WWII vet George Komer gives remarks during the 71st Anniversary of the first commissioning of the USS New Jersey on Friday. (John Ziomek/Courier Post)
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The notes of one bugler trailed in an echo behind those of another as both played the solemn and mournful taps.
Bertrand Trottier, one of the musicians, was the last bugler to serve in the Navy and on the battleship New Jersey.
He returned to his former ship Friday on the 71st anniversary of its service commissioning. The Camden ceremony ended with a wreath-tossing into the Delaware River for servicemen lost at sea.
The 66-year-old played “Echo Taps” and the national anthem with bugler Nan La Corte of Cape May Court House, a volunteer on the Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial.
Trottier served on the ship during the Vietnam War in 1968-69, when the battleship pummeled the Viet Cong during the Tet Offensive.
The California resident remembered the booms of the New Jersey’s 16-inch guns firing ashore.
He often played taps under the stars amid explosions or shelling.
Trottier said he played 30 trumpet call signals to the crew every day at the insistence of ship Capt. Edward W. Snyder. He sounded each day’s routine: reveille, mess call, general quarters, man your stations, liberty, evening colors and the final taps.
Buglers were phased out after World War II and replaced by electronic recordings played over ships’ loudspeakers. Those recordings are often heard at military funerals as well; there aren’t enough buglers left to accommodate the number of dying veterans.
“I was born to play the bugle,” Trottier said, becoming emotional as he addressed an audience of nearly 100 Friday.
“It was a thrill playing today, but a little nerve-wracking, too, because it was for the ship’s anniversary ceremony.”
To enhance the echo effect of taps, he and La Corte stood a distance apart on the ship’s forecastle and under the 16-inch gun barrels of Turret No. 1.
“Taps is my favorite bugle call of all,” Trottier said in response to a question he seemed never to have been asked.
A uniquely American bugle call now recognized worldwide, taps was created and first played during the Civil War to signify “lights out” at night.
Union Gen. Daniel Butterfield adapted an earlier call to create taps during the Civil War because he didn’t like the French bugle call for “Extinguish the Lights,” or “lights out” as it is commonly known.
Taps was used at military funerals for the first time during the Civil War. Its lyrics begin, “Day is done ... gone the sun.” They end with “God is nigh.”
Radio ham operators will have a chance to talk to Trottier on the ship today.
A licensed ham radio operator (N6YJA) since 1984, Trottier will man the battleship’s onboard radio station — NJ2BB — and take calls from around the United States and the world.
Ex-crewman George Komer of Moravia, N.Y., was also a special guest Friday. He was among the original crew from the ship’s first commissioning in 1943 at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.
Komer remembered sailing down the Delaware River on the shakedown cruise.
“That was the beginning of my love affair with the ship,” the 89-year-old recalled.
“The ship was crowded with people at the first commissioning, and here I am again, on the battleship New Jersey.