The Navy Corpsman
By Robert Cowan
What is a Navy Corpsman, many people ask?
Well, I’ve decided to enlighten you; I’ve taken on the task
A Corpsman is a strange fellow; I’ll tell you what I mean
He joined the U.S. Navy but he’s more like a Marine
When Marines are asked to go to war to fight and maybe die
They have their “Doctor” with them; he’s their “go to” guy
A special breed of sailors that Marines do call their own
His job is taking care of them so they can go back home
When the shooting starts and bullets fly and men all hit the dirt
The corpsman looks around to see if anyone’s been hurt
He hears a feeble voice cry. “Doc, I’m over here”.
The corpsman rushes forward, his mission crystal clear
He finds a wounded comrade, a Marine that has been shot
The corpsman working swiftly, giving all he’s got
The young Marine whispers weakly, “Doc, will I die today?”
“Not a chance”, the corpsman replies, “if I have my way”.
The young Marine did survive to fight another day
On a miserable far off battlefield, a sailor saved his life
He’d soon be going home again to his children and his wife
So, if you ever meet a Corpsman say a silent prayer
For there are many Marines alive today who are glad that he was there
There’s no way of telling just how much he’s done and seen
As I said, he’s in the Navy but he’s more like a Marine.
LT Eddie Albert
Shadow Box: http://navy.togetherweserved.com/profile/465602
Short Bio: Albert is best remembered for his role of lawyer-turned-farmer ‘Oliver Wendell Douglas’ on the classic television comedy series “Green Acres”. His career began on radio, and appeared on the earliest test for television in 1936. He rescued 70 Marines during the battle of Tarawa.
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CWO4 Robert R Wilson
U.S. Coast Guard (Ret)
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PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE COAST GUARD?
I originally was trying to enlist in the Air Force. However, I knew that my draft was getting rather close and saw the sign for US Coast Guard Recruiting in the hall. I sat down and talked with the OIC of the office and was enlisted two weeks later.
The recruiter told me that I would not have to take a bus to Alameda for boot camp. He had sailed near the Cutter Eagle and never had a chance to go aboard. He said the ship was coming into San Francisco on my enlistment day and he was going to drive me down. When we arrived the ship was just coming into the bay. We watched as she moored and he knew a couple of Chiefs on board. We got invited to the Chiefs Mess for lunch. Damn, I thought, this outfit was great. Steak and baked potatoes and all the fixin’s and to boot, being served by the Cadets. And finally being called Sir. Had a great tour of the ship.
That afternoon, the Master Chief drove me to Alameda to get checked in. He told the JOOD to make sure and take care of me. I was being escorted to the forming barracks by a 2nd Class Petty Officer (can’t remember his rating), and as we were walking, just chatting along. Then all of a sudden, the PO grabbed me by my collar and told me very bluntly, “From now on the word SIR will be the first and last word, do I make myself understood.” I replied, “SIR YES SIR!!”
WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK. WHAT WAS YOUR REASON FOR LEAVING?
After I had been to Vietnam in 1968, I decided to stay for a career. Since I had done a lot of mechanical work prior to my graduation from HS, I had made up my mind that I was going to be an Engineman (EN).
While assigned to HQ I was promoted to MKC, Sep 1974. Then due to my assignment in Washington DC and had some good references, I decided to attempt to go into the Warrant Officer group. I was lucky and made CWO2(ENG) within 12 years.
I tried to get assigned to a ship and had orders to a 378 in Hawaii. The District Commander did not like a boot Warrant without any sea duty (or as little as I had) to be assigned to a cutter in his district. I finally ended up at Group Shinnecock, NY as GRUEO. Got reassigned to HQ in Jun 1981 and finally ended up as a GRUEO in Mayport FL.
I retired in Sep 1989.
IF YOU PARTICIPATED IN COMBAT, PEACEKEEPING OR HUMANITARIAN OPERATIONS, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT TO YOU AND, IF LIFE-CHANGING, IN WHAT WAY.
As stated previously I was stationed on board the USCGC Point Grace (WPB82323) Mar 18, 1968. I remained aboard for my entire tour and the Division Commander approved an early rotation stateside Feb 18, 1969.
