The Sound of Freedom
From the age of five I had one wish on top of my wish list. I wanted to see my brother play drums. Sixteen years older than me, Gus had been a professional drummer in rock-n-roll bands since age 13. While there are stories of me as a toddler plopping down in front of his drum set during rehearsals, I have no memory of it. I do remember coloring the skins of his bongos with orange crayon because I thought it’d look better, but that’s about it. I also recall Gus not being happy with my artistic choice.
By the time I was aware of things Gus had joined the United States Air Force Ceremonial Band. I knew he was going off to play drums. When I would overhear him tell our dad he had done “three funerals and a patriotic opening” I figured funerals were another place he was playing rock-n-roll. But Gus was not playing rock-n-roll. This was during the Vietnam War. He was at Arlington National Ceremony, and his cadences were guiding our fallen heroes to their final rest.
A couple of weeks ago I was home. An old friend from the AF Band was visiting my brother. Bill had been a trumpet player. A bugler. Over 10,000 times he’d played “Taps” at the funeral of a veteran or fallen soldier. 10,000 times he’d sent those mournful notes echoing over the sacred grounds of Arlington. I can imagine those tones carrying down that hill, past the Pentagon, over the Potomac, toward the White House and Capitol.
If you’ve been to a military funeral you know that the sound of the drum and the sound of “Taps” are a sound like no other. They cry back into our history. They pull to the present all those who fell before, from places in our backyard like Concord and Cold Harbor to far corners like Khe San, Kandahar and Kuwait.
The Drum and Bugle … and a Moment of Silence
On Memorial Day we’ll hear the drum rolls at sacred ceremonies across the nation. A drum roll breeds anticipation. It’s even a cliché in our culture before a big announcement. “Drum roll, please.” But what are we to announce on Memorial Day? What are we to anticipate?
That, to borrow from Abraham Lincoln, these “honored dead did not die in vain.” That this nation will indeed “see a new Birth of Freedom.” As we read in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ set us free.”
We will hear the trumpet . We may recall, we may even sing, the words of Julia W. Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic”:
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgement seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant my feet;
Our God is marching on!
Even in mournful remembrance, there is an understanding that the bugler’s blow is also a call to action. A call forward. When it’s His horn blowing, we advance, never to retreat. You can say retreat is only even a possibility when we’re blowing our own horn.
Drum and bugle. Anticipation and action in the cause of something greater than ourselves. This is the heart of Memorial Day. We are not honoring bravery for bravery’s sake. We are honoring bravery for the sake of others. Lincoln called it the “full measure of their devotion.” Christ called it the greater love: “Greater love has no one than this; to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
It is humbling, even overwhelming, to consider the brave, heroic souls we honor today as friends.
On this last visit home I stayed at my sister’s. During the Civil War her land had served as a Union encampment. It’s a safe bet not all who camped there made it back to their homes. Next time, I will walk her field. I will not have a drum. I will not have a bugle. The only sounds will be my grateful heart beating, and a whispered “thanks” to those friends who died so I can live free.
A Memorial Day Prayer:
Dear Lord, this weekend it’ll be easy to be distracted by other sounds: Sizzling burgers, splashing water, endless commercials announcing the start of summer. But Lord, let me keep focused on the sound of freedom. Let me stay mindful of those who followed Your example and gave their lives for us. Let me hold up in prayer the Gold Star families of this generation, grieving the loss of their loved ones. May you bless them with peace. Protect those who are today engaged in the fight. Keep them from the arrows of the enemy. May their victories be swift.
May this nation, so at war with itself, set aside our bitterness for the “better angels of our nature” and in honor of those who sacrificed their all.
And Lord, may we once again thank You for bringing into being this “one nation, under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.”
In Jesus’ mighty name, Amen.
Originally published Memorial Day, 2017.
Al Perrotta is the co-author of the just published The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration from Regnery Publishing.