Taps Bugler: Jari Villanueva

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Celebrate 150 Years of Taps

A BUGLE CALL REMEMBERED-Taps at the funeral of President John F. Kennedy

The JFK Gravesite-Arlington National Cemetery

The JFK Gravesite-Arlington National Cemetery


A Bugle Call Remembered: Taps  at the Funeral of President John F. Kennedy

By Jari Villanueva
© 2013 All Rights Reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without permission from the author

Every American born before 1955 can tell you where they were and how they felt when they heard the news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Friday November 22nd , 1963. Three days later millions around the world listened as Army bugler Keith Clark sounded the solemn twenty-four notes of Taps, concluding the state funeral held at Arlington National Cemetery.

On the afternoon of Kennedy’s assassination Clark, Principal Bugler of the United States Army Band, was going through his collection of rare books on church music with a friend when his 11-year old daughter, Sandy, called up the stairs with the news.1  After the initial shock subsided, Clark immediately went to the nearest barber for a haircut, thinking he might be asked to sound Taps  should Kennedy be interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Clark thought it likely that a Navy bugler would be chosen since Kennedy had served as a naval officer during World War II but, “Just in case, I wanted to look my best, and I went out to get my haircut.”2

Sergeant (Specialist 6 in the military ranks of the time) Clark was a trumpet player with the Army Band (known as “Pershing’s Own”) stationed at Fort Myer, Virginia. Among his musical duties was sounding Taps  at military funerals held at Arlington National Cemetery adjacent to the post. Keith Collar Clark was born on November 21st , 1927 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His father, Harry Holt Clark, was a professional musician who played flute and violin in several orchestras. When Clark was three, his father placed a toy trumpet on the fireplace mantel hoping to spark his son’s interest in music. Clark asked everyday if he could play with the trumpet. The answer was always the same: no, not until he would make a promise to take it seriously. It did not take long for Clark to make the promise to practice an hour everyday and his father replaced the toy with a real instrument.3

Keith Clark at age 19

Keith Clark at age 19


At age nine he debuted as a trumpet soloist in a radio contest, and while still a high school student he soloed with the University of Michigan Band, under Dr. William Revelli. Clark took lessons from trumpeter Harry Glantz in New York City, later stating his concepts of tone, style, and musicianship were influenced by Glantz’s playing.4  He also studied with Clifford Lillya, and Lloyd Geisler. After graduation from Interlochen Music School in 1944, he performed with the Grand Rapids Symphony. In 1946, he enlisted in the military to play trumpet in the Army Band. In 1951 he married Marjorie Ruth Park and together they raised four daughters in the Arlington, Virginia area, not far from Fort Myer.5

Keith Clark in the 1950s at Fort Myer

Keith Clark in the 1950s at Fort Myer

Clark performed at hundreds of funerals in Arlington and had played for President Kennedy many times, including sounding Taps  at The Tomb of the Unknowns less than two weeks prior to his death during Veterans Day ceremonies. He also performed for President Eisenhower and recalled that Vice President Nixon once winked at him during a ceremony.6

President Kennedy attends Veterans Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery November 11, 1963. Clark is the bugler. Photo by Cecil Stoughton, White House/John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Boston

President Kennedy attends Veterans Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery November 11, 1963. Clark is the bugler. Photo by Cecil Stoughton, White House/John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Boston


Here is a video of that ceremony November 11, 1963:


The decision to place the president’s remains in Arlington National Cemetery was made on Saturday, November 23rd . After reviewing possible locations with Arlington Superintendent John Metzler, the Kennedy family chose a site on a slope just below the Arlington House (the Custis-Lee Mansion).7  The selection was appropriate as the president had visited Arlington House earlier that year and remarked “I could stay here forever.”8

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35 Responses to “A BUGLE CALL REMEMBERED-Taps at the funeral of President John F. Kennedy”

  1. Nancy says:

    Why is the rendition at JFK’s gravesite referred to as “Broken Taps?”

  2. Paul Ott says:

    I served with The Old Guard during 1962-63 but was discharged just two months prior to JFK’s State Funeral. Next month The Old Guard Association (TOGA) will hold its annual reunion. This will be a very special one, memorializing 50 years since a dwindling few of us participated in that major event in the history of America, witnessed by millions all over the world on their TV sets. I have a CD of Captain Thomas F. Reid’s book compiling the remembrances of 20 Old Guardsmen and others who were there, which you cite here. I just happened to stumble upon tapsbugler.com today. I will make sure your excellent tribute to bugler Keith Clark and videos are made known to TOGA, especially Captain Reid, our regimental historian and the old soldiers who were there.

  3. […] for more of this momentous story….head on over to Taps Bugler! […]

  4. […] to read more about this momentous day…..click on over to our friends at Taps Bugler…. […]

  5. Carl Walters says:

    As a young boy I grew up in Warren Michigan at the US Army Tank Automotive Command.
    This was during the Vietnam War. Many of my friends fathers went to Vietnam but never came back.
    I have listened to Taps many times. Those 24 beautiful notes still bring tears to my eyes. But most important I still remember it keeps them in out hearts.

    May God Bless their souls.

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