University City

Bugler honors deceased veterans

Keane Matthews’ job is to stay out of the limelight and be as quiet as a shadow until the right moment arrives.

His job also, contradictorily, involves blowing the horn that’s gripped in his hand by his side.

Matthews, 45, who lives in the Carolando neighborhood, began playing taps for veteran funerals last year as a volunteer through Bugles Across America.

The nonprofit organization provides buglers during funeral services for any family of a deceased veteran who requests one, free of charge.

The service began in 2000, after Congress passed legislation giving veterans the right to full military honors, which includes at least two uniformed military people to fold the flag and one bugler to play taps.

Bugles Across America formed in response to the nation’s dwindling supply of military buglers, and Congress’ permission to allow recorded versions of taps to be played through a boombox.

Like the 7,500 other buglers across the country who quickly signed up as volunteers, Matthews believes the live version to be more honorable.

“Yeah, it works. The notes are the same,” he said of a recorded version. “But (a live rendition) has soul. It’s authentic. It’s got feel. You don’t get that out of a recording.”

So far, Matthews has performed the somber 24-note tribute a dozen times across the Carolinas. He’s never received a request to play in Cabarrus County, but has played a few memorial services in neighboring Mecklenburg and Rowan counties.

He anticipated he would have done more in a year, he said, and he often wonders whether people aren’t aware of the free service.

“If they don’t want taps, that’s fine,” said Matthews, who works in information technology for Bank of America. “Not everybody wants to associate the military with their father or grandfather. Maybe they served at a time when the military wasn’t a big deal, or we weren’t in conflict.

“But for those who want it, I’m afraid they don’t know about it.”

Sometimes the funeral services overflow with people paying their last respects. Other times, it’s the opposite.

Matthews remembers one service where only those performing showed up, and only after receiving a call from the VA hospital in Salisbury.

“He was a homeless man who died alone. There was no one to accept the flag for him. The only people there was a representative from the hospital, two color guard people from the Coast Guard, and myself,” said Matthews. “He didn’t have anyone there, and that was sad.”

That’s part of what motivates Matthews, who served in the Navy during the 1990s, to continue playing the final goodbye for those who served.

Last Sept. 11, unable to attend any national memorials for the terrorist attacks, Matthews walked to the Cabarrus County Governmental Center and played taps on the front steps.

As people inside their offices heard him and looked out their windows, they began to filter out. Some crossed their hearts while he blew. One man raised his arm and saluted.

He treated that moment much the way he does the funerals where he plays.

“I make sure that I’m positioned where I need to be. I’m as still as a tree. And when it’s time to play, I play,” he said. “Then I just try to stay in the shadows.”