Monday, July 29, 2013

Old reliable: After nervous start in 1943, trumpeter has played thousands of military services

BARRON, Wis. ? Chuck Kirkwood thought he was in trouble when he was called into the Barron High School office about 70 years ago.

Instead, he was asked to play taps for a military funeral. He accepted, and calculations are that he's performed at about 3,500 funerals and counting, the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram reported (

"I was never in the service, but I feel so indebted to those who serve," Kirkwood, 84, said. "I feel I don't deserve a lot of credit for what I do. Those who have served and are serving should always be getting the honor ? not me."

It was 1943 when he was sent to the principal's office, recalling high school band director Francis White recommended Kirkwood play taps at military ceremonies when the person who normally performed was not available.

"I've been playing at military funerals ever since," Kirkwood said. "I've played for Veterans Day, Memorial Day, flag-raising ceremonies and a number of other events in Barron and many other communities around here. I enjoy it, but I have to say, I remember being a bit nervous that first time in high school."

Kirkwood in recent years has kept a log of military services in which he's performed. Based on an average of slightly more than 50 a year, he estimated he's played in more than 3,500 such services.

Kirkwood started playing the trumpet in an effort to help his breathing.

"I had asthma real bad as a kid, and my dad (Charles) was a pharmacist in Barron. A doctor friend suggested that I play a horn to help my breathing," Kirkwood said. "I started playing and haven't quit."

Kirkwood managed to play at military funerals even while doing mechanical work for 44 years for the Barron County Highway Department.

"When I first started doing it, I would take a couple hours of vacation, but then one of the other fellas I worked with talked to the Highway Committee and said Legionnaires weren't getting docked when they went, so then I didn't either," Kirkwood said. "I would take my suit to my mother's house, change clothes, play, change back and go back to work. I made up the time missed by working longer those days."


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