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Joe Maehl: Bugling 17 seconds of honor
By Laura Kelly

Joseph Maehl will be playing taps today during the Memorial Wall Ceremony. Photo by Mark Forman.

As a formation of old warbirds streaks across the brilliant blue sky, at a marked point high above a gathered crowd a lone plane departs the formation, climbing steeply toward the heavens, leaving the rest behind.

On the ground below, a lone bugler plays the ethereal, haunting melody of taps, in perfect unison with the lone plane’s departure from the formation.

Holding on to the very last note, the song doesn’t seem to want to end until it eventually trails off, ending softly like a child’s lullaby as the missing-man formation shrinks into the distance.

The lone bugler, older than many of the planes in the air, is AirVenture’s own Joseph “Joe” Maehl (pronounced “mail”), who has been playing taps at AirVenture for the last 23 years.

What most don’t know is how he melodically weaves history through your ears, without you even realizing it.

A gifted musician, and an American patriot, Joe epitomizes class and sophistication with his soft-spoken gracious demeanor, warm handshake, and infectious laugh.

A tradition forged in battle
In the early 1940s, while still a teenager, Joe joined tens of thousands of his countrymen and enlisted in the U.S. Navy; he played in several Navy bands, traveling extensively throughout the United States and northern Pacific islands from 1943 through 1946.

During his wartime travels, he came across a magazine story, written by a World War I Marine Corps bugler.

As Joe recalls the bugler’s story, during a bloody battle in the First World War, a Marine Corps unit was trapped by the enemy for several days, and many marines were killed.

Among the survivors of the battle: the company bugler.

Wanting to honor the 17 Marines from his platoon killed in the battle, the bugler crafted a new version of taps by holding the last note for 17 seconds—one second of remembrance for each of his fallen comrades.

Joe read the bugler’s story, and reread it several times. “It was something that struck me to the core.”

Committing himself to carry on the tradition, Joe played the World War I bugler’s version of taps publicly for the first time in April 1944 at a funeral in the Aleutian Islands for a Second World War naval aviator.

From that ceremony through today, Joe has continued to play taps in this way, adding honor and humble appreciation to all those who have died in battle protecting our country.

A disciplined delivery
Joe’s version of taps is difficult to deliver; the 17 seconds comes at the end of the melody, accomplished with one long, gut-squeezing breath.
But with tremendous patriotism, as Joe plays taps at the warbirds air show and the Memorial Wall service, it is always performed with full and reverent understanding of the significance of those final 17 seconds and as a profound gesture to those who gave so much for our country, in wars both past and present.

With a touch of humility, Joe states, “It’s a respectful gesture, with the hope that those who were lost, wherever they are, will be aware of the intended salute.”

FUTURE AIRVENTURE DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3; 2015: July 20-26; 2016: July 25-31; 2017: July 24-30
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