Gary Edmondson first took up his horn to play “Taps” at a military funeral in 1946.
He’ll play it again at a funeral service scheduled over the Fourth of July weekend as the 81-year-old veteran has countless times over the past seven decades.
“I started back in 1946 when I was in the Boy Scouts,” said Edmonson, who was honored last month by the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs and Gov. John Bel Edwards for 70 years of service. “I was a part of the Drum and Bugle Corps and we were asked to have a bugler play “Taps” at a military funeral. I’ve been playing ever since.”
Edmondson joined the U.S. Army at 21 and was a member of the Army’s band in Louisville, Kentucky, where he continued to honor fallen soldiers.
After being discharged from the military, Edmondson became an insurance salesman and continued playing at military funerals as a civilian.
In 1959, he transferred to Lafayette where he continued the practice until he was asked to join the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9822 and provide his services at military funerals, but now he was back in uniform.
“I was in the honor guard for a while until our numbers dropped from 25 members down to four,” he said. “So when the VFW disbanded the honor guard in 2013, Karen Fontenot and I got together and founded the Acadiana Veterans Honor Guard in 2014.”
The organization performs military songs and has an honor guard for military funerals across Acadiana. It has around 25 members with around 15 active members, and they work the funerals free of charge.
“We’re trying to give something to the military families who have lost spouses, fathers and brothers,” Edmondson said. “We do it so we can give them one last honor.”
“Gary and my commitment is to make sure every service member has an honor guard at their funeral,” said Fontenot, a former Vietnam War nurse who has known Edmondson for over 20 years.
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As to what has driven Edmondson to continue playing for the United States’ fallen heroes for over seven decades, the reasons are very personal to him.
“What drives me is that I was not a veteran of war. I felt that I could contribute …” he said, his voice catching as tears came to his eyes. “I felt that I could contribute to these veterans’ families.
“I felt I could recognize them with my duty and respect. I felt I never did anything as a veteran and this is my way of giving back to the government and the people who fought and died or fought, came back and have died.”
He is not ready to quit any time soon.
Although age is starting to affect his trumpeting, a member of the Acadiana Veterans Honor Guard has created a special electronic bugle for Edmondson that will play the correct music for him at the press of a button if one day he is unable to continue playing by himself.
“I feel that to honor the family and their lost one is what drives me,” Edmondson said. “As long as I can still stand and still hold a horn to my lips, then I’ll be there and feel privileged to play.”