‘Taps’ … the Bugle Call immortalized in ‘From Here to Eternity’ …

Posted on October 23, 2009. Filed under: Books, From a Services Career, Movies |

James Jones wrote the Army’s riposte to Margaret Mitchell’s ‘Gone With the Wind’.  Jones Company Sergeant, Milton Anthony Warden, is the counter to the suave, sensual, silky smooth, Rhett Butler. The motion picture GWTW made the till then most money and won the most ever Academy Awards – though Gable lost the Best Actor award to Robert Donat who won it in, ‘Good Bye Mr Chips’.

The black and white FHTE became famous, mainly on account of the beach frolic scene between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr.

FHTE, the motion picture, lacks the broad canvas of the Book – it deserved a far better treatment. Lancaster is, as usual , very very good – though, perhaps a wee swash buckling. Perhaps, William Holden may have made a more scheming and earthier Warden.

FHTE’s other main character is Robert E Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift), who in Warden’s characteristic, succinct, richly earthy summation, is a ‘Fuck Up’. Yet Prewitt lives by cherished old world values and is the decent sort. Among other things, he is a top notch boxer and the best ever bugler. He epitomizes all that is good and noble in life when he plays ‘Taps’, the poignant bugle call – as only he can – on losing his good friend, Maggio (Sinatra).

The story of ‘Taps’ as per popular legend, which we all love to accept as true, is that  during the American Civil War in 1862, Union Army Captain Robert Ellicombe was near Harrison’s Landing in Virginia and the Confederates were on the other side of the narrow strip of land. During the night, the Captain heard the moans of a wounded soldier lying on this strip. Not knowing who it was, the Captain decided to risk it and bring back the wounded soldier. The Captain crawled across and pulled him back.

The Captain found that he had brought back a Confederate soldier who had by then died. Imagine the shock when the Captain discovered that the soldier was actually his very own son, who had been studying music in the South and unknown to his father had joined the Confederates.

The Captain requested permission to give his son a military funeral despite his enemy status. This request was partially granted when instead of a band playing a funeral dirge, the Captain was told he could take one soldier from the band to play what he wanted.

On searching his son’s pack the father had found some  bugle notes which had been penned by his son. Seeing these, he decided on a bugler, who played those notes, now famous across the  world.

Fading light dims the sight,
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright.
From afar drawing nigh,
Falls the night.

Day is done, gone the sun!
From the lakes, from the hills, from the skies
All is well. Safely rest,
God is nigh.

Then goodnight, peaceful night!
Till the light of the dawn shineth bright,
God is near! Do not fear,
Friend, goodnight.

Popular Legend Yes … but alas NOT  TRUE! … There is no record  of a Captain Ellicombe in the Union Army of the time!

“>This bugle call was composed by Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield, a Civil War general (the lyrics were added later and continue to have newer versions).

Taps replaced the old French ‘Tatoo’ call for Lights Out.

Also see  http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1990797,00.html   

And now!
Here is the amazingly beautiful! Melissa Venema, age 13, the trumpet soloist playing, ‘Taps’ for all the men and women of America who have died for their Country and its freedoms.



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3 Responses to “‘Taps’ … the Bugle Call immortalized in ‘From Here to Eternity’ …”

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But you should read this bulge scene in the book! It is one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever read. It comes at the close of Book Two “The Company” — and not upon the death of Maggio, as it does in the film. Thanks for your post.

Boy, am I floored! I read FHTE in the Military Academy way back in ’59. Ever since it has remained an All time Great. Also, have studiously shunned anything else from James Jones since I dare not shatter the image. Now, some fifty years on, here is his daughter commenting on a small post with her Dad’s name in my blog. Thank You Lady. You have made me a very Happy Man.

If you don’t mind me making a recommendation, read THE THIN RED LINE. Oh, boy, are you in for a treat. It is my favorite book of his. It’s about the Guadalcanal “mop-up operation,” as seen from the POV of C-for-Charlie Company. I wish I was getting to read that book for the first time…

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