Joseph Maehl will be
playing taps today during the Memorial Wall Ceremony. Photo by Mark
As a formation of old warbirds streaks
across the brilliant blue sky, at a marked point high above a gathered
crowd a lone plane departs the formation, climbing steeply toward the
heavens, leaving the rest behind.
On the ground below, a lone bugler plays
the ethereal, haunting melody of taps, in perfect unison with the lone
plane’s departure from the formation.
Holding on to the very last note, the song
doesn’t seem to want to end until it eventually trails off, ending
softly like a child’s lullaby as the missing-man formation shrinks into
The lone bugler, older than many of the
planes in the air, is AirVenture’s own Joseph “Joe” Maehl
(pronounced “mail”), who has been playing taps at AirVenture for the
last 23 years.
What most don’t know is how he
melodically weaves history through your ears, without you even realizing
A gifted musician, and an American patriot,
Joe epitomizes class and sophistication with his soft-spoken gracious
demeanor, warm handshake, and infectious laugh.
A tradition forged in battle
In the early 1940s, while still a teenager, Joe joined tens of
thousands of his countrymen and enlisted in the U.S. Navy; he played in
several Navy bands, traveling extensively throughout the United States and
northern Pacific islands from 1943 through 1946.
During his wartime travels, he came across
a magazine story, written by a World War I Marine Corps bugler.
As Joe recalls the bugler’s story, during
a bloody battle in the First World War, a Marine Corps unit was trapped by
the enemy for several days, and many marines were killed.
Among the survivors of the battle: the
Wanting to honor the 17 Marines from his
platoon killed in the battle, the bugler crafted a new version of taps by
holding the last note for 17 seconds—one second of remembrance for each
of his fallen comrades.
Joe read the bugler’s story, and reread
it several times. “It was something that struck me to the core.”
Committing himself to carry on the
tradition, Joe played the World War I bugler’s version of taps publicly
for the first time in April 1944 at a funeral in the Aleutian Islands for
a Second World War naval aviator.
From that ceremony through today, Joe has
continued to play taps in this way, adding honor and humble appreciation
to all those who have died in battle protecting our country.
A disciplined delivery
Joe’s version of taps is difficult to deliver; the 17 seconds comes at
the end of the melody, accomplished with one long, gut-squeezing breath.
But with tremendous patriotism, as Joe plays taps at the warbirds air show
and the Memorial Wall service, it is always performed with full and
reverent understanding of the significance of those final 17 seconds and
as a profound gesture to those who gave so much for our country, in wars
both past and present.
With a touch of humility, Joe states, “It’s
a respectful gesture, with the hope that those who were lost, wherever
they are, will be aware of the intended salute.”