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.
"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."
"She truly gets the Wreaths Across America mission to remember, honor and teach and how important it is to our families but most importantly the families of those who have served."
"When you see thousands of volunteers flood through the gates to lay wreaths, it does help restore your faith in America and that our country has not lost its core value of appreciating the sacrifice of our soldiers and veterans and saluting them while teaching the next generation how important it is to remember."
Taya says the best way to show appreciation and respect for military families is through simple gestures like the one Wreaths Across America's founder Morrill Worcester made back in 1992 when he laid the first hand-made balsam fir remembrance wreath on the headstone of a fallen hero in Arlington National Cemetery.
Her parents, Vernon and Regina Garner represented the true American dream. They were a young entrepreneurial couple creating a business to share with future generations of their family. Garner Trucking started in 1960 with one truck and has grown to over one hundred trucks and four hundred trailers today.
"With the most gentle little kisses using the very tip of his tongue like a little butterfly he licked the tears off my cheek as if he was saying, 'Mom, I've got you, don't worry I'm right here with you."
“We didn’t understand the scope of the effort though until we attended the event. The energy and enthusiasm for WAA was mind-blowing and we left with great contacts and started to formulate a proposal right away for the executive team to consider getting involved with the mission.”
"I was very determined to survive the war. I never thought I would not survive. If I had allowed myself to think that I would have been done. My big goal was to revenge my past but not with bitterness and vengeance."
Jeff says a lot of drivers who work for Buchheit think it would be exciting to participate in the Wreaths Across America effort. They're right! However, hauling a truckload of America's respect is a privileged duty reserved for certain employees.
It seems fitting that on Earth Day this year Wreaths Across America will pay tribute to our nation's EOD Technicians in a Stem to Stone Tree-Tagging event on April 22 during which the names of over three hundred fallen service members will be said aloud as their replica dog tags are placed on the tip land in Maine.
Mike and Barbara are proud and patriotic Americans who understand the great personal sacrifices of our military families. They have also witnessed the powerful impact one fresh balsam fir wreath with a red bow has on the living. Mike gets choked up when he recalls one particular example.
"We're always conscientious about the carbon footprint we leave so we have to be sure the process is safe, efficient, and compliant with federal regulations," Debbie explains. "We want to make sure it's fuel efficient and a good run, that we've got the truck full, that a rested driver is ready to go, and all that plays into the coordination effort."
Nicole says she's thankful for those fellow Location Coordinators who have helped her and she's honored to provide the same support to those who might be thinking about starting a Wreaths Across America ceremony in their community cemetery.
It was inspiring last year when Jimmy and his wife Cathy realized their volunteer effort with Wreaths Across America was helping the organization grow and indeed making an impression on younger generations.
“The trucking community has been extremely dedicated to Wreaths Across America over the years, but support doesn’t come exclusively from drivers,” Karen Worcester explained. “Some of the most important contributions come from those behind the scenes, like Wendy.
Bill admits he too was "hooked" on the effort to remember, honor, and teach as soon as he saw a fresh, hand-made remembrance wreath laying against the headstone of a fallen hero over the holidays.
Peter stands 16.3 hands tall and was selected as a Caisson Platoon horse because of his color, size, focus, and behavior. Those who met Peter at his Open House on St. Patrick's Day were amazed at his size and docile temperament with one woman referring to him as a "gentle giant."
"It doesn't all happen in Arlington. It's all across the country, and perhaps you could start your involvement in your hometown and involve your family so people can see just how important trucking is to the mission.
"It makes these drivers feel good about themselves, it makes them feel good about their companies, it makes them feel good about their country and being Americans. They're so proud and when you've got all those things working in the same direction that's a win-win for everybody."