Robert E Lee Prewitt

“The best bugler in the G-damned United State Army,” so said First Sergeant  Milton Warden, a soldier of the 298th Infantry Regiment, 25th Division stationed on Oahu in December 1941. A line spoken about Robert E Lee Prewitt, a character in James Jones novel “From Here to Eternity.” Made into a film, a quite wonderful film, in 1953. In the film Prewitt plays the greatest rendition of Taps ever recorded. He plays it for his dead friend Maggio and as an ode to the “Crummy Life” of the soldier.

Taps refers to the three traditional rim-shots, or taps played on the drum at the end of the call.

It ends with the words, “All is well, safely rest, God is nigh…”

To all our troops who gave up their lives for our country. Rest in peace.

The bugle call, “Taps”, was likely composed by Union Army Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield, who commanded 3rd Brigade, 1st Div in the Fifth Corps of the Army of the Potomac during our Civil War. Butterfield wrote the tune at Gaines Mill, Virginia in 1862 after a bloody battle in which his division suffered severe losses and he, himself was badly wounded. Gaines mill was one of the seven days battles fought near Richmond Virginia. My great-great-grandmothers young husband was killed there as was his brother. The third brother had died at Bull Run. Butterfield himself was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. In the Civil War Brigadier Generals led from the front and suffered enormously heavy casualties on both sides.

Within a year of its composition it was being played by both armies, Confederate and Union.

The actor shown above, Montgomery Clift learned to play the bugle for his roll in the movie though the recording was actually made by trumpeter Mannie Klein. Klein was a swing band trumpeter and played for such greats as Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Paul Whitman and in the fifties, many West Coast Jazz groups. He played the bugle parts in “Here to Eternity” and Picolo Trumpet on the theme from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

The book on which the movie was based almost perfectly encapsulated army life at Schofield Barracks, Oahu just before the of WWII. The characters are based on the old depression era professional army. These are the men that fought at Guadalcanal and the early island battles of the Pacific war. Almost all were killed or wounded holding back the Japanese while America geared itself up. There is a great debt owed their memory.

James Jones, the man who wrote “Here to Eternity” was an enlisted man who served during the war and was in fact, a shadow of these men and their times. He enlisted at 17, lying about his age. He served with the 27th Division at Schofield, witnessed Pearl Harbor and was wounded at Guadalcanal.

His book is considered to be one of America’s best wartime chronicles, ranked along with other combat veterans who wrote after the war.

Joseph Heller, B-25 Bombardier, “Catch 22,”

Kurt Vonnegut, Scout, 106th Infantry Division* “Slaughterhouse five,”

Paul Fussel, 2nd Lieutenant, 103rd Infantry Division “How I learned to Love the Bomb,”

Norman Mailer, Reconnaissance, 112th Cavalry, “The Naked and the Dead,”

Herman Wouk, Lieutenant U S Navy, USS Zane, “The Caine Mutiny,”

J D Salinger, Counter-Intelligence Unit U S Army France, “Catcher in the Rye.”

John Hersey, War Correspondence, “Hiroshima,”

Roald Dahl, RAF Fighter Pilot, “The BFG,”

Eugene Sledge, Marine Rifleman, “With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa,”

Martha Gelhorn, war correspondant, she was the only woman to land at Normandy on June 6th 1944. She was the first writer to enter and report on the Dachau Death Camp. She also served in Korea and Vietnam.*

And James Michener, Lieutenant U S Navy, “Tales of the South Pacific.”

I’ve walked through this quad at Schofield and yes it still exists as do the bullet holes from Japanese machine guns. It will give you the Chicken Skin, particularly at night when it’s filled with ghosts.

Whatever your personal views on war and the U S Military, this war was fought for all the right reasons. Not every war has been but the boys and girls who served in all of them and died for it deserve your respect today. They paid the highest of prices for you.

Note: She was also one of Hemingway’s wives and the only one to dump him for which she deserves a medal.

Memorial Day 1968, NSA Hospital, Da Nang RVN.

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