By Tech. Sgt. Wes Walton, 141st Air Refuling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published December 05, 2012
FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- There are just 24 short notes in the musical piece commonly known as "Taps". It was arranged in 1862 by Union Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield who wanted to replace the old French bugle call for "lights out" during the Civil War.
Within months, the tune was being played in camps for both armies of the conflict and it was being heard at gravesides for soldiers who had fallen in battle as an honorable tribute to their bravery. It became an official military honor for fallen veterans in 1891. Staff Sgt. William Hatch of the 560th Air Force Band is carrying on that tradition; "I've performed 185 services at last count." said Sgt. Hatch who has been playing that tune at military honors ceremonies for fallen veterans since August 2011. "It's an honor for me and I get really emotional because every one of those 24 notes means something; I think it's the perfect way for a veteran to be laid to rest."
Hatch is one of a handful of individuals working with the Washington Army National Guard Honor Guard to provide departed veterans with military honors. "Currently, we average about 40 honor ceremonies a month. We employ 10 full-time soldiers and six traditional soldiers who work part-time," said Sgt. Benjamin Ashworth, Eastern Washington Area Coordinator for the WAARNG Honor Guard, "Plus, we coordinate extensively with the 92nd Air Refueling Wing Honor Guard Team."
The Strom Thurmond National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1999 established the requirement of at least a two man honor guard detail with at least one individual from the veteran's parent service of the armed forces and the playing of taps either by recording or musician for eligible deceased veterans.
"Live performances are a very-very important part of the honors ceremony, families greatly appreciate a military member in uniform still serving; being there, and playing. Plus, it's better than the electronic version because you don't have to worry about it failing or running out of batteries, etc.," said Sgt. Ashworth.
Ashworth runs one of three WAARNG Honor Guard Details, one for the west side of the state, one for the central part and his unit which works here in eastern Washington. Most of the WAARNG Honor Guard's ceremonies are performed at the new national veteran's cemetery in Medical Lake.
The Washington State Veterans Cemetery was established by the Washington State Department of Veteran Affairs on Memorial Day 2010. Of the 131 national veteran's cemeteries across the U.S., the Medical Lake facility is one of only two veterans cemeteries in the state especially set aside for those of all five military branches including Guard and Reserves. As of 12 Sept. 2012, there are more than 1300 veterans, spouses and dependent children laid to rest there.