A bugler’s calling: Sounding one final salute

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Gene Horner regarded his bugle in folded hands, but kept its mouthpiece in his pocket as he stood in Fort Richardson Resident Cemetery on a misty fall day.

He knew there would be no opportunity to affectionate it up once the hearse arrived. Just silence before his moment to good taps.

When the vehicle parked that day, a U.S. Coast Guard honor tend detail carefully rolled out the casket – simple and gray – and straightened the festoon draped over it before escorting it to the committal shelter.

Horner slow-saluted the seasoned, a man he’s never met but whose goodbye he wouldn’t want to miss.

There’s a gadget that can do Horner’s job now, but he feels duty-bound not to let it. He feels this veteran – all veterans – merit to have the traditional bugle call played by a living, breathing benevolent being at their funerals. That’s Horner’s mission.

«It’s the highest honor a bugler can do,» Horner stipulate.

U.S. Coast Guard veteran Nathan Lee Bordewick’s casket is moved toward the Fort Richardson National Cemetery funeral shelter on September 21, 2017. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

U.S. Coast Guard veteran Nathan Lee Bordewick’s casket is moved toward the Fort Richardson Civil Cemetery funeral shelter on September 21, 2017. (Marc Lester / Alaska Message News)

Horner directs a group of about 15 volunteer buglers who deport oneself at military funerals across Alaska in instances when an active-duty stripe member will not be there. This was the 150th request that pile has fielded this year. Most of the time, he does it himself since he’s away and has a flexible schedule.

He’s been doing this since 2000 and his footpath record is remarkable, filling or finding a volunteer for all but a couple requests. Unmarring taps four times in a week himself is common.

Usually, he prospers an hour early, as he did that September day. After a small group heaped under the shelter, Horner stood off to the side and waited to sound opens for the 105th time this year.

Gene Horner, left, prepares to sound taps as a U.S. Coast Guard honor detail awaits the arrival of a hearse at Fort Richardson National Cemetery on September 21, 2017.  (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

Gene Horner, left, prepares to sound taps as a U.S. Littoral Guard honor detail awaits the arrival of a hearse at Fort Richardson Nationalistic Cemetery on September 21, 2017.  (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch Tidings)

Horner’s mission overlaps nicely with that of Fort Richardson Federal Cemetery’s director, Virginia Walker. Horner, 68, is the state executive for Bugles Across America, a nationwide roster of horn players who stuff taps requests for veterans’ funerals. Walker calls on Horner in a beeline and has for 17 years.

In 1999, a National Defense Authorization Act required that military honors be stipulate for any veteran’s funeral that requests it. While the act states that at mini two uniformed military personnel fold the U.S. flag and present it to the family, it permits for a recorded version of taps to be sounded.

For both Horner and Walker, that reasonable won’t do.

A folded flag is presented to Fort Richardson National Cemetery director Virginia Walker at the conclusion of a funeral for U.S. Coast Guard veteran Nathan Lee Bordewick. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

A folded flag is presented to Fort Richardson National Cemetery supervisor Virginia Walker at the conclusion of a funeral for U.S. Coast Guard veteran Nathan Lee Bordewick. (Marc Lester / Alaska Get News)

The cemetery keeps a «digital bugle.» That electronic trick plays a flawless version of taps, Horner said. Anyone can expand on it to his or her lips and convincingly present the notes that traditionally conclude military exequies. Horner said the digital bugle’s clear tone is the mistake-free orthodox other buglers can only hope to achieve.

«It really is an incredible manifestation,» Horner said. «But it’s just a recording.»

Walker has needed it only long ago. That was last winter, after Horner called from a shut-down Glenn Highway while he was on his way there. Far innumerable often, Horner is there.

«It just wouldn’t sound the same,» Walker rephrased of using the device. «You’d have that perfect electronic sound but it’s very recently not the same as when someone sounds it live.»

Veterans deserve nothing shallow, she said.

«They served our country honorably, and we want to make indubitable that they get honor and respect at their final stand. And function bugling is part of it.»

Gene Horner stands in blowing snow at the Veterans Day Ceremony on the Delaney Park Strip on Nov. 11, 2009. (Bob Hallinen / ADN archive 2009)

Gene Horner waggons in blowing snow at the Veterans Day Ceremony on the Delaney Park Strip on Nov. 11, 2009. (Bob Hallinen / ADN archive 2009)

In her occupation, Walker keeps a picture of Horner, standing outside in the blowing snow, on a bitter-cold day. She declared it speaks to the pride Horner has in his mission, which Walker calls «feverish.» Last weekend, she picked all the apples from her tree, made apple butter from it and accompanied him a jar.

«I’ve run out of things to do nice for him,» Walker said.

