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Paying our flag its due respect

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. James Fuller
  • 90th Missile Wing Plans and Programs
Each morning, afternoon and evening, we hear the familiar sounds of Reveille, the National Anthem and Taps. We all do our duty and stop in our vehicle, salute or place hand over heart where we stand, as the notes resonate across the base. But what does it all mean? Is it just a musical prelude for the day and postlude for the evening? No, these are not just pauses in our day that may seem inconvenient or a bother, but they are steeped in tradition that has been a part of our military heritage for many years.

First is Reveille, which is most often played at the beginning of the day. History shows that Reveille started around the 1600's to awaken soldiers in the morning. Of course Reveille is not used to awaken us now; but is used as a respect to the flag. Most have heard this for years throughout their military career, but after a while it becomes monotonous and we just stop and impatiently wait until it's over. But have you given any thought to the words that you might be listening to or why it was used to wake everyone up? Without any type of alarm system, units needed a way to make everyone aware it was time to wake up and prepare for movement. Can you imagine trying to stir hundreds, maybe even thousands at once? The sound of Reveille provided commanders with a means to quickly and efficiently make an announcement to troops. As the years passed, other means replaced this military version of the alarm clock.

The lyrics of reveille are all about getting up and getting the day started. Reveille signals the start of our day, even though most of us are already up and moving before it even sounds.

As the end of the day rolls around and we prepare to leave work, we hear the familiar sounds of the National Anthem. This is the second time during the day to reflect on our flag and those who served under it. The history of the National Anthem dates back to the War of 1812, where Francis Scott Key witnessed the battle at Ft. McHenry. In the dawning daylight hours as Key looked over the bay, our flag came into view. Overwhelmed by the sight, he began to write the words to the most beloved song in America. Since that time, we as a nation have fought 59 different conflicts from the Black Hawk War to the War on Terrorism. During these conflicts, thousands upon thousands of men and women have given the ultimate sacrifice for the colors that we so proudly serve. When the anthem plays we stop our cars, and pay tribute to our flag. We should take these few moments and reflect on just what this songs means to us and to those who have gone before us. Think of the sacrifices you have made in your own career and think about all those who served before you and what they did to lead the way for our military today.

Finally, at 10 p.m., if you listen closely, you will hear the soft tones of Taps. The history of Taps dates back to around the 1830's and was utilized as "lights out" for military members. Taps is also known by two other names "Butterfield Lullaby" or "Day's Done" which is mentioned within the lyrics of the song. Taps seems to be the most comforting of all the military tunes that is played.

One experience of mine that put Taps into perspective was at Normandy, France. I had the privilege to visit a cemetery and was given the name of the caretaker there. I introduced myself and had a brief conversation with him on the history of the cemetery and the area around Normandy. He asked if I would do him a favor and stand with him as Taps was played.

I have to say in my career that was the most surreal thing I have experienced. As Taps played and my family and I overlooked the marble sea of crosses, my mind could not help but think of all those who had not returned home from the shores I stood on. They had died from the confrontation with German pill boxes that June day. The song ended and we exchanged farewells with the caretaker and went about our tour of the cemetery. I will never forget that day at Normandy and will always have a deep respect for our brothers and sisters who have lost their lives for freedom when I hear Taps played.

So the next time, whether it is morning, afternoon or evening and you hear one of these songs played over the loudspeaker, stop and think about what it means and don't be rushed, just take in and continue to share this military tradition with both your family and friends.