The day President John F. Kennedy was buried, Sergeant Keith Clark — the Army bugler playing “Taps” — made a single mistake some refer to as the “broken note” that reflected the sad feelings of the whole country.
On Saturday, Nov. 16, the U.S. Army band and more than 100 buglers from around the country gathered to pay tribute to JFK, who is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Zachary VanAmburgh, a 13-year-old Shaker Junior High School student, was among them.
VanAmburgh was in Arlington representing Boy Scout troop 62 of Latham. The young trumpeter became interested in learning how to play “Taps” in the scouts and picked up the bugle. Through practice and dedication, he taught himself how to play “Taps” by listening to it repeatedly until he had figured it out.
“I thought it’d be cool, so I started to listen to ‘Taps’ and then figured out how to play it,” said VanAmburgh.
The story of Keith Clark is legendary in the bugling community. Two weeks prior to JFK’s assassination, Clark had played “Taps” for the President at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Veterans Day and as usual did not miss a note. Clark was known as a perfectionist, and it was out of character for him to make a mistake, especially on the sixth note of “Taps.”
The not-for-profit organization Taps for Veterans sponsored the event titled “A Bugle Call Remembered: 50th Anniversary of Taps — JFK.” Clark died in 2002 and was also buried in Arlington.
VanAmburgh applied to participate in the ceremony by sending in a video of him playing “Taps” and was accepted. He was one of only four scouts to participate and one of the youngest. The oldest bugler in attendance was 91-years old.
VanAmburgh’s mother, Julie, has always been interested in JFK, which is how her son became interested in playing “Taps” at the ceremony. His father, Sam, an Army veteran, has instilled the values of the military in his son, which is one of the reasons he has been so successful in Boy Scouts.
VanAmburgh said he plans to make Eagle Scout and join the Army. He has been the bugler for his Boy Scout troop for the last four years and has played “Taps” at flag retirement ceremonies presided over by his father.
The group of 120 buglers all played “Taps” together and then spread out in different sections of the Arlington Cemetery, where they played it solo.
“It was an honor,” said VanAmburg, and that the best part of the trip, “was playing ‘Taps’ with the military buglers.”