The Echo of “Taps”
It is perhaps one of the most mournful sounds on earth, the sound of a lone bugle, both mournful and peaceful, ringing over the land. The notes ring across a green field with white stones, as orderly as the troops who once marched in rhythmic movements, dressed in sharp uniforms.
It’s a sound Ken Swearengin, Cemetery Director for the Missouri Veterans Cemetery in Bloomfield, has heard many times.
With Veterans Day being observed this week, it’s fitting to think about the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, and to give equal thought to the men and women who came back to their country, lived lives in and out of military service, but still choose a military cemetery as their final resting place.
Veterans Day was established in November of 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson, who wanted to commemorate Armistice Day with these words:
To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us, and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.
The day was to be observed with parades and public meetings, and the suspension of business for the day.
November 11, 1918 marked the end of World War I. It was hoped to be the war that would end all wars.
It was not. There have been many since with many generations of Americans serving their country.
Swearengin notes that the Missouri Veterans Cemetery at Bloomfield conducted its first interment on Sept. 29, 2003. It has the capacity for 27,000 gravesites, located on 65 acres of the historically significant Crowley’s Ridge. It shares a common entry way with “Stars and Stripes,” the legendary military newspaper’s museum.
Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky
All is well, safely rest
God is nigh.
Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
From afar, drawing near
Falls the night.
Thanks and praise for our days
Neath the sun, neath the stars, neath the sky
As we go, this we know
God is nigh.
Taps melody by Brigadier General Daniel A. Butterfield
Lyrics by Horace Lorenzo Trim
Once an hour a song plays from the carillon tower, its notes gently echoing across the rolling grounds. Grey granite memorial benches for rest and reflection are placed throughout the cemetery.
It is a stately and respectful setting for America’s heroes and their families.
There is plenty of pew seating in the committal shelter, and a podium and public address system for clergy or ceremony speakers. Following the service, cemetery personnel escort the remains to the assigned plot and complete the interment.
Bloomfield is not the only Veterans Cemetery in the state. Others are located in Higginsville, Springfield, Waynesville and Jacksonville.
The use of a cemetery is an important benefit for veterans and their families.
Their benefits include a gravesite in any of America’s 131 national cemeteries with available space. It includes opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a government headstone or marker, a burial flag, and a Presidential Memorial Certificate, all at no cost to the family. Some veterans are also eligible for burial allowances. Cremated remains are buried or inurned in the same manner and with the same honors as casketed remains.
The burial benefits are not only for those who served in the military, but also for spouses and dependents. Eligible spouses and dependents may even be buried if they predecease the veteran. Documentation such as marriage certificates and birth certificates are needed to qualify for the interment.
Many people see the lines of flags beautifully displayed at the Avenue of Flags on patriotic holidays and special events. Most people do not realize those flags are burial flags donated by the families of the deceased.
Burial benefits are also available for veterans buried in a private cemetery. Their benefits of a government headstone, marker, or medallion, along with a burial flag and the Presidential Memorial Certificate are provided at no cost to the family. The VA benefits, however, do not extend to spouses and dependents buried in a private cemetery.
Swearengin believes he has the greatest job, and most honored job, on earth.
“I actually look forward every morning to getting up and going to work because I know if have the opportunity to assist someone who has unselfishly given to our country,” he said. “I consider that a very high honor.”
Being a retired military member himself, he feels he is in a good position to understand the needs and expectations of veterans and their families.
It is difficult to discuss the cemetery without including the statistics of those interred. The statistics are provided as they were received by Swearengin, with reverence.
Because of his job, Swearengin has a unique perspective on cultural changes and changes within the veteran community over the years.
“We have seen increases in the number of veterans we have interred,” said the director. “In 2004, we interred 119. In 2013, that number grew to 257.”
He also has a front seat to the nation’s history.
“We have 500 World War II veterans; 396 Korean War veterans; and 410 Vietnam veterans,” said Swearengin.
The baby boom effect is in full view.
“Now we are seeing a decrease in WWII veteran interments, but more from the Vietnam era,” he explained.
He says the biggest change he has seen is an increase in the use of cremation.
“The cremation percentage in 2004 was 24 percent, and it has been rising steadily. This year the rate is up to 35 percent,” said Swearengin.
There have been 1,772 veterans and 494 dependents of veterans interred since the cemetery was opened in May of 2002. It was constructed with a $6 million grant from the VA National Cemetery Administration Cemetery Grants Program.
“We have veterans here from WWII, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam, the Kuwait Liberation, the ongoing Persian Conflict, Kosovo, and Afghanistan,” said Swearengin. “And we have many who were awarded meals for valor, are former prisoners of WWII or Korea, and one Vietnam vet who was MIA for 34 years before being found and returned home.”
Many veterans are so proud of their service to our country that they want to be interred and memorialized with their sisters and brothers who have also served the country.
Swearengin said many families choose the military cemetery because of the honor of burial with fellow military, because of the substantial monetary benefit, and also because they know the cemetery will always be maintained with dignity and honor.
“That means a lot to people, to know the grave will always be tended with respect and dignity,” explained the director.
“These people will always be treated with the utmost in honor and dignity because they are the true American heroes,” concluded Swearengin. “It’s my honor to play a role in that.”
As the beautifully haunting melody of “Taps” fills the quiet sky on any given day bidding final farewell to a hero, the lyrics dispatch the deepest sympathy of those who must remain: All is well. Safely rest. God is nigh.