By William K. Alcorn
The strains of “Taps” from Reagan E. Moon’s bugle floated across Poland Riverside Cemetery as he paid tribute to the grandfather he never knew, William “Bill” Willis Barris, a World War I “doughboy.”
Ironically, Barris was his company bugler.
He had seen a picture of Barris at his mother’s home near Houston, Texas, standing astride a trench in France holding his bugle. But it didn’t make much of an impact on the retired career Air Force veteran until he became a member of Bugles Across America, a volunteer organization dedicated to ensuring that a live person plays “Taps” at every military funeral.
Bugles Across America was founded in 2000 by former Marine Tom Day in Chicago to provide a live bugler for military funerals. The organization now has 7,700 members. Moon, who had never played any musical instrument, took eight months of lessons before he was declared ready to begin playing “Taps” for funerals in November 2010.
“Taps” was being played on boom boxes and with trumpets with digital recordings. Those are better than nothing, but Bugles Across America believes every veteran deserves a live bugler, said Moon, who is Louisiana state director of the organization.
There is no cost to, or charge for, the rendering of Taps for the families of our deceased military heroes. Bugles Across America can be reached at www.buglesacrossamerica.org, he said.
Moon, 57, was an Air Force flight engineer mainly on C-130 cargo planes and in-flight refueling missions from 1973 to 1993, when he retired from the military.
During his career, he participated in Operation New Life in 1975 evacuating Vietnamese refugees from Saigon, in Operation Eagle Claw in 1980, as well as Operations Just Cause, Desert Storm, and Desert Calm and numerous humanitarian missions.
After retiring from the Air Force, he became a flight engineer and pilot for commercial airlines, and a job from which he expects to retire this year.
Because of his affiliation with Bugles Across America, Moon said the picture of his grandfather holding the bugle caught his eye and he began to wonder if a family member might have the bugle.
Barris was born in Poland in 1897 and went to school here. He enlisted in the Army June 29, 1916, at the age of 22 and left for France June 27, 1918, where he was attacked with mustard gas that caused him health problems the rest of his life.
He returned to the United States April 2, 1919, but was killed at the age of 32 when the car in which he was riding crashed in the Steubenville area. Moon’s mother, Dolores Barris Moon, just a year old at the time, was born in East Liverpool in 1928 and lived in Canfield from 1928 to the mid-1940s. She attended Salem High School and in her junior year moved to Arizona.
“My grandmother remarried several years later and lost contract with my grandfather’s family,” Moon said.
Moon made contact with family members in Canfield and Poland and West Middlesex, Pa., when he was researching his family genealogy a few years ago. He called some of those relatives to ask if the bugle existed.
“I was told it might be with a family member and that they would look for it for me. They also informed me that they were about to have a family reunion on Sunday and invited me up. I further learned that my mother’s side of the family was having its family reunion the following Sunday Aug. 14 in Canfield, so I made plans to come up from my home in Bossier City, La., in the Shreveport area, to attend both reunions and see about finding my grandfathers WWI trench bugle.
“My hope was to sound “Taps” for my grandfather on the same bugle he used in WWI,” Moon said.
“Unfortunately, the bugle was not found but the family is still looking. However, my relatives did find my grandfather’s helmet that he wore in France during the war and gave it to me. It is something that I will always cherish and honor,” he said.
Moon said he still hopes to someday sound “Taps” at the grave site again, but this time using his grandfather’s WWI trench bugle.