Letter: Always there

Bruce Conley and I played “Taps” together for over 25 years on Memorial Day in Elburn. We rarely planned before the ceremony. We both just showed up and played our parts.

Bruce and I could usually see each other across the cemetery. We would simply nod at each other and begin. I would play first and then Bruce would play the haunting “echo.”

The last year we played together, I didn’t see Bruce standing in his usual spot. I remember thinking to myself, “I wonder if Bruce is here?”

I played the first three notes and waited. Sure enough, Bruce’s sparkling trumpet answered mine.

Bruce had decided to play from a concealed spot that year, but he didn’t bother to tell me in advance. Bruce’s “echo” was hidden from the crowd, and the effect was mesmerizing.

It was also a moment of profound surprise and reassurance to me. I couldn’t see Bruce, but he still was there.

As I pen this now, I think Bruce had a greater plan in mind for me that day. He was preparing me for the time that he wouldn’t be there, and letting me know that I could always find him in the invisible.

I haven’t been playing my trumpet as much as I used to, but I treasure the memories of playing “Taps” together with Bruce. And, I will always hear Bruce playing “echo” in my mind.

Dr. Jim Willey
Elburn