We were in combat an average of at least once a month and participated in the largest Naval action on a direct target when the CGC Bibb (WHEC31), CGC Point Cypress (WPB82327), 8 Navy PCF’s, 4 Navy LCVP’s, the USS Washoe County (LSMR1165) and all the SEALs in Vietnam attacked Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army entrenchments along both side of the Song Bo De in IV Corps Area. This river had a reputation for not allowing friendly vessels to infiltrate without causing serious casualties. The river banks were covered with steel reinforced bunkers built by the Japanese during WWII. The SEALs duty was to infiltrate and destroy the bunkers and remove as many of the enemy as possible. What they couldn’t blow-up, they booby-trapped. The area was decimated to a point that no further damages were encountered subsequent to this action.
EM2 Nick Adams
US Coast Guard
Short Bio: After starting his acting career as an uncredited extra in the film “Somebody Loves Me” (1952), he joined the United States Coast Guard during the Korean War, and served three years. Leaving the military behind, he resumed his acting career with the film “Strange Lady in Town” (1955), and a number of less than notable films followed.
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SPC Zach Wooten
US Army (Ret)
Shadow Box: http://army.togetherweserved.com/profile/5052
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WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
As children my twin brother, younger brother and myself were all taught to love our country and always stand up for our rights and freedoms. Even before joining the Army, I found out military life runs in my family’s blood. For many men in my family, they joined out of a sense of duty or a calling of a higher meaning. My Grandfather served in the U.S. Army during World War II. My father served in Vietnam, as did my step-father. My twin brother, Jacob, enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. As for myself, I ended up spending 15 years serving in the US Army and Washington State Army National Guard.
Service to my country came naturally. I realized how unique it was to have a family military heritage that stretches back generations. I was proud to be able to have the opportunity to continue my family’s tradition of service. My father John ‘Marty’ Wooten is now a retired postman and divides his time between Washington State and Arizona. He was drafted into the Army in 1969 as an 11B-Infantryman and was quickly assigned to a long range reconnaissance patrol (LRRP) unit with the 1st Cavalry Division shortly after arriving to Vietnam. My dad was very proud of us joining the military. That was when he finally opened up about his military service. He pulled out a bunch of medals and pictures that I had never seen and showed me a uniform that I never knew he had. Before that, my grandfather Eugene Alfonsin (Mom’s father) spent his adult life as part of the New York Army National Guard, including deployments to Europe after World War II as part of the stabilization force serving with the US Constabulary.
For me, the idea of military service is more than just a family tradition; its a calling to serve your country. It’s always humbling when you see someone just stop to thank a soldier when they are in uniform. Even after everything I have endured I still believe it is one of the most honorable professions that a person can do. As a child, I always admired the military. I went to Veterans Day and Memorial Day parades and was fascinated with it. I never planned to serve, but in the back of mind I think I always knew it was an option.
After graduating from high school in 1991, I had plans to attend Central Washington University. However, when scholarships couldn’t cover the cost of tuition, I and my twin brother decided to pursue other alternatives. Service to our country came naturally to us so we both decided to join the United States Army. At the last minute my brother ended up changing his mind but eventually he ended up enlisting in the United States Marine Corps a couple of years later.
WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
I enlisted in the U.S. Army on July 23, 1991 and completed Basic Combat Training at Fort Leonardwood, Missouri, in December 1991. I then received training as a Man Portable Air Defense Crewmember (16S) at Fort Bliss, Texas between January 1992 – March 1992.
My first permanent duty station was with the 4th Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Artillery in the 3rd Infantry Division in Kitzingen, Germany. I was cross-trained as a Bradley-Stinger Fighting Vehicle Crewmember (14R) in Vilsek, Germany.
When my tour of duty was up, I reenlisted and PCS’d to Fort Carson, Colorado and was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Artillery in the 4th Infantry Division. During my time there my entire battalion was deployed in support of humanitarian operations (Operation Sea Signal) in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from Feb – July 1995. I then ETS’d from Active Duty and opted to join the Army National Guard to continue my military service.
I then joined the Washington Army National Guard and served between October 1995 – October 1996.
Frustrated with civilian life and nostalgic for my time on active duty, I decided to reup and went back into active duty on November 1, 1996 and was assigned to the 5th Battalion (Patriot), 7th Air Defense Artillery in Hanau, Germany. Shortly after arriving, my unit was called up to serve was to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Southern Watch from March – Sept 1997.
