Staff and Wire Reports
ALBUQUERQUE — A bugler will be available to play taps at the funerals of more veterans this year under a state plan.
More than half of the roughly 1,400 burials last year at Santa Fe National Cemetery had no live bugler. A tape is often played at funerals at private cemeteries in and around Albuquerque.
Most of the military funerals conducted by the Cannon Air Force Base Honor Guard feature pre-recorded tapes of bugle calls, Cannon officials say.
Working under a $50,000 allocation approved by the Legislature, the Veterans’ Services Department is trying to supply a bugler for as many veteran funerals as possible.
“It’s basically a military tradition, as to why a living bugler is most wanted in lieu of a recording,” said Joseph Lucero, department director of Constituent Services.
Right now, local veteran groups and the military services depend on volunteers to provide final honors. The federal government requires the respective armed service of the veteran to provide a two-person team that folds the U.S. flag into a triangle and presents it to the widow or other surviving family of the vet.
But a live bugler isn’t included.
Often “it’s tough to find them,” said state American Legion Department Adjutant Tony Navarrete. “Most of the time, it’s a recording, even at the national cemeteries, and that’s a shame.”
Cannon honor guards perform funeral details four to 12 times a month, according to Master Sgt. Stefan Alford.
“They also do military weddings, military ceremonies and changes-of-commands,” he said. “They have pre-recorded tapes for bugle calls as part of their top-of-the-line sound system.”
Alford said the Cannon honor guard will perform a funeral detail whenever called.
“We’re not allowed to turn them down,” he said. “If they call, we’ll go.”
Cannon’s honor guard is responsible for covering a 116,000-square-mile area, from eastern New Mexico to the western half of the Texas Panhandle, Alford said.
Kirtland Air Force Base honor guards that perform funeral details often have no bugler. In nearly 500 funerals they have worked since October 2000, nearly three-quarters had a recorded version play.
“They want to give the best possible recognition to these veterans and retirees, as is their due for serving their country,” said Kirtland spokesman 1st Lt. Kelley Jeter, “but their limited numbers and high demand make it difficult occasionally.”
Gov. Bill Richardson promised in his campaign last year to provide buglers. With funding secured, the administration wants a program where National Guardsmen serve on honors detail and local veterans groups are reimbursed up to $50 for supplying a bugler.
Under the program, families of veterans can request a live bugler.
Veterans’ Services officials are now surveying the state’s stock of qualified buglers, Lucero said. Finding enough could be a challenge.
Many of the veteran organizations around the state have some contact with buglers, but state officials have no roster.
‘‘We’re going to try to do our best’’ to meet the growing demand, Lucero said.
The program should be in place by the end of the year, Lucero said. Nine other states provide similar services.
Last year, at least 3,466 veterans — nearly 10 a day — died in New Mexico, according to the state’s Vital Statistics Bureau in Santa Fe.
Use of the farewell call, previously sounded as the ‘‘extinguish lights’’ signal, dates to the Civil War, according to the Army. Although there is some dispute on the origin of taps, the service officially recognized it in 1874.
By 1891, it was standard at military funerals.
Freedom Newspapers senior writer Gary Mitchell and The Associated Press contributed to this report.