Military Tests Electronic Bugles to Honor Vets

The simple, evocative, and haunting notes of "Taps" were composed by Major General Daniel Adams Butterfield of the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War.

Its lyrics: "'Til the light of dawn shineth bright. God is near, do not fear. Friend, good night."

Played by a bugler, it is an entitlement at any veteran's funeral if requested by the family. But now, it has sadly become impossible.

There are 25 million veterans, and those who fought in World War II are now dying at a rate of 1,800 a day. The military only has 500 buglers. The math is simple.

Of the 674,000 eligible military funerals last year, about 94,000 families requested the honors. To meet those requests, some cemeteries contracted buglers, some at rates of more than $100 an hour. Others relied on volunteers.

"We'd prefer to have a live bugler if we could, but we can't. There's just too many funerals to participate in," said David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

The military has been struggling to adapt. "Taps" is sometimes played on a CD player, and there's even a training video used to teach soldiers how to play the CD appropriately.

Back to the Drawing Board

Many families complained to the Pentagon that playing a CD was not a dignified way to present military honors.

Pentagon officials went back to the drawing board and have come up with a solution — a real bugle with a computerized insert.

Now, a soldier only needs to push a button, wait five seconds and pretend to play.

"We had some musicians test it to see if they could tell a difference between this and someone live playing," said Chu. "The best ones can, I should acknowledge."

But most people cannot. The military began field testing the self-playing bugle at veterans' funerals in Missouri earlier this month. If families like it, by this time next year, it will be played everywhere.

Right now, it's the best they can do.