This was a massive operation conducted by Joint Task Force Southwest Asia (JTF-SWA) with the mission of monitoring and controlling airspace south of the 32nd Parallel (extended to the 33rd Parallel in 1996) in Iraq, following the 1991 Gulf War until the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
We were assigned to a Patriot site just outside of King Khalid International Airport (KKIA). Our mission was to provide a High to Medium Air Defense (HIMAD) platform, patrolling the skies with our advanced radar system against any Iraq aircraft that violated the no fly zone. This ensured Iraqi compliance with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 688. After returning from our deployment in September, it was back to the mundane life of garrison duty and the occasional field training exercises.
When we returned, I continued to serve in this unit until June 1999, when I reenlisted and was reassigned to Fort Lewis, Washington with the 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery, 3rd Brigade – 2nd Infantry Division.
While assigned to this unit I served as an Air Defense Early Warning Systems Operator (14J) and was later reassigned to duties as a Small Arms Maintenance Repairman (45B). I served there until June 2001, when I finally decided I had had my fill of active duty.
Once again, I joined the Washington State Army National Guard and was reassigned to the 181st Support Battalion at the Seattle Armory in Seattle. I served there in a variety of capacities; chaplain assistant, motor vehicle operator, radio operator and finally, as a multi-media illustrator with our battalion operations section. In September 2003 my unit was called up to mobilize and deploy to Iraq in February 2004. It was the largest mobilization our state had seen since World War II. Around 4,000 soldiers from throughout the state were called up for active duty to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom II.
We were to be a part of a large multi-national force that would be the first occupying force in Iraq since the initial invasion in March 2003. It was definitely an unforgettable experience going to an actual combat zone for the first time. I was a little bit apprehensive but excited at the same time. Like my father before me, who served in Vietnam, I would finally have the honor of serving my country during a time of war. This was something I had wanted to do since I enlisted way back in July 1991 after the end of Operation Desert Storm. It was what I had been trained to do for the last twelve years.
My unit deployed to Logistics Support Area (LSA) Anaconda near Balad. Spread over fifteen square miles, this was one of the largest American military bases in Iraq which was formerly the largest Iraqi air base during the Desert Storm era. I was to be assigned as a provisional infantry soldier. Our mission was to perform site security for the entire base. We performed some infantry tasks like looking for IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) along some of the Main Supply Routes (MSR’s) near our base. Our security force also conducted foot-patrols along these same MSR’s. We also stopped traffic and performed random searches to find and detain people on our watch lists. Our security force was also assigned to man three separate Entry Control Points (ECP’s), monitoring convoys going in and out of the base and doing personnel searches on Iraqi civilians and Iraqi National Guard (ING) soldiers entering and leaving our base.
But before I was assigned to the security element, I was initially assigned to my battalion operations section to perform radio watch duties and monitor convoy radio traffic. It was my job to annotate what units were entering and leaving our base as well as the number of vehicles, personnel, weapons and sensitive items they possessed. Needless to say, this was very tedious and extremely boring work. I told myself if I had to do this for a year I was going to go crazy. I had come to Iraq to see some action. This wasn’t exactly what I had bargained for.
My prayers were quickly answered. But you know what they say, be careful what you wish for, for you may just get it! The operations Officer in Charge (OIC) notified our staff that they were short on personnel to help work in the security element that was to provide security for the entire base. I quickly jumped at the chance and volunteered immediately. I had performed site security duties at the Patriot site in Saudi Arabia back in 1997. My OIC then informed my Platoon Sergeant that I would be starting my security duties within a week.
On my ninth day ‘in country’, I was wounded in action during an enemy rocket attack that occurred on 12 April 2004, sustaining a TBI and nerve damage to my neck, left shoulder and arm. During my tenure in Iraq, I was also awarded the newly created Combat Action Badge for being personally present and actively engaging or being engaged by the enemy, and performing satisfactorily in accordance with the prescribed rules of engagement in an incident that occurred on 9 June 2004.
After returning home from Iraq in March 2005, I continued to work for my unit in a temporary capacity assisting the S-3 Operations section as we continued to transition back to our garrison in Seattle, WA. In September 2005, I volunteered for the humanitarian relief efforts in Louisiana after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in Sept. thru Oct. 2005, serving in some of the hardest hit areas to include the 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parrish. Those of us whom volunteered to serve were awarded the Louisiana Emergency Service Medal from the Louisiana National Guard and the Governor of Louisiana Barely a year later I was found unfit to continue serving in the military and was medically retired in November 2006 after 15 years of honorable service.
