Remembering fallen soldiers with an iconic tune

(CBS News) ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY - One man has made it his mission to give America's fallen soldiers one final salute.

There are 24 notes in "Taps," America's best known bugle call. Jari Villanueva played each one perfectly at Arlington National Cemetery, where on average, "Taps" is heard thirty times a day.

The retired Air Force bugler is generally considered the nation's leading authority on "Taps." In 23 years here, Villanueva estimates he sounded the final call at more than 3,000 funerals.

"The very opening is easily recognized," said Villanueva as he performs the beginning notes of "Taps"on his bugle. "You know what's coming next."

Like "The Star-Spangled Banner," "Taps" was born in war in July of 1862. Union Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield adapted it from a French tune, as a new way to signal the end of the day for battle-weary troops.

Since 1891, "Taps" has officially been part of all U.S. military funerals and marked the passing of Army privates and U.S. presidents.

"Out of all the times I have sounded "Taps," the most meaningful and poignant for me have been those for active duty services," said Villanueva. "It creates a bit of pressure for the bugler to make sure that it is perfect. It is something that is quite emotional when you are playing for someone who has lost their life in service to our country."

Villanueva said he always thinks of a specific Bible verse when he plays the iconic tune: "Corinthians: 'For we shall be changed at a moment at the sound of the last trumpet. For the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall rise incorruptible.'"

About 260,000 thousand U.S. military veterans lie at rest here in Arlington. Villaneuva considers sounding the call for each new arrival his sacred duty.

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann was named CBS News Transportation correspondent in August 2011. He has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001, and is based in the Atlanta bureau.