I don’t get out to the base much these days. I don’t even remember what I needed to pick up, but after a long day of yard work I stopped by the base shoppette. I found a good parking spot and headed into the store. Just before entering, I heard the scratchy recording of ‘To the Colors’ start to bleat out of the public address system. Out of habit and without thinking I turned toward the music. It was an old familiar sound and an automatic response. I noted a couple of cars stop, and young, clean shaven, short haired guys step out and assumed the position. A couple rows of cars over, a woman with a fidgeting and squirming toddler also stepped out and held her child into the wind, towards the music.
The anthem sounded and the three of them beat my own hand to my breast. That good feeling spilled over me — the tradition respected, honors paid, all the discipline and regime flooded over me.
Fifteen years ago, shortly after returning from yet another overseas posting, my eleven-year old daughter noted that taps did not play at our new base on the West Coast. Taps had long served as the final warning that bed-time had come and gone and it was time to settle down and get to sleep.
She asked me, “Daddy, why don’t they play taps here?”
Distracted, I replied, “I don’t know honey, ask the general.”
About a week later, the command chief asked me, “Hey, the boss got your wife’s letter, what’s the deal with taps?” Confused, I said, “My wife’s letter? What letter?”
When he showed it to me, I laughed and told him it was not from my wife, it was from my daughter. He too laughed and asked me what I wanted the boss to do with it. I told him “He should answer her.” The general did just that and wrote her a nice letter explaining his policy.
From that day on I have paid more attention to these honors which we have come to take for granted. I appreciate and yes, even relish them. It’s too bad we only hear reveille, retreat and taps inside the gates, but then again, it’s nice. It is sort of a symbol of our brotherhood, our bond, something special we share.
I heard retreat today, and I greatly enjoyed it.
(Editor’s note: Hubbartt is a retired Air Force chief master sergeant.)