World War II veteran plays music for the love of his country and his late wife
By KIMBERLY BARKER | The Joplin Globe, Mo. | Published: December 27, 2018
WEBB CITY, Mo. (Tribune News Service) — Like clockwork at sundown, patriotic music reverberates through the air along West Daugherty Street as two military veterans play taps and the national anthem on brass instruments in front of the flag at the town’s post office.
Word War II veteran Bruce Benson, 94, of Webb City, has made it a daily routine to play music in honor of the country’s past and current military members. He’s regularly joined by U.S. Marine Corps veteran Dave Bergland, 55, of Oronogo.
The two have played in all kinds of weather, including rain, snow, ice and sweltering heat. Benson has been playing in front of the city’s flag for about three years.
The flag can be seen from Benson’s front doorstep in the Civic Theater building, which is across the street. Benson has been living in the renovated theater since the early 1990s.
Every day as the sun begins to set on the horizon, Benson steps out of his front door, faces the flag and plays patriotic songs not only for the love of his country but also for his wife, Jane, who died in 2014. The soul mates had a deep connection through music.
His wife had taught dance to numerous boys and girls in the area for more than 40 years. Benson met her while he was serving in the Army at Camp Crowder in Neosho. While assigned at Crowder, he played cornet in a pickup band and would perform in USO shows, which often were accompanied by dancers.
“Dancing schools would send dancers down to entertain the troops,” Benson said. “I was sitting on the bandstand one night, lonely and blue. She came up to me and asked, ‘Could you play two courses of 'Southern Fried' with a four-bar intro?’ I looked at her and said, ‘Yes, I think we can do that. Let’s talk about it.’”
After Benson returned to the States from the Pacific theater in 1946, the two were married in Webb City’s First Presbyterian Church and were together for 68 years. They have four children — Lori, Susie, Van and David.
Next to Benson’s bed is a journal in which his wife had written religious teachings. It's called “The Book of Jane.” Benson said he reads from it every night. On one of the pages, she wrote, “May our family stay strong in Christian faith, family love and patriotism.”
“That’s one of the main reasons I do what I do — play the national anthem every evening at sunset and then taps,” he said, referring to his wife’s passage. “I know she would be proud.”
Benson said he can often feel her presence near him when he plays.
“When I finish playing taps, I hold my horn in front of me, then put it under my left arm, and I salute with my other hand, slowly,” Benson said. “My thoughts go, ‘There you are, honey. For you.’”
Susie Crutcher, Benson’s daughter, had heard a story about a man out West who played taps daily on his porch, which helped spark the idea that her father could do the same.
“I said ‘Dad, that’s a cool idea.' Mom would love that because they’re very patriotic,” Crutcher said. “That started him off, and he’s been doing it for about three years every night.”
Benson plays a variety of brass instruments, including cornet, trumpet, pocket trumpet, bugle and flugelhorn. For his daily tribute, he plays usually plays an Olds Ambassador cornet.
“Music has always been a big part of my life,” Benson said. “I started playing (cornet) when I was in the fifth grade. … I never quit practicing, and I never quit playing.”
He continued playing throughout high school and college. In the early 1940s, Benson performed with the Campus Owls, a famous college band from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He received his military draft notice during Christmas break in 1941 and attended basic training in Biloxi, Mississippi. He ended up becoming a tech sergeant as well as a bandsman while in the military.
A new friend
One day in 2015, Bergland drove past and heard Benson playing taps in front of the post office. This inspired him to join alongside Benson, and he brought his own horn with him the next day, an instrument he hadn’t played in 30 years.
“I thought it was really cool that this older gentleman was out there doing it,” Bergland said. “To me, it’s an honor to do that with him.”
When they play, people often pause to listen or salute the flag. Benson said he’s had children on their bicycles stop and place their hands over their hearts. He keeps a registry book with him while playing and has everyone he meets sign it.
Austin Surber, of Webb City, owns a neighboring business to the post office. He said he loves hearing the daily taps.
“Every night I’m here at 5 p.m., I join him and whoever’s in the store, we all stop what we’re doing and go out front,” Surber said. “We put our hats over our hearts and watch him do his thing.”
Surber said when he first moved in next door about two months ago and began hearing the songs, he felt inspired.
“It’s just really cool that he does that, and I’m appreciative that someone still takes the time to play the anthem and taps,” he said.
©2018 The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.)
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