Although the Tet Offensive began on Jan. 31, 1968 when the North Vietnamese and Vietcong forces launched massive, well-coordinate surprise attacks on major cities, towns and military bases throughout South Vietnam, it’s planning began in early 1967. The plan’s architect was General Vo Nguyen Giap, North Vietnam’s most brilliant military mind. He also engineered the Viet Minh’s decisive victory over French forces at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
His overall plan for the Tet Offensive was somewhat similar: to ignite a general uprising among the South Vietnamese people; shatter the South Vietnamese military forces; and topple the Saigon regime. At the same time he wanted to increase the level of pain for the Americans by inflicting more casualties on U.S. Forces. At the very least, he and the decision-makers in Hanoi hoped to position themselves more favorably in any peace negotiations they hoped would take place in the wake of the offensive. Much in the same way the April 1954 Geneva Agreements forced France to abandon its colonies on the Indochinese peninsula.
The first step in Giap’s plan was to draw U.S. and Allied attention away from the population centers, which would be their ultimate objectives for the 1968 Tet Offensive. This phase began in the summer months of 1967when NVA forces engaged the Marines in a series of sharp battles in the hills surrounding Khe Sanh, a base in western Thua Thien Province, south of the DMZ near the Laotian border. Further to the east, additional NVA forces besieged the Marine base at Con Thien just south of the Demilitarized Zone. Further south, Communist forces attacked Loc Ninh and Song Be, both in III Corps Tactical Zone, and in November they struck U.S. forces at Dak To in the Central Highlands.
In purely tactical terms, these “border battles” were costly failures for the Communists and they no doubt lost some of their best troops; three enemy regiments were mauled so badly that they were unavailable for the January 1968 Tet Offensive. In the intense bloody battle of Dak To alone Communist fatalities were estimated at 1,455 enemy killed.
However, at the operational level, these battles achieved the intent of Giap’s plan by diverting General Westmoreland’s attention to the outlying areas and away from the urban target areas that would be struck during the Tet attacks.
In late December 1967, intelligence indicate a significant enemy built-up in the Khe Sanh area. Westmoreland, his staff and the White House decided that this build-up signified that the enemys main effort would take place at Khe Sanh. In anticipation of the big battle, Westmoreland began ordering large numbers of American units north leaving urban areas vulnerable to attack.
On January 21, 1968, North Vietnamese artillery began large-scale shelling of Khe Sanh followed by renewed heavy fighting in the hills surrounding the Marine base. This surge of enemy attacks confirmed Westmoreland’s assumption that Khe Sanh was the focal point of a new Communist offensive. But he was mistaken. It was a ruse planned by Giap.
1stLt Dale Robertson
Shadow Box: http://army.togetherweserved.com/profile/335961
Short Bio: He was born Dayle Lymoine Robertson in Harrah, Okla., about 30 miles east of Oklahoma City, on July 14, 1923, to Melvin and Varval Robertson. He starred in sports in high school, boxed professionally as a young man and attended the Oklahoma Military Academy. In World War II, he served in the Army in Africa and Europe and was wounded twice, earning bronze and silver stars.
View Service Reflections of US Coast Guardsman:
U.S. Coast Guard
PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE COAST GUARD?
I joined the Coast Guard on April 25, 1966 when I was 22-years-old, but I almost joined the Marine Corps. Both recruiting offices were in the Custom House in Boston so I thought I would check out the Coast Guard as well. Especially since an old Navy veteran told me to do so. The Coast Guard won because I figured I could do more for people by saving lives. It also sounded like a good option since I would be working for the Treasury Department. (The Coast Guard was a part of the US Treasury in those days.)
WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK. WHAT WAS YOUR REASON FOR LEAVING?
After boot camp at Cape May NJ, my first choice of assignment was Hawaii so naturally the Coast Guard sent me to Alaska.
At Base Seattle I was assigned to the CGC Balsam W62 out of Adak Alaska.This assignment was for only one year due to the semi-isolated duty on the Buoy Tender in the cold waters off Alaska. We did make it above the Arctic Circle on the summer run to repair Aids to Navigation Lights. We also went across the international date line at the same time which entitled me to be a ‘Polar Bear’ after initiation.
