EXETER, R.I. (WPRI) — At the first Echotaps ceremony some 13 springs ago, there were only five buglers, and no one to hear them play other than the heroes they were honoring.
Organizer Michael Jackson would tell you that was fine, since the cascade of taps is for the fallen at Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery.
But since that first year, the ceremony has gotten louder, with hundreds more there to watch.
“We had 90 horn players one year,” Jackson said. “We get maybe 250 in the crowd.”
Nearly three dozen brought their brass to Exeter on Armed Forces Day 2018, warming up in a stiff breeze and light, but chilly rain.
They were surrounded by more than a hundred umbrellas and of course, the final resting places near the World War II Memorial.
Bob Lowell was at the front of what became a circle of sound around the granite marked hill at the memorial, charged with playing the first three of the 24 saddest notes in music.
“Very nervous,” he said beforehand. “Am I going to screw up the first three notes? But then it always goes fine. You have to remember what we’re doing this for. Remember those who have fallen.”
After Lowell trumpeted his three, he kept playing. Then, the player next to him continued a domino effect around the entire circle, with each player starting after the one next to them hit their own first three notes.
“The next player, the next player, the next player,” Jackson explained. “And it just cascades right around this big circle, which is about quarter mile around.”
The youngest musician was 13 years old.
The oldest – 94-year-old World War II veteran George Silva, who couldn’t care less about the rain.
“It brings tears to the eyes, as the director said,” Silva said. “I guess it was nice to have the rain to cover those tears but it didn’t make a difference.”
Jackson is the last one to play, sounding off his trumpet right before a rifle salute broke through the cool afternoon.
He’s played taps at about 12,770 funeral services.
“But who’s counting?” he joked.
And even as Jackson approaches 13,0000, he says he feels the same sorrow for each of the thousands of Americans who were remembered at those services.
“Emotions, tears,” he said. “I’m not immune to that at all.”
He pointed out that the fallen earned taps, rifle salutes and the folding of the flag.
“I don’t want to leave out those guys,” he said. “Very important.”
And for all of them.
“It’s not work,” Jackson said. “It’s not work. It’s very meaningful for me because I’m a part of that detail to lay this person to their final rest.”