Navy trumpeter recalls playing taps for Black sailor’s funeral in South

Bob Works proudly served in the U.S. Navy as trumpet player from 1960-64. He played with the Navy band on board the aircraft carriers USS Independence and the USS Enterprise where he once played "Hail to the Chief" for President John F. Kennedy when he boarded the ship.

But after returning to shore duty, it was a simple funeral in Charleston, South Carolina, where he performed Taps that is forever etched in his memory.

"We were on our way there to play with the rifle squad, and we found ourselves off road," recalled Works. "And we're I'm looking around as to where are we? And one of the members of the rifle squad just said, we're playing and doing this ceremony for a black man. And Black people aren't allowed to be buried in the cemetery here in Charleston. And that was a shocking moment."

Works says the funeral for this Black service member was perhaps just weeks after the assassination and burial of President Kennedy.

"I had already listened to the trumpet player from the Arlington Cemetery as he played Taps for this president. And I’m standing out in this farm field in South Carolina because it was my turn to play Taps," said Works as he remembered the bugler from JFK’s funeral.

"And he played like an angel. And I don’t think I measured up to the way he played, but I played it well and that memory is still with me," said Works. "I played as tenderly and as with as much feeling as I possibly could, because this wasn’t fair for this person to be stuck away like that. It’s a shame that happened."

Works’ story of performing for the Black sailor’s funeral will be told as part of a new interactive veterans memorial in Bloomington, Minnesota.  

He has paid to have his name on a symbolic oversized dog tag that contains a QR code that viewers can scan with their phone and takes them to a video of his story. The dog tags are on sale as of July 4th on the web page for the Bloomington Veterans Memorial.

Organizers of the memorial are looking to collect at many stories as possible from veterans who have ties to Bloomington, or their families.

"What were they scared of? What were they proud of? What really resonated for them in those moments?" said Bloomington Veterans Memorial board member Kate Blessing. "That’s when history really comes to life for people."

It’s exactly why Works wants other veterans with ties to Bloomington to join him in buying an interactive dog tag for the new memorial.

"It’s really important, I think, to emphasize what we serve our country for," said Works. "It’s time to treasure what we have. And this is one way to treasure it and one way to bring truth to others."