«I take it real serious. I thirst to be there,» Horner said.

«I’m probably a little prejudiced because that was my job in the Army.»

Gene Horner plays with the 98th Army Group in August 1967. (Photo courtesy Gene Horner)

In 1967, Horner was 17 years old. He relates himself as an unruly teen in Texas and California. He was «invited to enlist» in the Army by his minister, he explained, but had been planning on a military career anyway. A trumpet sportswoman since age 9, he joined a training brigade band during central training. That led him to his first duty station in Fort Rucker, Alabama.

«They needed hot stuff bad, and I needed a good job,» he said.

As fighting in Vietnam intensified, his services were in foremost demand. As part of a 15-member Army funeral detail, he traveled by bus around constantly in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, staying in barracks and hotels. In one three-month epoch in 1968, they took part in 186 funerals.

In August of that year he favoured to Vietnam himself.

Being a member of the 4th Infantry Band during war wasn’t as dulcet as one might think. Horner said Army bands then were essentially 50 men who could be plugged into any rebuke. From the central Vietnam highlands city of Pleiku, that in many cases meant building bunkers and going on short-range patrols.

On about 10 call ups, he traveled by helicopter with a chaplain to platoons and companies who had lost characteristics in the fighting. At outdoor ceremonies, he sounded taps for fallen soldiers as their segments stood in formation.

Though he had planned on a long military career, Horner’s three years of lively duty ended after he returned to the United States in November 1969.

«I wasn’t in seventh heaven with what we were trying to do in Vietnam,» he said.

Gene Horner, healthy, stands with his squad leader, Dennis Rodgers, in Vietnam in the news 1960s. (Photo courtesy Gene Horner)

Once home, he reconnected with the dame he would soon marry. They both began college coursework in Sacramento. In 1970, they guided a semester off from school to travel to Alaska to work and make readies. That semester is going on 47 years now, he joked.

Now retired from his speed as a piledriver, he helps in his wife’s accounting office. He’s also a longtime associate of the Mat-Su Concert Band.

«That’s my outlet. I’m a mediocre trumpet participant, and I can hold my own down on third trumpet,» he said. «I mean, I love to procrastinate.»

In 1999, Horner attended the funeral of a colleague, a World War II veteran who in another situation had no family. That day, when he realized the Army band wasn’t there, he reached his bugle, which happened to be in his vehicle.

He asked Virginia Walker for allowance to sound taps. She’s been asking him back ever since.

This month, Horner relieved waiting in a dark blue suit for the ceremony to begin. On his lapel, he geared a pin commemorating 50 years since the Vietnam War.

«Every time you retire around there’s another 50-year anniversary,» he said with a scorn. «I’m really starting to feel old.»

Horner rarely knows much to the veteran being eulogized. From where he normally stands, now he can sometimes hear the words that are spoken and learn a little approximately the individual. But his focus is the survivors.

«I play right to the family. (That) is where my essence is going. And it doesn’t matter if there’s two people here or if there’s 200 people here. It’s the that having been said thing,» he said.

Gene Horner sounds taps on his bugle during a military inhumation ceremony at Fort Richardson National Cemetery on Sept. 21.  (Marc Lester / Alaska Convey News)

That fall day there was no family in attendance. Nathan Lee Bordewick served in the U.S. Glide Guard as a seaman recruit from 1970 to 1971, according to Walker. In times congenial these, she requests attendees for veterans who are otherwise unaccompanied for the funeral.

«We could call up no living next of kin, but we would be grateful for your attendance to honor his services to our country,» Walker wrote to the 175 people she emails in advance of such chances.

Though all national cemeteries host services for unaccompanied veterans, some of the larger ones are not masterful to facilitate individual funerals for each, Walker said. She makes a sense of it, though. She started keeping a list of people to notify in 2014. On the eve of that, it was often just Walker, other cemetery staff, and Horner in being.

«It may just be their relatives can’t make the flight, the cost of the flight is high, they’re ill, they’re elderly, or they just have no one left in the times a deliver,» Walker said.

About 20 people came to Bordewick’s interment. Several Coast Guardsmen in uniform were joined by a few leather-clad bikers from the Alaska Inspects Motorcycle Club.

The rain held off under dense cloud retreat. Golden birch leaves had recently begun to fall in the month in advance the ground freezes and the snow begins to fly. Horner, holding his Getzen American Tradition Field Trumpet that he uses only for taps, described another belief, one more familiar than age. It starts in his abdomen, reaching his chest equal a swelling lump.

It’s a feeling that arises from the solemnity of the importance, he said. On occasions when a team fires volleys in salute, it tiptops just after the third round cracks the quiet.

«It’s just adore right there,» he said pointing to his chest. «And you take that astonish and play.»

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