Army bugler stands up for the fallen
The Jonesboro Sun/AP
JONESBORO, Ark. — A lone bugler stood in a sea of headstones.
Army Staff Sgt. James "Marty" Bishop played Taps in Arlington National Cemetery on Sept. 19 during the funeral for two fallen soldiers lost in combat during World War II. It was a solemn ceremony, and a difficult duty — and Bishop wouldn't have it any other way.
The 30-year-old Jonesboro native is a soldier-musician, a member of the Army Ceremonial Band. He performs at any U.S. Army ceremony in the north capital region, and he plays Taps at funerals and during wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington's Tomb of the Unknowns.
"It's something I have wanted to do for a long time," Bishop said. "It is the best job I could ask for."
He has been on the job since August after successfully auditioning and undergoing basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C. He previously worked his way through college to receive a bachelor's degree in music education, a master's degree in trumpet performance and a doctorate of musical art.
Bishop, along with his wife Molli and daughter Margaret, is now based out of Fort Myer, the U.S. Army post adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery.
"I'm overwhelmed ...," he said. "It's one of the best honors in a job I could ever have been given as a professional musician because I had to be at a certain level."
Bishop is a second-generation trumpet player and military band member. He credits his father, Richard, for instilling in him a passion for music and a "greater perspective on the honor it entails."
Richard Bishop, also a Jonesboro native, said he formally took up the trumpet in seventh grade, although he had previously played the bugle for the Boy Scouts.
He never meant to make it a career, but the Vietnam War set him on that path.
It was 1968, and Richard was eligible for the draft. He decided instead to join the U.S. Air Force, where he became a member of the official band of the U.S. Air Force Reserve.
With one year of service under his belt, Richard qualified for Operation Bootstrap, which allowed him to complete a music degree at Arkansas State University. He later served in Georgia; there he met his future wife Jacqueline before he was shipped to Hawaii, where he was assigned bugle duty for those medically evacuated to Hawaii from Vietnam.
"It was the greatest experience of my life," he said.
After his military service, Richard switched jobs — although he kept going back to being a high school music director. It's a career that helped him develop an appreciation of his son's musical ability.
"I realized very soon, he was special," Richard said. "He picked up on things as a beginner that advanced students wouldn't."
Richard said he is also proud of his other children, Andy and Angela. But Bishop was the only one to follow in his footsteps.
Bishop fell in love with the trumpet starting in middle school; he was a junior when he decided to make it a career.
"The military is one of the best careers a musician can have because the economy won't affect the military as bad as it will everything else," he said.
Richard said the visiting Army Field Band included one of his former students, so he took the former student — and the entire trumpet section — to dinner.
"I took them all out to eat so Marty could pick their brain," Richard said. "They told him what he needed to make it into the band."
The advice and Bishop's hard work eventually paid off with the chance to serve during the ceremony in Arlington last month.
The U.S. Department of Defense said Army Air Force 2nd Lt. Valorie L. Pollard of Monterey, Calif., and Sgt. Dominick J. Licari of Frankfort, N.Y., were killed when their A-20G Havoc bomber crashed on March 13, 1944, after attacking enemy targets on what is now known as Papua New Guinea.
The crash site was excavated last year, and the men's remains were recovered. They were buried in a single casket.
Bishop played Taps at the funeral, and Richard and his wife were able to watch their son perform his new duties.
"I'm so proud of him," Richard said. "It's a way of making a living doing what he loves."