SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- My father-in-law, Richard J. Maher, recently passed away at the enviable age of 97. He was an enlisted radio operator for the Navy during World War II, serving his time in Puerto Rico.
Upon going through his papers, he had not indicated he wanted military honors, because he knew it would have been at the expense of someone else’s time and effort, and he was a very unselfish, humble man. However, my husband elected to have the funeral home arrange for military honors, and they invited me to be a part of the Honor Guard at the cemetery.
At the gravesite, I was told to fold into the group who were charged with the flag-folding ceremony. The groups–“Vet 21” and the “Red Rose Honor Guard”–were long-retired members from all four services who served Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. They’ve donated their time to conduct over 400 events each per year, a number that frankly astounded me.
My extended family has little or no experience with the military. They’ve heard me talk and followed my career, but have never seen nor attended traditional ceremonies such as those performed by the Honor Guard.
They haven’t reveled in a flag and rifle exhibition, or heard the music that makes us reflect on our heritage, or absorbed the comforting words and gratitude we extend to those who served us so proudly.
So to see the small, unassuming flag-folding ceremony and witness a 21-gun salute with the playing of Taps affected them profoundly—to the point that it was the main topic of conversation at all the follow-on events.
There was a beaming of pride in that they were the family members of someone whose service was honored so beautifully.
Traditions are not just something we do, it is something that represents who we are. So often, in our humility and unwillingness to inconvenience others, we shy away from the ceremonies and public displays of our heritage.
I often hear “I don’t want a ceremony; I just want to leave quietly” when it comes to having a retirement ceremony, or “That’s not me” when I ask about preparing for a promotion event.
What is often missed is the impact it has on others namely those who want to demonstrate their support and gratitude. Family, friends, and community members are moved by these simple, but long-standing moments of significance.
The truth is that the professionalism of these teams and the significance of these traditions set the event’s tone and raise the level of honoring those who serve.
It’s for these reasons that I will return reveille, retreat and taps to Scott Air Force Base. These three simple recordings mark the beginning and ending of each day, giving each who hears them a minute to reflect. It will focus us for our day ahead and remind us of those who are not with us at the end of each day. I feel it a duty to do this and thank you for your support in this matter as we begin to air reveille, retreat and taps each day starting July 1.
The following describes the correct rendering of honors during reveille, retreat and taps is played each duty day over the base giant voice system.
Reveille was not originally intended as honors to the flag. In 1812, it was a drum call to signify that Soldiers should rise for day duty and sentries should leave off night challenging. As time passed, reveille came to denote when the flag was raised in the morning and honors paid to it.
Scott AFB displays the U.S. flag 24/7 instead of raising it each morning, meaning reveille is a traditional bugle call to indicate the start of the official duty day. Therefore, personnel are not required to stop or salute. Reveille will be played at 6 a.m.
The term “retreat” is taken from the French word “retraite,” and refers to the evening ceremony. The bugle call sounded at retreat was first used in the French army and dates back to the Crusades. Retreat was sounded at sunset to notify sentries to start challenging until sunrise, and to tell the rank and file to go to their quarters. The ceremony remains as a tradition.
The old cavalry call “To the Standard,” in use from about 1835, has been replaced by the present call of “To the Colors.” This remains as music honoring the flag as it is lowered in the evening.
Retreat signals the end of the official duty day. The national anthem is played immediately after the retreat bugle call, honors are rendered during this time. Retreat is at 5 p.m.
At the first sound of the retreat bugle call, all personnel outdoors should stop and face the flag, or when not visible, in the direction the music is played. If in uniform, protocol is to stand at parade rest. If not wearing a uniform or a civilian, protocol is to stop and face the flag or music only.
When the national anthem is played and the U.S. flag is lowered, the proper etiquette is as follows:
- Service members in uniform should stand at attention and salute.
- Service members out of uniform should stand at attention and place their right hand over their heart or may also render a salute.
- Civilians should place their right hand, with a hat if wearing one, over their heart.
- Service members performing physical training and wearing a PT uniform outdoors should stop, stand at attention and render salute.
- Vehicles in motion should pull over safely and stop.
Many Air Force bases play Taps to indicate lights out or to begin quiet hours. There are no formal protocols required when Taps is played, however, remaining still and silent is recommended. Taps will be played at 10 p.m. each day.
Taps is also a critical part of military funeral and memorial ceremonies. When at a military funeral in uniform, a salute should be rendered during the firing of volleys and the playing of taps. Civilians should remove their headgear and place their hand over their heart.