One year was enough of Alaska for me. I put in for duty in another warm climate, on the Mississippi River around Louisiana. So I got orders to report to the Coast Guard station at Frankfort, Michigan! My most vivid memory of my 10 months there was the day 9 people drowned as a result of a freak storm that came out of nowhere. Both the 36 footer and the 40 footer were out on May Day calls in high seas also looking for missing people. We worked for three days straight without sleep and had to get help from Fisheries and Game and the Navy. We received a Letter of Commendation for our efforts from the CG Group Ludington OIC.
I had thoughts about volunteering for Squadron One because the CG needed Enginemen. About one month after writing my letter for volunteering I received my orders for Alameda, California. RON1 training. It turned out that 5 men at that small Life Boat Station had been sent to Squadron One Vietnam in a period of less than 2 years.I was off for 6 weeks of training in California for the year ahead in Vietnam.
I didn’t feel the training was that great and was disappointed in that 90% of the training was in the class room. At the Marine Base at Camp Pendleton it was more of a show and tell about the weapons we would be using. The only good training was SERE, ‘Survival, Evasion, Resistance & Escape’ Training.
The real training was the on the job training when you got on your boat. Coasties adapt very quickly to most situation fortunately. There are just some things that you can’t learn in a classroom or the field.
Finally, duty in a warm climate!! After arriving in Saigon I took a small aircraft ride to Vung Tau to get to my Unit. The pilot announced ‘If we are shot down, you are on your own.’ I thought to myself, welcome to Vietnam! All I have is a K Bar survival knife for a weapon and if we were to crash that was in my sea bag.
Upon arriving in Cat Lo before getting out of the jeep, I looked down and saw Mike Tower, a Concord Carlisle HS graduate I ran track with. What were the chances of that happening?
Later that day I was aboard the Point Grey. I was replacing EN2 Harry Taylor. We had a new Fireman as well. His name was Swizdor. LTJG Doug Meservery also replaced the XO at that time. The Point Grey got underway that evening to spend 3-4 days on patrol.
The CG 82 footers were designed so that the engineering watch did not have to stay in the engine room and that helped for doing other duties on your watch. My first watch on the Point Grey when the boiler caught fire and I used CO2 to extinguish the fire after securing the electrical supply.
The next morning Swizdor and I shot the .50 caliber to see who would be the better shot. I won and Swizdor ended up loading the 81 mm mortar on the bow at GQ.
The days could be very long boarding boat after boat. Sometimes we would find suspects to detain. They would be hiding in the bilges or not have the proper paperwork so they automatically became suspects.
One day GM2 Miller and I were pulling up a fish net and Miller was shot in the knee cap. We used to call these snipers from the beach as Sand Dune Sam. They were always taking pot shots at us.
One thing that puzzled me is why a lot of rivers and canals shores were brown with dead vegetation and no one knew why. A few years later I found out why. Agent Orange.
We had a new cook come aboard. The cook was responsible for the mid ship 50 caliber on the starboard side. His first time at GQ he froze at his gun position when we were taking fire from the beach. I yelled for the Gunner’s Mate to relieve him. Later on he did manage to settle down and do his job but it was a bit unnerving at the time.
Back to the real world: We did have 6 weeks training pre-Vietnam but when it was time to come home there was no training.
Welcome Home!! In San Francisco at the airport while waiting for a flight and wearing my uniform with the Vietnam campaign ribbons, a group of young people passed me and one called me a scumbag.
My mother and father worked during the day so I took it easy and enjoyed being home. I found myself carrying a 22 caliber Winchester when my parents were at work. It just felt better to have a rifle with me but shortly after I put it back in the closet as I got used to being back in the real world.
The local Chief of Police and his wife came to the house to go out to dinner with my parents. I was talking to the Chief and he was talking about his future son in law who was in the Army in Vietnam and the difficult times he had. I said yeah I know, I just got back from Vietnam. The Chiefs comment was ‘Yeah, but you were just in the Coast Guard.”
My last few months was spent at Base Boston and Merrimack Station. It was nice I could go home at night when I didn’t have duty.
According to legend, Taps was composed in July 1862 during the American Civil War near Harrison’s Landing, Virginia during the Peninsular Campaign. On one side of a narrow strip of land, Union Army soldiers faced elements of the Confederate Army camped on the other side.During the night, moans of a mortally wounded soldier awaked Union Captain Robert Ellicombe. Not knowing if it was a Union or Confederate soldier, the captain decided to risk his life and bring the stricken man back for medical attention.
