Jari Villanueva knows his bugle calls and the one he's intimately familiar with is Taps, inarguably the most frequently played bugle call of them all.
"That's the one call played every evening at U.S. Military bases here and around the world that unites us all as Americans," Jari explains. During his career, Jari has sounded Taps thousands of times and dedicated himself to researching its history becoming the country's foremost expert on the call.
Jari's love of music started at a young age, and along the way, he was exposed to a healthy dose of patriotism and pride starting as a bugler in the Boy Scouts. In 1978, Jari went on to earn his Bachelor's degree in Music Education from Peabody Conservatory at John Hopkins University and his Masters in trumpet performance from Kent State. He is also a graduate of the Air Force Senior Non-Commissioned Officer Academy.
In addition to playing in the Air Force Band, between 1985 and 2008 Jari served as a bugler at Arlington National Cemetery playing Taps for countless military funerals, and that's how he first learned of Wreaths Across America.
"I remember being in the cemetery years ago and seeing one section, it was the World War I section, near Fort Myer that was all covered in wreaths, and I was wondering who the heck put them there," Jari explains. "I know what struck me about it. It was an old section that no family members would be coming to visit." It's really a great thing to see how it's grown and grown over the years and expanded to other national and state cemeteries across the country."
Jari's passion for the history and performance of Taps resulted from his embarrassment one day of being caught off guard with a simple questioned posed to him by his drum major on the way to a funeral at Arlington.
"He asked me if I knew the origin of Taps and I couldn't answer him," Jari chuckled. "The next day I decided to crack the books and find out what was the true history and the first thing I came across was the myth about the Union Captain and his Confederate son, but, that didn't ring true to me."
That's when he doubled down on his research.
"I went up to the huge military library at Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania. Then I went to the National Archives and the Library of Congress sifting through articles and talking with people who shared my interest and passion on the topic. Along the way, I met Jack Carter who had the largest collections of bugles in the country."
Jari provides a wealth of information on the origin of Taps for all who visit his website. Some of his research took him back to the historical performance of Taps during President John F. Kennedy's Funeral and a relationship he developed with the U.S. Army trumpeter Keith Clark who hit the wrong note while sounding the call.
"When I was eight years old I remember being glued to the TV and being enthralled by all the pomp and circumstance of the funeral; the caisson, the troops, the bands and of course the trumpeter. I felt such a strong empathy for him that I decided to contact him as part of my research. He was living in Florida and agreed to be interviewed," Jari explains. "He was a phenomenal trumpet player, but he'll always be remembered for that note. He was a gracious, Christian man who was very generous with his time for me. He got thousands of letters following his performance in the Kennedy funeral one of which was encouragement from a nine-year-old boy."
In the late 90's Jari created an exhibit at Arlington National Cemetery featuring bugles and buglers and he had the responsibility of transferring the bugle Keith Clark played from the Smithsonian to Arlington.
Jari's notoriety comes as much from his historical knowledge and performances as a Taps bugler as it does from his music arranging. His arrangement of the song Going Home was featured in a full honors arrival ceremony scene in the movie, Clear and Present Danger.
"That appeared to get a lot of attention because I started getting a lot of requests for it including from President Reagan's family. When he passed away, the Air Force Band got a request for it to be played during his departure ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base. That piece of music is now part of the Presidential State Funeral Music, and it's played in Arlington National Cemetery by all the military bands there, and it's something of which I'm very proud."
When Jari retired from the military, he served for ten years as Director of the Maryland National Guard's Military Funeral Honors Program providing honors for well over thirty-five thousand Maryland veterans.
You can hear more with Jari during the Military Musicians Showcase on Wreaths Across America Radio Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 Am until Noon Eastern.
Yes. At Wreaths Across America, we've heard about the "Walmart Heart," and we're honored to be welcoming a group next month that has decided to combine their charity effort with their patriotism and respect.
Brandon says last year spending time at Arlington National Cemetery on National Wreaths Across America Day with fellow employees of Cowan Systems, Inc. was an educational and humbling experience.
"It's been a dream of mine to go back to Arlington with my Mom to be a part of National Wreaths Across America Day to place remembrance wreaths on my grandparents' graves."
According to Gretchen CFI went above and beyond two years ago when they helped make her dream come true.
"When we did that project we had one hundred and thirty-five of our employees at that time who had served in the military and that's a big percentage of employees for one company. We think that it's important to recognize their service."
Christa Parker's love for her son, country, and volunteerism with Wreaths Across America knows no boundaries, quite literally. Her volunteer efforts frequently have her crossing states lines and her stamina and organizational efforts are an inspiration to all.
When asked if he could describe the power of the veterans' remembrance wreath he admitted it was a challenge to put into words, yet hesitated only for a moment.
