Years ago, Mark Wentz learned about a bugler shortage. "I read they were having trouble getting bugle players for military funerals," Wentz, a library database specialist at Mayo Clinic, tells us. Which meant that instead of a live performance of taps, many such funerals feature a recording, sometimes via a speaker tucked inside a bugle to give the impression of the real deal. "That's just a bugle-shaped boom box," Wentz says.
The bugler shortage came to mind again a few years back, as his wife's grandfather, a World War II vet, entered his mid-90s. "He was a staff sergeant in the 12th Armored Division of the Army, nicknamed the Hellcats," Wentz says. "He used to go to the reunions and wrote for the Hellcats newsletter. He talks a lot about being a vet. It's a huge part of his life."
Wentz knew that when the time came, his grandfather-in-law would want more than a bugle-shaped boom box at his funeral. So he decided to guarantee a live performance by preparing for the job himself. "At first I thought I'd be able to pick it up without taking lessons," Wentz tells us. But it turns out taps, the bugle call for "lights out," is tougher than it looks (er, sounds) to play. Especially when trying to toot a purely decorative horn. "I went to my first lesson and found out the bugle I was using was decorative," Wentz says.
Once he secured a proper instrument, Wentz learned taps and several other bugle calls. He admits it was slow going at first. "My family had to deal with me butchering the calls for a while," Wentz tells us. But after about a year of practice, he's mastered taps and will someday be able to honor his grandfather-in-law.
But rather than keep his new skills on ice, Wentz has offered to honor other veterans as well. He signed up with Bugles Across America, an organization of more than 4,000 volunteer buglers who play military funerals around the United States. Wentz has already performed at one service and will gladly answer the call to honor more veterans — including one very special Hellcat — when he's needed.
Wentz wants to make sure all veterans and their families are aware that "it's the right of every veteran to have military funeral honors." This Veterans Day, consider making sure the service member in your life knows about the benefit.
Then salute us with your comments below before using the handy social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.