Meet the Local Volunteer Bugler who has Honored Hundreds of Veterans

Meet the Local Volunteer Bugler who has Honored Hundreds of Veterans

Bill Seaman honors veterans by sounding taps at military funerals around the state.

Every summer, Bill Seaman treks 700 miles from Milwaukee to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and dons a sweltering Union soldier’s uniform. As the sun sets across the boulder-strewn battle eld, he raises a bugle to his lips and sounds taps for the soldiers who died there, the 24 notes of the call slicing through the balmy heat.

One of the most active members of the nonprofit group Taps for Veterans, Seaman performs at about 20 ceremonies and veterans’ funerals each year, sometimes taking long lunch breaks from his job at a printer repair company to make it to nearby events.

He’s racked up thousands of miles on his odometer, but he doesn’t complain about the long hours he spends on the road, and he never accepts payment for his services.

Seaman, 61, began volunteering after his wife’s father passed away and he learned that veterans’ families often struggle to find musicians to sound taps for them. In 2002, buglers were in such short supply that the Pentagon started distributing electronic instrument inserts that play a recording of taps.

The birth of Taps

During the Civil War, Union General Daniel Adams Butterfield scrawled a series of notes on the back of an envelope and instructed his brigade bugler, Oliver Wilcox Norton, to sound the tune to honor their fallen comrades.

Planned Milwaukee Veterans Day Parade Route

Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018, 11 a.m.

A few of Bill Seaman’s bugles; photo by Will Skaggs

These “digital” bugles are now the norm at military funerals throughout the country, though Seaman wishes that weren’t the case. “Veterans deserve better than a CD player or a fake,” he says.

Seaman owns more than 30 bugles and 60 other horns (including a plastic horn made during World War II, when brass was scarce), and he’s jammed with some of the city’s greatest blues and jazz musicians. But he considers his volunteer work as a bugler his most meaningful musical project. “It touches me,” he says simply.

Sounding Board

Looking for a volunteer bugler? Taps for Veterans and Bugles Across America can help you find one.

“Call and Response” appears in the November 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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Lindsey Anderson covers culture for Milwaukee Magazine. Before joining the MilMag team she worked as an editor at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and wrote freelance articles for ArtSlant and Eater.