As he tapped at veterans’ funerals, one thing stood out for Matthew Wagner, a retired band director from the Mifflinburg-area high school.
“I see the veterans and the honor guard taking it very seriously to bury one of their fellow veterans,” Wagner said. “It shows how strong that camaraderie is among veterans. Regardless of the branch of service, there is a strong bond. It has always impressed me.
The honor guard ceremony includes the address of the military chaplain, the folding of the flag and presentation to the family, the three-volley rifle salute and the patting, said Clarence Chambers, member of the American Legion Post 410, in Mifflinburg.
“I give the three shotgun shells to the family and explain that they represent duty, honor and country,” he said. “So the bugle is tap dancing. This is the last honor for the veteran.
Chambers relies on Wagner, Marlin Hauer, of Lewisburg, and Brandon Moore, of Mifflinburg, for the taps.
“We believe that every military veteran should go to the grave with military honors,” Chambers said.
Wagner started tap dancing in 2016 to honor veterans and spend time with his father, Jack Wagner, who was a member of the honor guard.
He also knew that schools allowed high school students to tap dance. With new testing standards making teachers reluctant to allow children to miss class, and with fewer faculty members who are themselves veterans, it has become more difficult to recruit students.
One student Wagner recruited years ago was Angella Laubach, when she was in eighth grade.
“Mr. Wagner talked me into going to play at a funeral,” Laubach recalls. before going to the funeral.
She recalled another burial soon after, a freezing winter’s day on Mifflinburg Cemetery Hill.
“Luckily one of the Legion men, Mr Downs, let me stay in his car with the heater on until the last second,” she said. “I went out and played, then got back in the car because it was very windy and very cold.”
Laubach went on to earn a degree in music from Mansfield University and continued to tap dance on special occasions, even for a 9/11 ceremony. Now living in Northumberland, she joined Bugles Across America, which links buglers with veterans’ funeral services. She mainly performs in and around Northumberland County, and is delighted that her eldest son, 15, has also started tap dancing.
“I just think it’s really important to honor our veterans, and it’s a small way to send them off on a positive note and bring some comfort to their families,” she said. . “I feel honored that people even ask me to do it.”
She also performed tap dancing for two uncles.
“You have to have a brave face and be a professional and tap dance and then you can be the niece and be upset,” she said. “You have to honor them and be able to get out of it.”
On a lighter note, Wagner remembers tap dancing at Old Cedar Cemetery in Swengel.
“The cemetery is adjacent to a cattle farm,” he said. “When I was jerking off, the nearby cattle came over to the fence to see what was going on. It was fun.”
Tap-dancing with a bugle is challenging because the notes are formed by altering the structure of the lips.
“Besides, it’s not an easy melody to play,” Wagner said. “He has a wide range. You need to put your lips just right. You don’t want it to crack.
Richard Simpson, former commandant of American Legion Post 44, Northumberland, and District 17, has been involved with honor guards since his discharge from the US Navy in 1967. He sees the ceremony as something that every veteran won and said his honor guard team is ready to go anytime.
“In the Legion we have no rank which means we are all equal,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s a soldier or a general. They deserve it.”
Wagner recalled former Mifflinburg veteran George Steese telling him that tapping is meaningful to veterans because, while on duty, it’s the last thing they hear when their head hits the pillow.
“It helped me get the right rendition, the right feel for the melody,” he said. “It’s not something you can just play. I play it as if I was playing for someone who is going to rest. It should be played with that sensitivity in mind.
Cindy O. Herman lives in Snyder County. E-mail your comments to him at [email protected]