Last Navy bugler to speak at battleship birthday in N.J.
By Michel Nolan | San Bernardino County Sun, Calif. | Published: May 21, 2014
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — On Friday, the last full-time U.S. Navy bugler will once again play taps aboard the battleship USS New Jersey.
Bertrand Trottier Jr., of San Bernardino, is the featured speaker for the battleship’s 71st birthday celebration at Camden, N.J., and will perform the national anthem on the bugle as well.
It is not confirmed yet if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will attend the ceremonies.
A licensed ham radio operator (N6YJA) since 1984, Trottier will be manning the ship’s radio station, NJ2BB, on Saturday aboard the New Jersey, making contacts across the country.
His rendition of “echo taps” will end the ceremony. Echo taps is a traditional sounding of the call with two buglers standing some distance apart to achieve an echo effect.
Trottier, now 66, remembers well his two years aboard the New Jersey, shooting her great guns off the coast of Vietnam during the height of the war, the Tet Offensive.
“Day is done, gone the sun, From the hills, from the lake, From the skies.”
The haunting melody began as a signal to “extinguish lights” at the end of a soldier’s day and evolved into a graveside call sometime during the Civil War, rendering burial honors to the fallen.
More than four decades after he served, Trottier still gets emotional at the thought of taps and its lyrics.
And he still remembers the big guns firing aboard ship in the Tonkin Gulf, off the coast of Vietnam.
“The North Vietnamese had us targeted with missiles and we shot back. It was nerve-wracking.”
He served as the Navy’s only bugler on the world’s only active battleship during its tour of Vietnam, from May 1968 to its decommission in December 1969.
With the advent of better electronic shipboard communications, the U.S. Bugler position was phased out in 1947.
In 1968, at the request of battleship New Jersey Capt. J. Edward Snyder, who wanted real buglers on board, Trottier was hand-picked for the bugler position, the first Navy bugler in 21 years.
Trottier, who reported directly to the captain, averaged about 30 bugle calls a day, including reveille, chow call, general quarters, man your stations, liberty, evening colors and taps.
A musician first, Trottier went through Navy basic training and was finishing up the school of music when he was told he would be a bugler on an active-duty battleship. So he learned 108 bugle calls — plus honors at ceremonies — in two weeks.
Trottier served between 1967 and 1971 — in two shifts — the first shift aboard the 2,000 crew-member battleship.
During his time aboard ship, he had to play “Thanks for the Memories” when Bob Hope’s USO tour arrived; and the finale to the “William Tell Overture” each time the ship broke away from a supply ship.
Last week he was dressed in full uniform while recounting stories of his naval experiences, even playing a few notes on his boatswain’s pipe.
Highly energetic and passionate, Trottier drew parallels between courage in the military and courage in civilian life.
Born in San Diego and raised in La Mesa, Trottier came from a musical family and was studying to be an architect at USC when he joined the Navy.
He is now retired from Trottier and Associates, an advertising and graphics business he owned on D Street in San Bernardino.
He and his wife, Linda, have a son, a daughter and one grandchild.
He founded Echo Buglers, The Final Call: Memorial Echo Taps for Our Heroes, with Dr. Roger Baty, professor emeritus at the University of Redlands, responding to requests for taps buglers at memorial services.
“It evokes so much emotion,” said Trottier.
Always active in the community, he remembers campaigning for Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty, playing a trumpet from the back of a truck in 1964.
Trottier has never been one to spend his time just “chilling out.”
Over the years he served on several San Bernardino city commissions, including one of the first commissioners on the Senior Affairs Commission, the chamber of commerce, and board president of Feldheym’s Friends of the Library, as well as work with the Provisional Accelerated Learning (PAL) Center, the Black History Parade and the Hispanic community, volunteering more than 100 hours a year at Casa Ramona.
His honors include being named a 1990 Citizen of Achievement by the League of Women Voters.
“I’ve worked a lot of campaigns, done a lot of graphics for them. There are lots of positive things here, so many kind people. We need someone who feels strongly about the city, someone with a backbone,” he said.
“San Bernardino is very important to me. I’ve put so much into it. No regrets.”