WINTER PARK, Fla. – At precisely 3 p.m. Monday, Wilbur Smith stepped into the front yard of his Winter Park home, lifted a trumpet to his lips and began playing the traditional military bugle call Taps.
As the notes broke the silence of Smith’s neighborhood and echoed through the cemetery across the street where several veterans are laid to rest, thousands of other musicians nationwide joined in playing the 24-note tune in honor of America’s fallen servicemembers.
Smith was among nearly two dozen Central Floridians who registered on the Taps Across America website ahead of the Memorial Day event, which was born last year during the pandemic.
“It hurts when you can’t get out and play Taps and be there or have the band out,” said Smith, who toured the world while serving as director of the Navy Music Program for 26 years. “It’s something to help say ‘thank you’.”
With COVID-19 forcing the cancellation of Memorial Day ceremonies in 2020, CBS News reporter Steve Hartman teamed up with the organization Taps for Veterans to promote a nationwide moment of remembrance.
The idea for Taps Across America came from a news story Hartman reported years earlier about Don Brittain, a Washington musician who plays Taps every night at sunset to honor America’s veterans.
“I’m in another zone when I’m playing. I’m not aware of anything but the fact that I’m playing this and I’m trying to play it as best as I can and do a good job,” Brittain told Hartman in 2012.
“What struck me most about that story was not just the playing of the taps, but when the neighbors came out and stood on their balconies, on their porch,” said Hartman. “And it blew me away, it brought me to tears in the moment.”
Participants were encouraged to record videos of their performances and share them on the organization’s Facebook page.
Smith, who currently leads a VFW band, took part in last year’s first Taps Across America remembrance.
Even though he was able to perform during in-person ceremonies this year at the Orlando VA Medical Center and Glen Haven Memorial Park, Smith once again joined other musicians in playing Taps at 3 p.m., a new tradition he plans to continue.
“It’s always important to do that, for the men and women who have gone out and sacrificed their lives for us, especially on Memorial Day,” said Smith. “It’s just a tremendous, tremendous thing to do.”