Crawling on his stomach through no-man’s land as periodic gunfire coming from both sides pierced the air above his head, the captain reached the stricken soldier and began pulling him toward his encampment. When the captain finally reached his own lines, he discovered in the dim light of a lantern it was actually a Confederate soldier who was already dead. Suddenly, he caught his breath and went numb with shock when he saw the face of the soldier; it was his own son. The boy had been studying music in the South when the war broke out. Without telling his father, he had enlisted in the Confederate Army. The following morning, heartbroken, the father asked permission of his superiors to give his son a full military burial despite his enemy status.
The captain had asked if he could have a group of Army bandmembers play a funeral dirge for the son at the funeral. That request was turned down since the soldier was a Confederate. Out of respect for the father, they did say they could give him only one musician.
The captain chose a bugler. He asked the bugler to play a series of musical notes he had found on a piece of paper in the pocket of his dead son’s uniform. This wish was granted.
As romantic and gut-wrenching as this story is, it is not true; there was no dead son, Confederate or otherwise; no lone bugler sounding out the dead boy’s last composition. More importantly, there is no record whatsoever of a Union Army captain by the name of Robert Ellicombe. When or where this fable began is uncertain but it persisted for decades supported by many believers.
The revision that gave us present-day Taps was made during America’s Civil War by Union Gen. Daniel Adams Butterfield, Commander of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, 5th Army Corps, Army of the Potomac camped at Harrison Landing, Va. Up to that time, the U.S. Army’s infantry call to end the day was the French final call, “L’Extinction des feux.” Gen. Butterfield decided the “lights out” music was too formal to signal the day’s end. One day in July 1862 he recalled the tattoo music and hummed a version of it to an aide, who wrote it down in music.
Summoning his brigade’s bugler, Private Oliver Willcox Norton to his tent one evening, Butterfield showed him the notes written in pencil on the back of an envelope. Several times Norton would sound them on his bugle. Butterfield changed it somewhat, lengthening some notes and shortening others, but retaining the melody as he first gave it to Norton. After getting it to his satisfaction, he directed Norton to sound that call for ‘Taps’ thereafter in place of the regulation call. The music was beautiful on that still summer night, and was heard far beyond the limits of the brigade.
Although no general order was issued from army headquarters authorizing the substitution of this for the regulation call, each brigade commander exercised his own discretion in such minor matters. Before long Taps was gradually taken up through the Army of the Potomac call for “light’s out” signal. It quickly came into use by the Army of Confederate States of America as well.It was officially recognized by the United States Army in 1874.
The first use of Butterfield’s Taps at a funeral was also at Harrison’s Landing a few days later when a soldier of Captain John C. Tidball of Battery A, 2nd Artillery was buried at a time when the battery occupied a concealed position in the woods. It was unsafe to fire the customary three volleys over the grave on account of the proximity of the enemy, and it occurred to Captain Tidball that the sounding of Taps would be used instead. Thus began the custom of playing Taps at a military funeral although it did not become a standard component to U.S. military funerals until 1891. (Capt. Tidball is the second officer from the left in this photo.)
Ten months after it was composed, Taps was also played at the funeral of Confederate Gen. Stonewall “Stonewall” Jackson at Lexington, Virginia.
This brings us to how ‘Taps’ got its name. One story claims it was a derivation of “Tattoo,” a French bugle signal that notified soldiers to cease an evening’s drinking and return to their garrisons. It was sounded an hour before the final bugle call to end the day by extinguishing fires and lights. The word ‘tattoo’ itself comes from the Dutch term ‘taptoe,’ meaning “close the (beer) taps (and send the troops back to camp).”
The more likely explanation, however, is that it carried over from a term already in use before the American Civil War. Three single, slow drum beats were struck after the sounding of the Tattoo or “Extinguish Lights.” This signal was known as the “Drum Taps,” “The Taps,” or simply as “Taps” in soldier’s slang.
This first sounding of Taps at the Capt. Tidball’s soldier’s military funeral is commemorated in a stained glass window at The Chapel of the Centurion (The Old Post Chapel) at Fort Monroe, Virginia. The window, made by R. Geissler of New York and based on a painting by Sidney King, was dedicated in 1958 and shows a bugler and a flag at half-staff. In that picture a drummer boy stands beside the bugler.
The site where Taps was born is also commemorated by a monument located on the grounds of Berkeley Plantation. This monument to Taps was erected by the Virginia American Legion and dedicated on July 4, 1969.
The haunting yet beautiful melody of Taps can be heard at the following site: