Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Taps for an American hero

by Chief Musician Gunnar Bruning
Chief Gunnar Bruning renders taps for Neil Armstrong
aboard USS Philippine Sea.
I was numb after receiving the phone call informing me I was assigned to be the bugler for the burial at sea of astronaut and U.S. Navy veteran Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. After the shock wore off, lots of preparation followed, including brushing up on all of the bugle calls, in addition to taps, required in the burial at sea ceremony. I also had to prepare a pristine full-dress white uniform. On Thursday, Sept. 13, the day before the ceremony was to take place, I traveled to Naval Station Mayport in Mayport, Fla., with the Navy Ceremonial Guard on a military flight out of Joint Base Andrews. The aircrew of the C-40A was very excited to be flying us down for such a momentous occasion and we were “wheels up” only 30 minutes after reporting. Sure beats traveling commercial air!

Upon arrival in Mayport, we headed to USS Philippine Sea (CG 58). We were met by the commanding officer, who escorted us to the wardroom. Capt. Steve Shinego gave us a warm welcome and told us how proud he was that his ship and crew would be part of this historic event. The skipper also impressed upon us how honored he is to command such a great ship and crew. I can only assume USS Philippine Sea was chosen for this mission specifically because of her outstanding reputation. A rehearsal was then conducted on the ship for the burial at sea involving Ceremonial Guard body bearers and firing party, ship’s crew, and me.
USS Philippine Sea (CG 58)

The following morning we reported to the ship at 0700 for a 0800 departure. Having never been out to sea before, I jumped at the chance to man the rail for our departure. As we pulled out of the harbor I watched two moored ships render honors to us as we passed. The magnitude of our mission that day and the feeling of sheer power from being underway on a Navy warship came together for me as goose bumps spread over my body.

We steamed out over the horizon to commit the remains of Neil Armstrong to the sea. The ship stopped and we took our positions on the fantail for the ceremony. It was dignified and truly meaningful for the family as well as the participants. In my 11 years of performing taps at military funerals, I have only been thanked personally by family a handful of times. While I certainly didn’t expect anything, I was touched as Mr. Armstrong’s son and grandson approached me as they exited the ceremony and, in the middle of their grieving, took time to give me a heartfelt thank you.

The return trip back to the harbor was enjoyable and I was able to relax as the ceremony was complete. After enjoying a delicious lunch provided by the ship’s mess crew and touring a few of the ship’s spaces, I had the pleasure of spending a few moments with the ship’s senior enlisted Sailor, Command Master Chief (SW) Roy Hooper. We arrived back in port around 1230.

We flew back home that afternoon on another C-40A flight and arrived back at Joint Base Andrews in late afternoon.

About the Author

Chief Musician Gunnar Bruning A native of Marathon, Wis., Chief Bruning joined the Navy Band in 2001. He earned a Bachelor of Music in trumpet performance from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 1999 and a Master of Music from the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music in 2001. Bruning has performed "Taps" for numerous high-profile funerals including the interment of President Gerald Ford in Grand Rapids, Mich., in January 2007.

1 comment:

musicalnuke said...

I had the great honor of bugling for 20 or so burials at sea on the USS Carl Vinson from 1996-1999. One of the great privileges of my US Navy service. I was an ET (Nuclear power). I completely agree with Chief Bruning in that I felt like "an intruder witnessing something so personal", but I also felt a sense of pride and responsibility to the families to ensure a respectful and proper sendoff.