Jamestown musicians to honor fallen veterans Saturday in Exeter
Almost 10 percent of the brass players will come from the island, according to Mike Jackson, who organized the event. Most of them are members of the Jamestown Community Band, and they will go the extra mile this weekend to stand up for the veterans.
It should be a busy day for the islanders, and that’s because the Jamestown Community Band is already booked at 1 p.m. for the on-island Battery Day observance. But according to Jackson, the buglers and horn players will try their best to do both events, starting in Exeter before speeding back over the Verrazzano Bridge to perform for the Revolutionary War re-enactment at Conanicut Battery Historic Park.
According to Jackson, “Echo Taps” sounds exactly the way its title suggests.
The first bugler starts to play “Taps” and when he sounds the third note, the bugler on his right starts. The cascade of music continues on the third note with the next bugler to the right and on down the line until everyone has played. Then they all stand together and play “Taps” together from start to finish. He expects between 90 and 100 players will congregate around the WWII memorial and play their part. The youngest is 11 years old, and the eldest is 97. They hail from mostly Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
About eight islanders have been participating in the Armed Services Day observance at the Exeter cemetery since the Rhode Island group started playing “Echo Taps” nine years ago, Jackson said. This year about a dozen islanders will participate. Barbara Renner, Martin Hellewell and Ed and Leslie Kurtz are longtime volunteers.
“Mike Jackson started it,” said Jamestowner Fred Pease, but Jackson was quick to say he borrowed the idea.
In 2005, Jackson and Pease, who have been buddies since their days at North Kingstown High School, traveled up to Elmira, N.Y., to play in the an “Echo Taps” ceremony. Some 900 musicians joined. Volunteers ranged from children to seniors, and all different kinds of instruments were involved. The line stretched for 41 miles, Jackson said, and the organizers bused the buglers to their locations.
“The logistics were incredible,” he said. That’s when Jackson decided to recreate the experience back in Rhode Island.
“That got him started,” Pease said. “Mike is really to be commended for keeping us going. It’s a pure labor of respect that drives him to do things like this, which is refreshing in this world.”
At one point, Jackson hoped to orchestrate “Echo Taps” on both bridges and across Jamestown, although Pease says he’s probably given up on that idea.
Islander Sharon Streif said she went to “Echo Taps” last year, as did many of the musicians in the community band. Jackson is a percussionist in the group.
Pease talked Jackson into joining the band 20 years ago. The group needed a drummer, and while he isn’t one, Pease, a tuba player, reminded Jackson he could carry a beat.
“Over the years, I’ve gotten to meet so many Jamestowners, they’ve accepted me,” said Jackson, who was born in East Greenwich and now lives in Narragansett. He learned to play the bugle at Yawgoo Boy Scout camp when he was 11.
Jackson moved to North Kingstown in 1956 and joined the military after high school. He served in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967 as a technical sergeant in the Air Force.
“I don’t remember a whole lot about it,” he said. He was a munitions specialist. “I loaded and unloaded airplanes.”
Today he spends much of his week at the cemetery. Jackson, 67, is scheduled to play “Taps” at six funerals in Exeter on Friday. He does about 20 funerals a week.
“It is my honor to do so,” he said.
“I always feel Mike deserves some recognition for the work he does,” Streif said. “He plays at hundreds of funerals in Exeter every year.”
Jackson is a member of Bugles Across America, an organization whose goal is to have a live bugler or trumpet player at every veteran’s funeral.
“Echo Taps” has been played at Arlington National Cemetery to draw attention to the need for live buglers to play “Taps” at the funeral services for veterans.
“We have four live buglers in the state,” Jackson said, “and we have so many funerals. It’s impossible to have a live bugler at all of them.”
A similar shortage exists all across the nation.
According to Jackson, who is looking for more players, all a volunteer needs is the ability to play those first three notes. If they can manage that, they’re in. That’s all it takes to take part in Saturday’s “Echo Taps,” he says.