Volunteer musicians honor veterans with nightly taps sounding at cemetery
Keith and Jennifer Raiche play Amazing Grace at the N.H. Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen Tuesday, July 1, 2014
GEOFF FORESTER/Monitor staff
Keith Raiche plays Taps in front of the markers at N.H. Veterans Cemetery on Tuesday, July 1, 2014.
GEOFF FORESTER/Monitor staff
It takes a bugler about 40 seconds to play the 24 notes in taps.
The current form of the military call originated with the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War as a call to put out the lights and go to sleep. At the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen, the 24 notes can be heard echoing over the grounds every evening between Memorial Day and Sept. 11, played by volunteer musicians to honor the 7,100 veterans and their spouses who have been laid to rest there.
For eight years now, they’ve sounded taps in pouring rain and blazing heat in all corners of the cemetery at 7 p.m. on the dot, all summer long.
“It just feels like the right thing to do,” said Jennifer Raiche, who comes from Manchester with her husband, Keith, to participate twice a week. “We’ve never served, but it seems like something that should be done to honor those who did.”
“Even if there’s nobody here at the cemetery to hear it, I’m still proud to do it,” Keith said.
100 Nights of Remembrance
On Memorial Day 2006, musicians from the Muchachos Drum and Bugle Corps in Manchester came to Boscawen to perform “An Evening of Echo Taps,” organized by member Noel Taylor. That night, brass instrument players lined up before each of the 20 white granite monuments surrounding a circle of flags at the cemetery, with one more stationed beneath the grand flag, and played taps one at a time.
“Everyone knows about the military tradition of the 21-gun salute,” Taylor said. “Well, I thought of this as a 21-horn salute. When we finished, there was not a dry eye in attendance.”
Taylor had first seen the cemetery when he came to sound taps at a friend’s funeral earlier that year and said he was “blown away” by his first impression of it. Beyond the circle of flags, the 20 granite monuments correspond with 20 columbariums, which hold cremated remains. Surrounding those, rows of grave markers stretch across the grass, and a memorial
walkway holds monuments representing each branch of the military, many different wars and several veterans’ groups.
“It’s absolutely beautiful,” Taylor said. “I’m a Vietnam veteran myself, and I felt I had to go talk to the director and tell him on behalf of my fellow veterans that I was so impressed by the cemetery. . . . I never even realized that the state of New Hampshire had a veterans cemetery, and then I came here and found one so well laid-out and so meticulously kept. When I came in, I got goose pimples.”
After the 2006 event’s success, Taylor expanded the idea into a summerlong tribute named “100 Nights of Remembrance,” coordinating a schedule of volunteer musicians to sound taps for 100 consecutive nights between Memorial Day and Sept. 11. This is the eighth summer they have done it, and after Sept. 11 the ritual will continue at 1 p.m. each Sunday. Taylor started a similar program at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Manchester, where more than 2,000 veterans are buried.
“From that first day that I drove into the cemetery and witnessed what a beautiful place it was and how respectful it was, I just knew in my heart that I wanted to do something,” he said. “And I think we’ve made a difference.”
‘A very honorable tribute’
The 100 Nights of Remembrance ritual was already in place when Col. Michael Horne took over as the cemetery director in 2008. A retired veteran who served in the United States Air Force and the New Hampshire National Guard, Horne said the program “adds a dimension that a lot of cemeteries are missing.”
“It’s just the feeling of honoring the dead there more than just making an occasional visit,” he said. “These volunteers make a contribution whether they have personal connections to the cemetery or not, using their talents. Not everyone is a musician, but these people do something special. It’s a very honorable tribute.”
The cemetery is the final resting place for veterans from all generations, all branches of services and all ages, Horne said. He estimated that cemetery staff members arrange more than 700 burials a year for veterans who served in wars ranging from World War II to Afghanistan.
“It’s just a special honor. There are a number of families or friends or veterans who will come to attend just to observe and participate, and these volunteers are so dedicated,” Horne said. “Most people will come up and thank the musicians afterward for such a lovely rendition.”
‘A way to give back’
The Raiches have been married almost 27 years and have participated in 100 Nights of Remembrance together since it started. They met Taylor through the Muchachos Drum and Bugle Corps, played in the 2006 Memorial Day event and keep coming back to sound taps as a duet.
“Over the years, we started to realize what taps meant to a vet,” Jennifer Raiche said. “Unless you’ve seen the emotional response, you can’t really get it. . . . They have a visceral response. You can’t explain it. Neither of us served, but if you’re somebody who did or you know somebody who did, you’re going to feel something different.”
The most rewarding part of playing is knowing that their 40-second tribute touches the people who come to hear it, Jennifer said.
“It reminds you every time that we’re not just coming up here and tooting our horns; we’re here doing something real, something that affects people at the core level,” she said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Every Tuesday and Thursday, the Raiches play a few warm-up notes together in the parking lot before marching in step up the path and around the grand flag, coming to a stop at the top of the slope. First they play “Amazing Grace” together, and then Keith moves a few steps away as they prepare for taps.
“Traditionally, it’s just one bugler playing,” Jennifer said. “But the ladies here who come to see us, they prefer the interactive way. That’s where I play a phrase, and then he echoes it. And since he moves away and we’re not playing side by side, it makes a more echoey sound.”
Taylor said there are about 30 musicians who participate regularly in the nightly tributes and about 300 people are expected to attend the Sept. 11 closing ceremony, where 30 to 50 buglers will sound taps in unison and guest speakers will offer reflections. Any unit with an American flag color guard, from the Boy Scouts to the police department, is welcome to come participate in the ceremony, and additional musician volunteers for the nightly tributes can find information about how to get involved at 100nightsofremembrance.org.
“It’s a really special thing to be able to do for our veterans,” he said. “And, it spans 9/11 too, so we’re really honoring all our first responders, the police and firemen, too. Anyone who puts their life on the line for others; that’s who we want to honor.”
(Ann Marie Jakubowski can be reached at 369-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AMJakubowski.)