies who had passed away the previous month. It impressed upon me that I was a part of something enduring, a spirit of fellowship and family that would last a lifetime.
A&M alumni reading this will understand exactly what I’m talking about. Others, those of you who read my posts but have no reference to go by, may appreciate a brief summary of the event.
On the morning of the ceremony the names of the dead are posted at the base of the flagpole outside the Academic building. The flag is then flown at half-mast throughout the day, and at 10:15 PM the lights on campus are extinguished. It is eerily dark and quiet. The firing squad from an elite unit known as the Ross Volunteers marches into position. They fire a 21-gun salute at 10:30 PM – the discharge of the guns is accompanied by the collective intake of breath throughout the student body as the sound of the guns pierces the silence. Six buglers atop the dome of the Academic building sound the mournful notes of a special orchestration of taps that has been passed down from bugler to bugler since 1898. These are the only sounds you hear. Taps is played three times; once to the North, once to the South, and once to the West. It is never played toward the East… the sun will never rise again on the departed. When the last note has been played no words are spoken. The students disperse returning to their dorms, apartments or homes to remember, to reflect, and to pray. – Excerpt from my memoir, Silver Taps.