A Taps Story Worth Repeating

At Monday’s service in Port Orchard it was mentioned that Wayne Matz wanted to be at the event, but was in the hospital. Joseph Hovey played a flawless rendition of Taps in his place.

Matz’ absence is significant. You’ll understand why if you read the story former Kitsap Sun reporter Niki King wrote in 2005 about Matz and about Taps. King was not long out of college when she was with us, but she brought with her youth ample story-telling skill. For the subject matter, it sure was appropriate.

Former full-time Kitsap Sun photographer Steve Zugschwerdt took the photo you see here, as well as others.

King’s story follows.

Sunday June 12, 2005 Sun

Answering the Call to Honor

BY NIKI KING, nking@kitsapsun.com

Wayne Matz feels Taps is a tribute that has to be played to honor those who have fallen in service to their country. Matz has been committed to that honor for more than 30 years.

Photos by Steve Zugschwerdt | Kitsap Sun

The old two-valve bugle is laid out on the table, with a pair of crisp white gloves, and a World War II cap.

Wayne Matz notes the time, and pulls his gnarled, 80-year-old frame out of the chair with a groan.

“Oh, I feel like I just got out of World War II yesterday, instead of 60 years ago,” he says.

It will be hard to play taps today. Last night, he tripped in the dark, twisting his ankle and banging his wrists. The other foot is still smarting from a staph infection.

But he will go anyway. He will play for the dead, to honor their fall for freedom, and for the living, to fill them with patriot’s pride.

On this day, he’ll play at all four county Memorial Day events, just as he has at countless ceremonies and funerals in Kitsap for the last 30 years.

Nothing could stop him, least of all a little ankle injury. Nothing has ever kept him from performing taps when asked to, not even the prostate cancer that reduced his weight until his uniform, tidy as the day it was issued, hangs loose on him. No. Taps is too important. It must be played.

“I think when it’s done right, there’s no greater gift than to play taps. It’s a song of respect and honor,” he said.

He tries to straighten his tie, but his arms are too stiff to reach behind his collar.

“Think I’ll get me a wife,” he mumbles. “Helen?” he calls. His wife of 16 years fixes it, then helps him into his Eisenhower jacket.

“And the hat,” she said, cocking it on his head. “Looks good,” she said approvingly.

“Gloves?” she asked, handing him the set.

“Thank you, my dear.”

The uniform, with eight medals across the chest, tells the story of how he got to be Kitsap’s resident bugler.

A Kitsap native, he was a machinist apprentice in the shipyard in 1942. “The war was on and it was a war job,” he said.

He was drafted into the Army and saw action in Central Europe, including the Battle of the Rhine and Ruhr Pocket before being deployed to the Philippines.

When he returned home after the war, he joined the Veterans of Foreign War drum corps, among a host of other veterans organizations. Because he’d played trumpet in high school, it was a natural step to start playing taps.

“I just thought I owed something to the guys, my buddies, who didn’t make it back,” Matz said.

He’s played at so many events for so many years, and yet he doesn’t tire of it, or feel ready to quit.

“There’s a certain selfish pride, a pride in doing it right. Millions of people could do this, but they don’t and I do, even at my age and it’s rare.”

Why? Well, he loves music and he loves the feeling he’s giving something good, something people need.

“I get a reverence in my heart and soul, a gift of God type feeling,” he said.

Matz eases himself into his gray, older model Buick and drives the short mile from his apartment on Bay Street to the Retsil cemetery, high on the hill, overlooking Port Orchard.

A bearded man in a Navy cap addresses him.

“Good morning, sir,” he calls to Matz. “I can’t wait to hear you play.”

Matz smiles and nods. He gets that a lot. After all the years, people recognize him.

The Port Orchard VFW color guard greets him warmly.

“Have you got enough wind to blow that horn?” one of them jokes.

“Well, hell yeah,” Matz answers. “You know that.”

He positions himself at attention, opposite Kent Larabee, a veteran who echoes him for big events and plays at occasions when matz can’t make it.

The speaker closes with the words to taps.

Day is done, gone the sun,

From the hills, from the lake,

From the sky.

All is well, safely rest,

God is nigh.

Fades the light; And afar

Goeth day, And the stars

Shineth bright,

Fare thee well; Day has gone,

Night is on.

Thanks and praise, For our days,

‘Neath the sun, Neath the stars,

‘Neath the sky,

As we go, This we know,

God is nigh.

The Color guard then fires.

Matz lifts his bugle, and from it four plaintive notes rise into the air and hang with the American flags, whipping in the wind. Each note, clean and clear, lands perfectly all 24 times. The last one lingers longest, trailing off, across the graves and into the Puget Sound.

In the crowd, an occasional hand reaches up to wipe a tear.

“That’s the most mournful sound there is,” said Betty Sanford of Port Orchard.

“It makes me cry,” nodded Shirley McVey of Tacoma.

“It’s just something that really gets to you,” said Dona Fortescue of Spanaway.

The sisters, all wives of veterans, agreed that no matter how many times they hear it, taps always elicits the same emotion.

“When you hear it, you think of all those who’ve gone on,” Sanford said.

For now, Matz’s job here is done.

“When the people end up crying when I’m done, then I know I played it right,” he likes to say.

But he will be back. As long as people need to remember, and as long as he is physically able, he will play.

“I always said the day I can’t play taps right I am going to give it up. It has to be on the money. That’s what it means to me,” he said.

And, he knows someday, it will be played for him.

“Some people say it’s mournful,” he said. “It’s a song all its own. There’s nothing like it. I want it played when I go.”


In July 1862, after the Seven Days battles at Harrison’s Landing near Richmond, Va., Army Gen. Daniel Butterfield, wounded commander of the 3rd Brigade, reworked another bugle call, “Scott Tattoo,” into taps with his bugler Oliver Wilcox Norton.

He apparently thought the regular call for Lights Out was too formal. Taps was adopted throughout the Army of the Potomac and finally confirmed by orders. After the war, taps became an official bugle call. Col. James A. Moss, in his Officer’s Manual first published in 1911, gives an account of the initial use of taps at a military funeral:

“During the Peninsular Campaign in 1862, a soldier of Tidball’s Battery A of the 2nd Artillery was buried at a time when the battery occupied an advanced position concealed in the woods. It was unsafe to fire the customary three volleys over the grave, on account of the proximity of the enemy, and it occurred to Capt. Tidball that the sounding of taps would be the most appropriate ceremony that could be substituted.”

Source: www.memorialday.org. For more about the history, go to 24 Notes That Tap Deep Emotions at http://www.west-point.org/taps/Taps.html.

TAPs mandate

A congressional mandate in 1999 required that active-duty serviceman present the flag and taps as funeral honors.

The mandate stirred a national debate, as there weren’t enough active-duty buglers to go around. The military branches resorted to using ceremonial bugles that have taps recordings hidden in them. But even those are in high enough demand that just CDs are sometimes used.

Jerri Soula, funeral honors program manager for Navy Region Northwest, said that in West Sound, one to four funeral honors are requested a day. They send the duty bugler when they can, but if there are too many requests, they use their two ceremonial bugles.

Families who want a live bugler can always contact Bugles Across America, a civic organization of 4,000 buglers.

Often, veterans end up filling the need.

Niki King

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