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Bugler Recalls Missing Note While Playing Taps At Kennedy Funeral

November 14, 1988

FORT PIERCE, Fla. (AP) _ Nearly 25 years have passed since bugler Keith Clark missed the sixth note of taps at the funeral of John F. Kennedy.

Clark recovered and completed the song, but the note that broke off-key stays with him.

″I missed a note under pressure,″ he said. ″It’s something you don’t like, but it’s something that can happen to a trumpet player.″

″You never really get over it,″ said Clark, now 60 and retired.

Clark, as lead trumpeter in the Army Band when Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, was assigned the task of sounding taps at the president’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Clark had played taps daily for four years, giving hundreds of flawless performances at Arlington and adjacent Fort Myer.

At Kennedy’s funeral, Clark swallowed hard as the 21 guns fired, then took his cue. On the sixth note, he faltered.

″It is like the speaker of the House saying, ‘Ladies and gentleman, the president of the United States.’ That is not at all hard to say,″ Clark said. ″But to do it then, and to do it there - that’s when the pressure comes; that’s when it becomes difficult all of a sudden. A lot of people can sing in the shower, you know.″

In the aftermath, the crackling note assumed a lore of its own. It was widely believed that the break was intentional, a ripple of sadness left to the mourners.

For a month after the funeral, buglers missed that note ″like crazy″ at Arlington, Clark said. ″We all thought it must be psychological,″ he said.

After the service, Clark confronted the commanding officer who had given him the assignment, angrily thrusting the bugle at him.

″Here you take it,″ he said. ″You play it next time.″

Clark retired from the Army in 1966 and teaches trumpet part-time at a community college. The bugle is on display at the Smithsonian Institution.

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