While electronic bugles will be used at virtually all military funerals in New York state - a result of budget cuts - the Pennsylvania National Guard plans to continue using live buglers when possible.
New York is cutting back on the use of live buglers because of a 25 percent cut in federal funding for New York's Military Forces Honor Guard.
"We have an honor guard in the Pennsylvania National Guard, and we still play taps live. I never heard of anything like that," Staff Sgt. Matt Jones said. "As far as Pennsylvania goes, we still use a live bugler."
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Fred Free of the Roaring Spring Sons of the American Legion plays taps as others in the Blair County Veterans Honor Guard stand at attention during the burial service for a WWII?veteran in 2008.
Ironically, electronic bugles already are being used at most local military funerals.
"About 90 percent of ours are with the electronic bugle. We only have one guy and use him when he is available," said Bill Nelson, commander of the Blair County Veterans Honor Guard, which performs military honors for deceased veterans.
"The majority of the time we have been using an electronic bugle with beautiful results. I think it is the way to go; the electronic bugle plays the same all of the time. One sour note is a bad memory for the family," said Charles W. "Chuck" Garber, past commander.
The local organization's lone active bugler is Air Force retiree Les Hart of Duncansville.
"I don't like it [electronic] but out of necessity, you do it if you can't find anybody here to do it. Sometimes we have two funerals, and I can't be at both places," Hart said. "We are doing it out of necessity; there are not enough buglers. If you can get a real bugler, it is a luxury."
According to a Department of Defense website, the honor detail at a military service may either play taps by a bugler or by an electronic recording.
The average person can't tell if the taps are being played live or by a recording, Nelson said.
"People have no idea they are playing an electronic bugle; they put their lips up to the instrument and act like they are playing. It is deceiving, but it is a beautiful sound," Nelson said.
He said there are places where it is better to use an electronic bugle.
"A lot of the services are done in funeral homes and churches. If you do it with a live bugle, it is pretty rough. You can't play a live bugle soft. You can turn down the electronic ones," Nelson said.
Electronic bugles are not foolproof.
"The electronic ones can malfunction. What happens if the battery wears out or it malfunctions, it is not always foolproof," Hart said.
Hart said he prefers having a live bugler.
"If you ask people, they don't even know about the electronic bugles and they would rather have a live person," Hart said. "What it boils down to is the electronic types are being used because we don't have enough live buglers to do the job."
There is a kind of romantic aspect of having a live bugler, Jones said.
"Using an electronic bugler is not the same. Is it disrespectful to have it played electronically? That varies from person to person," Jones said.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.