One highlight from this year's performance came when Six-String Soldiers invited children of all ages to the stage to sing along with them, the Rick Charrette song, I'm An American! It echoed through the valley where replica dog tags of fallen heroes hang among the balsam fir trees' tips that will be used to make veterans remembrance wreaths.
"Rain, snow, or sunshine as you know these guys walk the walk, so we're here to dedicate this section of the tip land to the Old Guard," proclaims Wayne Hanson, Chairman of the Board for Wreaths Across America. "We certainly appreciate everything they do for us."
It was, in fact, a competitor of Abilene Motor Express who reached out to them to tell them about Wreaths Across America and Will says once the owners, Keith and Kolen Jones heard about the effort they were one hundred percent behind it right away.
Especially meaningful is the location of the Grove, which is adjacent to the soon-to-be-opened Medal of Honor Remembrance Park. From this vantage point, The Old Guard will continue to stand watch over America’s fallen heroes.
Kevin says driving Armellini's load of wreaths in the escort to VA National Cemetery in Lake Worth along with the Walmart trucks is a meaningful experience for him emotionally because of honoring veterans, but he says there's also a more physical kind of excitement as a professional driver.
Starting at the end of this month, as we countdown to Wreath Day, we would like to invite you to appear on our national webcast/webinar series to tell us about the local veterans buried in your community. We will also run your interview on WAA Radio and share on social media and in the newsletter.
"If we don't teach this younger generation that freedom is not free they're going to forget and not understand the sacrifice made by these men and women who keep us free and safe. I don't know where this country would be if not for the brave people who step up and volunteer to serve in our military. It's really scary to think of where we'd be without a powerful military."
Thinking about Christmas during July provides us with the perfect opportunity to encourage others to get involved with our mission by sharing the stories of their hometown heroes while explaining, however, to those not familiar we're not "decorating graves."
We are humbled by the hundreds of thousands of people who get involved every year on National Wreaths Across America Day at Arlington National Cemetery and at over twelve hundred participating cemeteries in paying tribute to our veterans. One of those passionate and dedicated individuals is Ellen O'Neil Fuller.
Not only does Wade Gunter place a remembrance wreath on the headstone of a fallen service member at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC), he says their name aloud when he props it against the stone. It's what Wade does next that takes the Wreaths Across America mission to remember, honor, and teach to a higher level.
"We're very fortunate to find carriers, veterans, and non-veterans that want to participate in the program. We get drivers every year who call us to get involved."
From the white wigs to the tailored red coats every aspect of the United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps is designed with history and field music in mind. The unit was formed in 1960 and according to SFC Martin was originally made up of non-musician infantrymen, harkening back to the field musicians of the Continental Army.
"When it comes to Wreaths Across America, we don't do what we do for the applause of men; we do it because of how important it is to the Gold Star families we've connected with over the years."
"We knew at the time it was inevitable he'd be deployed," Scott explains. "He was just a few days shy of being promoted to Sergeant when his Humvee hit an IED (improvised explosive device) in Iraq."
"I remember being in the cemetery years ago and seeing one section, it was the World War I section, near Fort Myer that was all covered in wreaths, and I was wondering who the heck put them there," Jari explains. "I know what struck me about it. It was an old section that no family members would be coming to visit."
"They have to learn and understand the history to know of all the people who have given their lives to make this country what it is today. We're honored and proud to be part of Wreaths Across America and we look forward to being part of the future."
Like any military maneuver, music performance requires individual excellence in a synchronized effort that requires discipline to achieve the desired goal.
They know they have come to serve those who served us by placing a remembrance wreath on their headstone while saying their name. Like Al, every volunteer we speak with says they come away from the day knowing they have contributed to something so much bigger than themselves.
"The statue now serves as inspiration for young people to say yes, the military is something that we should support because they come to rescue life. They don't always come to conquer the land and certainly not American soldiers. We don't go anywhere to conquer lands we go to help liberate people."
"As the saying goes we all gave some, but some gave all, and that resonates with me all the time," explains Vince. "This is our way of giving back and paying tribute to the fallen because those people are the heroes."
"We seem to be at a time in history when Americans are having a hard time agreeing on anything. We’re divided in so many ways. But at the heart of it, most of us can agree on one thing: We are Americans."
"It was really hard because I couldn't hug her. As soon as she put her hand on the wreath, I started to cry, and I could tell she was starting to tear up."
In her keynote address, Karen Worcester thanked the UMA for the honor and shared a personal story of why Wreaths Across America does what it does. In a heartfelt and often tearful delivery, Karen told the story of Edith Knowles, a Gold Star Sister who lost her brother, Bud, during World War II.
I knew I had the contacts in the trucking industry," Barry explains of his initial involvement with the organization. "I just had to get people to believe in Wreaths Across America they way I did."