91-year-old Korean War vet has been playing taps since high school

Elmer Hayes of Wisconsin first learned how to play as a favor for a teacher.

— -- For decades, trumpet player Elmer Hayes has been honoring fallen service members with taps.

Hayes, 91, knows the 24-note soundtrack well. The Korean War veteran from Stratford, Wisconsin, has been playing taps on Memorial Day since 1956.

When he started playing the trumpet at 10 years old, he seemed to display a natural talent.

And when Hayes entered high school, a teacher asked him for a favor: to play taps at a military funeral.

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"He needed somebody and I was playing in the band so I learned how to play taps -- just one of those things that happens," Hayes told ABC affiliate WAOW-TV last year.

He said he quickly learned that taps was more than just a piece of sheet music. He frequently plays during veteran funerals and Memorial Day services.

"Taps is part of the final musical part of what happens at a military funeral," he said. "It's the last thing that the family will hear."

Since then, Hayes has become a name in the polka scene with his trumpet. He is one of the founding members of the Hayes Boys Orchestra. He said playing in the ballroom was fun, but said he'd rather pick up his horn for fellow veterans.

"You think of what the piece is actually saying," he said. "It's this one long, beautiful piece and you try to play it as emotionally as you can. ... It has an effect on you."

ABC affiliate WAOW-TV and ABC News' Susan Schwartz and Paulina Tam contributed to this story.