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News > My Favorite Air Force Task Ever: "Taps" at the Alamo
My Favorite Air Force Task Ever: "Taps" at the Alamo

Posted 4/25/2012   Updated 4/25/2012 Email story   Print story


by A1C Dan Thrower

4/25/2012 - San Antonio, TX -- It is difficult to understand the paradoxical human phenomenon of receiving the most gratification from the most demanding and strenuous activities that we voluntarily put ourselves through. About a month and a half ago, for example, I ran my first 50K race (31 miles). It was a miserable experience! I even lost a couple of toenails and ruined a pair of running shoes. But there hangs at my desk the Texas-size finisher's medal that still elicits a sigh and a smile of utter satisfaction. Such was today's official USAF Band of the West assignment--perhaps the highest pressure "gig" I have ever had (including my 15-plus years as a professional civilian musician), but definitely among the most fulfilling musical experiences of my entire career.

I don't recall exactly when I received the assignment, but the request was submitted at least six months ago for a bugler to play "Taps" to end the annual "Pilgrimage to the Alamo"--a somber Fiesta event. I am somewhat new to San Antonio, still figuring out all this two-week Fiesta stuff. Having been born in Texas and raised by Texans, however, I was well-versed on the story of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto that led to Texas' independence from Mexico and its eventual annexation into the United States. That is what Fiesta is all about.

The Airman at work that handed me the mission was almost apologetic as she asked if I would be willing to do this. I am always willing to play "Taps," but this time a thrill shot through me as I energetically accepted the task; for I have ancestral connections with the Alamo!

My Great-Great-Great-Grandfather, Joel Walter Robison knew those brave men who died at the Alamo. He was purportedly General Travis' last messenger sent to solicit help before the Mexican Army arrived and slaughtered them all, even those who surrendered. I was to honor those men--my ancestor's brothers in battle; his countrymen, united in a just cause.

I wonder how Joel felt when he received the report that his comrades had been brutally slaughtered. War is ugly, and the killing by both sides was obviously heated. The brutality of the Spanish-style execution of those who had delivered up their weapons in defeat, however, was the cruel and inhumane act that inspired retribution from the Texans elsewhere.

Shortly after the fall of the Alamo came the fateful Battle of San Jacinto. With the faces of those who died here flashing across his mind, I can only imagine the fervor of the words as they shot from Joel Robison's lips: "Remember the Alamo!" The Battle of San Jacinto lasted approximately 18 minutes, and is said to have been the most decisive battle in American history. The subsequent hunt and roundup of the scattered forces led by General Santa Anna followed. Among the deployed parties was a group of four men that included my ancestor Joel Robison. One soldier that they found had been hiding in the bushes. Robison was the only one among them who spoke Spanish, and as they marched him back to camp Joel understood the man's pleading explanation that his feet hurt badly, as he was a cavalryman, unaccustomed to marching. Again, war is ugly; to kill is easy! This deed was suggested, but the act that followed is what makes Joel Walter Robison a true hero: he took the miserable captive upon his own horse. "Remember the Alamo?" Indeed, he remembered, and learned from what had taken place there! Such barbarism was not to be adopted--not even for the sake of revenge upon a brutal enemy. To slaughter the helpless is lawless, cold-blooded murder. To extend mercy to the helpless--even to a foe--is supernal heroism and bravery!

Imagine the surprise of that little group of Texans as they entered camp and heard the exclamations of the prisoners, "¡El Presidente!" They had unwittingly captured, and spared alive, the "Napoleon of the West," General Santa Anna. He immediately requested to be brought to Sam Houston, and treaties were subsequently signed. These events led to the independence of Texas, and its eventual annexation into the United States, as well as parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Idaho, California, and other states.
When I contacted my POC to coordinate for this event, little did I realize that by divulging my Texas roots to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, my function would become exponentially exposed. That one succinct email became viral among the DRT within minutes and I was soon told that the President General of the organization, Karen Thompson, wanted to meet me early for a special presentation. A small camera crew from Channel Four beat the presenters there, and they interviewed me briefly about my heritage (no Air Force talk--I learned better in Basic Training), to be aired some time this evening. The Sons of the Republic of Texas were also keenly interested in my connections. Several helpful people offered to assist me in documenting my lineage in order to join the SRT, which I plan on doing.

The presentation was of a neatly folded Texas flag that has flown over the Alamo, accompanied with a certificate of authenticity, personalized for me. That flag will forever be a family treasure! I was profoundly honored to accept it on behalf of Joel Walter Robison. Since receiving this assignment, it has most definitely been a deeply meaningful one to prepare for. The circumstances surrounding it all are so providential: my coming to San Antonio from Utah 2½ years ago, becoming a member of the Armed Forces three days shy of a year ago, being tasked for this job without my petition--it is all so movingly special, it is impossible to describe.

I met many animated people, shook countless hands, posed for a host of photos, and underneath the ceremonial uniform, my purely American soul and deeply rooted Texan heart had never been prouder than to be a serviceman in uniform today, to pay official homage to these absolute champions of freedom.

Everything went longer than expected. How glad I was to have my little soft practice mute to buzz on occasionally as I waited behind the north outer wall of the Alamo for the Procession to finish. It persisted a good 15 minutes longer than planned. My contact told me that I would be playing "Taps" from there--a very unexposed, comfortable position. However, the chaplain who offered the benediction to the ceremony introduced me beforehand, including a synopsis of my connections to the Alamo, and I was prompted outward. My heart pounded harder than it has in years during that closing prayer, and I lifted my inner voice with that of the pastor for help! "Taps" may seem like such a simple little ditty, but to those who have ever had the duty of playing it for any official function know that those 24 powerful notes can be sheer terror even for the greatest of trumpeters. With all the publicity, presentations, people I met, and the minister's introduction, one may be able to imagine the pressure I suffered to not split a note! My silent prayer calmed me, and after the "Amen" I slowly came to attention and raised my bell to play the most momentous rendition of "Taps" I have ever executed, for that expectant crowd of perhaps 2500 patriots. Every note was laced with meaning, and I hung on to the last tone with a more prolonged diminuendo than ever before. Many spectators afterward approached me with tears, and one elderly lady gave me a big kiss on the cheek for lack of words.

When my contact, Meg Barron, later expressed her gratitude for "being flexible," it dawned on me that there were indeed a few things that I could have become annoyed over. But I thought of the profound honor it was to pay tribute to those who here epitomized flexibility and gave their "last full measure of devotion" for the cause of freedom. How could I not be flexible?

This day will be burned into my memory as one of the most special days of my musical career, of my military mission, and of my life. ¡Viva Fiesta! And remember the Alamo!

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