David Dinell, Derby Informer
Derby retiree John Noonan plans to continue to play “Taps” at burials and veterans’ events on a volunteer basis for as long as he is able. He does it with the Bugles Across America organization, whose mission is to recognize the service veterans have provided to the United States.
You may not see Derby resident John Noonan at a veteran’s burial ceremony, but you may hear from him. That’s because for the past four years, Noonan and his faithful trumpet have been on the sidelines of hundreds of services, usually playing a traditional version of “Taps,” the solemn signal marking the final salute to a faithful and honorable service of an American military member.
Noonan receives no money for his work, but he gets paid in another way: the feeling of doing good for his country and a fellow citizen. Sometimes the family will come up to him afterwards and thank him, but even if they don’t, he doesn’t mind.
“It’s been extremely rewarding,” he said. “It’s well worth the time and effort and I really enjoy doing it.”
Noonan will play at up to three services a week, most in the area, but a few times traveling farther afield.
They’re outdoors, so that means the Kansas weather is a factor, too. He plays in rain or shine, cold winters and hot summers and everything in between, usually on site for 30 to 40 minutes and playing right before the honor guard folds the flag.
He’s always wearing white gloves as a sign of respect and stands away from the ceremony and its attendees. That’s because the trumpet is loud and he said it sounds better to the gathering when the sound travels a bit before the crowd hears it.
A passion during his retirement years
Noonan, 72, is retired from a career as a manager with AT&T so he has time to provide his volunteer service.
“It’s my passion in retirement,” he said.
And it’s something he plans to do as long as he is able. The selected tune is usually “Taps,” but he also plays the “Star-Spangled Banner” or “God Bless America.” He also plays at veterans’ events.
Born and raised in Manhattan, Kan., Noonan went to the University of Kansas and served six years in the U.S. Navy, including three tours of duty during the Vietnam War, serving on destroyers.
His musical endeavors go back a long way, as he took lessons when he was young and played music in high school.
Noonan also took additional lessons at Wichita State University, played in a band and performs often at his church.
While it’s common to refer to the person playing “Taps” at a funeral as a bugler, in this case, Noonan is playing a trumpet, the more popular three-valve instrument that can handle every tune that a bugle can. A difference is that the bugle is a horn with no valves and the trumpet has them, allowing a greater range of notes to be played. However, “Taps” also can be played on a cornet or flugelhorn.
“Taps” is a bugle call – a signal, not a song, so there are no lyrics and the focus is on the sound – which floats down from Noonan’s lips to the crowd, across the flag-draped coffin and off into the distance.
Noonan is contacted by the military or a funeral home for his assignments. He also receives them from the American Legion and the Kansas Honor Flight.
A ‘wonderful sound’ to live version
He got started in his mission by becoming part of Bugles Across America, which was founded in 2000.
At that time, Congress passed a law stating that veterans have a right to have at least two uniformed military people fold the flag at their burial and that a recorded version of “Taps” could be played.
However, a man by the name of Tom Day believed that veterans deserved a live version of “Taps,” and set about to make that happen, founding the organization.
Noonan agrees that the live version is superior to a recording.
“No question about it,” he said. “It really sounds so much better. It has a wonderful sound to it.”
The group has grown during the years and now has more than 4,000 volunteer musicians in all states. Some are overseas, too. There’s a lot of demand for their service as the Department of Veterans Affairs expects more than a half million veterans to pass every year for the next seven years.
Group officials say they are always on the search for qualified volunteers, and anyone of any age or gender can apply. Like others, Noonan underwent an audition by phone in order to qualify.
“It’s a good organization,” Noonan said of BAA. And it’s all done from the heart. “We do this to honor our veterans,” he said.
For more information, or to request a bugler for a veteran’s burial, go to www.buglesacrossamerica.org.