A War Vet's Love For Taps

MEMORIAM: Sgt. 1st class James MacKenzie plays "Taps" during the funeral of Army Ranger Capt. Russell B. Rippetoe at Arlington National Cemetery Thursday, April 10, 2003. Rippetoe, 27, an Army Ranger from Arvada, Colo., and two other soldiers were killed April 4 when a car bomb exploded at an Iraqi checkpoint. Rippetoe was the first soldier from the Iraqi conflict to be laid to rest at Arlinton National Cemetery
America's war dead will be remembered at ceremonies across the country on this Memorial Day. A common thread running through all of these gatherings will be honoring sacrifices made in the name of freedom.

It's a theme expressed with the ceremonial playing of Taps. As The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith reports, it's a tradition that one veteran has made his life's work.

Every day, Frank Calistro practices trumpet in the backyard of his Connecticut home. His love affair with music began 70 years ago. He even carried a trumpet along with his rifle across European battlefields.

Calistro says, "Being a veteran of the Second World War, I am very proud to have served my country."

Now, the former professional musician says he is playing for his country. "You get to a point -- and I hate to sound corny, you become very patriotic," he says.

Calistro travels around Connecticut to give fellow vets a last salute at their funerals -- more than 800 over the past three years.

"In a way you feel sad yourself," Calistro says, "but you know that you are doing something that is appreciated by the people attending the funeral."

The daily ritual of ordering troops to bed with Taps began during the Civil War, when Union General Daniel Butterfield composed the haunting melody to replace a bland bugle call for lights out.

"Taps" Historian, Richard Schneider, says, "It was so beautiful that other buglers picked it up, even Confederate troops."

Schneider examines the song's origins in his book: "Taps: Notes From A Nation's Heart."

He says, "It evokes something within our psyche, something mournful, but thoughtful of the hereafter."

America's war veterans are aging and dying -- 15-hundred war veterans each day. So there's a shortage now of buglers to sound Taps. Some veterans are being sent-off with an electronic bugle supplied by the pentagon that plays a digital recording of the song.

Calistro says, "It's artificial; it's phony; It is not real. There's nothing like a live bugler to give it that nostalgic sound."

These days Calistro finds himself busier than ever often playing for friends who have died.

"There was a fella named Louie Segal," Calistro recalls, "and it so happened I was at the cemetery playing at another funeral so I went ahead and played Taps for Louie, Louie Segal."

Calistro also plays "God Bless America" as the honor guard folds the flag that drapes the casket. But Calistro keeps his eyes closed during Taps, he can't bear to watch the families cry.

He says, "If I got emotional, I would not be able to play it."

Calistro knows one day Taps will be played for him. In fact, he's made special arrangements. Laughing he says, "The fellow who plays Taps will be me."

Although he insists on live performances for others, Calistro has recorded Taps for his own burial.

He says with a big smile, "I expect to live until 100, by playing the trumpet, tooting my horn. If I don't play it, I'll die. I'm indoctrinated."

And he's determined to continue playing final tributes to those who served a nation.

The word "taps" is believed to have originated from the Dutch phrase "tap toe" meaning to turn off. When it was time for soldiers to return to barracks, drummers would beat a signal for tavern keepers to "doe den tap toe" or turn the beer Taps off.

General Daniel Butterfield, the composer of Taps had a distinguished military career winning the Medal of Honor and leading troops at the Battle of Gettysburg. He is the only non-West Point graduate to be buried at the United States Military Academy.