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Bugler 'carries a torch'

Ray Vaadeland

When former military personnel are put to rest in the Park Rapids area, the haunting sound of Taps leaves an indelible memory, creating a sense of closure.

Ray Vaadeland is the man behind the horn, crony Kent Cease prompting this musical avocation.

"It's one of the pride-in-America things I do," Vaadeland explained. "It's one of the torches I carry."

Vaadeland took up the coronet at the age of 10, in 1962. Tom Wood was the elementary and junior high music director at the time. He recalls the first tune, "Abide with Me."

"I hated playing it."

But he continued tooting the horn, and by his senior year, under the direction of Don Hagen, the band was invited to play at the Concordia College homecoming. By then, he and two of his classmates had formed the Tri-namic trio. "That was the most fun," he recalled.

He joined the Navy in 1974, working as a first class aviation electrician in Hawaii. After his discharge, he returned to Park Rapids in the spring of 1979. "Things were tough," he said of economic issues. And he headed back to the military, joining the Training and Administration of Reserves branch of the Navy, stationed in Memphis.

Meanwhile, he was playing the coronet, "on and off, a few gigs," including Taps at funerals.

In 1984, he was involved in a motorcycle crash, six bones in his face broken, and he was put on limited duty, subsequently retiring from the military in 1985.

His original intention was to finish college in aeronautics, but he learned the Veterans Administration would not fund the schooling due to a glitch in paperwork. Married, with two children, he bought a school bus from a friend in Kentucky and headed home with family and belongings.

"I wanted to raise my kids here."

Meanwhile, the medical evaluations that were supposed to have been conducted through the military were "in limbo."

He saw a veterans' service officer who suggested he contact U.S. Rep. Arlan Stangeland.

"When a congressman pushes buttons, stuff happens," he said. Within two weeks he received a severance check.

The accident had not put a damper on his appreciation for music. He'd purchased a guitar and began writing songs, one of which he was invited to perform for Stangeland.

Upon returning to Park Rapids in 1987, Vaadeland opened a shop. "I can fix anything, or build it," he said.

"My good buddy Kent (Cease) took stuff apart and bring it to me to put it back together," he joked.

One day, in conversation, the subject of playing the horn came up, Vaadeland recalled.

A week later, after brushing up on his trumpeting skills, he arrived to play Taps at a funeral.

From then on, he has "suited up" and played for more than 500 services and "incidental gigs," including riding a float in the 4th of July parade and at Memorial Day ceremonies, including Monday's service in Park Rapids.

A box holds the programs for every one of the funerals where he's performed. He appreciates working with the Star of the North Marine Corps League, admiring their attention to protocol.

"Taps makes people cry," he said of the patriotism the song invokes.

"America is in love with vets again. Yes! That jerks my heart."