For many years, Dad and his buddy Bill Flaig would play echo "Taps" for the Mass at St. Mary's Cemetery, then follow the parade to Kinkaid Cemetery, the burial site of Civil War veteran and former Minnesota Gov. Knute Nelson, one of Alexandria's most famous residents. When I was in the high school band, I, too, played at the Kinkaid service.
For four years, my dad played with the St. Cloud Municipal Band at its annual Memorial Day concert at the St. Cloud VA Medical Center. And more recently, he's been at Carlos.
Playing for Memorial Day was also a tradition for my dad's paternal grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs. Of course, when G. Oliver started playing for the holiday, it was known as Decoration Day, which started as a way of honoring Civil War soldiers. G. Oliver's dad, Jasper Riggs, fought with the 45th Illinois Infantry, Co. I; three of Jasper's brothers also fought for Illinois: General Washington Riggs (that's his name, not his rank), Marion Riggs and Clay Riggs. So it's not surprising that G. Oliver would want to participate in the annual observances.
The marker for Jasper Riggs in the New Boston, Ill., cemetery, next to the grave of his wife, Rebecca. Jasper was buried in Hunnewell, Mo., where he died in 1911.
It appears that G. Oliver began playing for Decoration Day in 1886, about the time he directed his first band, at age 15, in Esbon, Kansas. He continued to observe the holiday in whatever city he was living – including Crookston, Bemidji and St. Cloud. In 1941, in the midst of World War II, he performed in and directed his 57th Decoration Day program, as leader of the St. Cloud Municipal Band. I know this because it's listed in his entry in the 1941 editon of Who's Who in Minnesota.
G. Oliver didn't serve in a war, but he came close. In the 1890s, he was a member of an Iowa Regimental Band led by his longtime friend, Maj. George Landers, later known as the father of the Iowa Band Law. G. Oliver quit the 51st/55th Regimental Band to take a job in Crookston. The regimental band was sent to the Philippines to fight in the Spanish-American War.
The 51st/55th Infantry Regimental Band, based in Clarinda, Iowa. G. Oliver is in the back row, second from the right.
G. Oliver returned to the band as a guest cornet soloist in the early 1900s, and he participated in the band's 1906 trip to the South to dedicate the Iowa memorials at several Civil War battlefields, including those at Shiloh and Vicksburg, where his dad fought, and where so many died.
I am grateful on this day to all those who have died in service to our country. I'm grateful to the men and women who have served or who currently serve in our armed forces.
And I am grateful for the 24 notes of "Taps."
The song has no official words, but it does have several popular verses, including this one:
Thanks and praise, For our days,
'Neath the sun, Neath the stars,
'Neath the sky,
As we go, This we know,
God is nigh.