Retired Army Reserve Lt. Col. Philip Kowzan, 79, has been playing the bugle for what feels like forever. But he actually only started to learn in the last 20 years. And ever since then, he has been volunteering to bring life to “Taps” – the 24 notes synonymous with military honor funerals.
The first time he played it, it was unexpected. In 2001, he was at the funeral of a friend. They were planning to include “Taps,” but a much less personal version.
“They’re taking tape recorders out there,” he recalled. “I said, ‘what?’”
Kowzan could not stand for that. He was taking trumpet lessons at the time, so he grabbed his trumpet from his car and sounded out the song as best he could.
“It might not have been the best ‘Taps’ but he got live ‘Taps,’” Kowzan said. “I wasn’t even in uniform or anything.”
He has been performing the song at military honor funerals ever since.
“I went home and put his name, date, and the location in my little journal. And I’ve got the name of every veteran that I’ve done ‘Taps’ for,” he said. “1,879 so far.”
Almost 2,000 times, each packed with meaning, tears and many thanks for family members.
“I’ve made myself available for anytime you want me,” Kowzan said. “I’ll do it. I can’t walk past one.”
He worries about who will take over when he is no longer able.
“I don’t know how much longer I can keep it up,” Kowzan said. “Give me another two-and-a-half months and I’ll hit the big 80.”
He wants people to know you do not have to have a military background to bring “Taps” to life at funerals and hopes more young musicians will pick it up as a way to offer community service.