In northern Wisconsin, the town of Park Falls is used to a kind of stillness. But during area military funerals, that stillness is punctured by the sound of Taps, as played by Frank Dirrigl Post 182 member William Berg, now 92.
Berg and his fellow Legionnaires attend these funerals throughout the sometimes extreme Wisconsin seasons. In the winter, “we bundle up the color guard, standing in snow and cold wind,” Berg says. He formerly used a baritone bugle, but today uses a Conn trumpet “repossessed” from his grandchildren. The valves tend to freeze, so he keeps it under his Legion jacket until needed.
Berg’s history with music – and Post 182 – is a long one. He explains that he “played tenor in the city band way back then, while in grade and high school. The tenor is similar to the baritone.” Also during high school, he began finishing military courses during vacation periods. During his senior year, he enlisted in the Army Reserve Corps, and also received the Post 182 Award. He still keeps the brass from the award on his Legion cap.
He was called to duty during World War II and served in the Pacific theater. He made first lieutenant, and suffered severe hearing loss in the Solomon Islands. Berg was recruited into The American Legion, and Post 182, almost 70 years ago. Since then, he has served variously as finance officer, post commander and adjutant. “We respect him a lot, especially for his World War II involvement,” says Wayne Herbst, Post 182’s first vice commander and head of the color guard. “He remembers everything.”
Berg attends funerals as part of the color guard. “He’s been playing for a long time,” Herbst says. “He has the routine down.” In fact, no one can actually say for certain how long Berg has been playing, given the length of his membership compared to other post members. When he is not available, the post sometimes utilizes a local high-schooler: “We don’t really have anyone else who can play Taps,” Herbst says. The post also has an electronic bugle, but Berg prefers to have it played live: “I think Taps should be sounded with feeling and reverence,” he says. “And I do use some expression not found in a routine mechanical event.”
Berg is happy to play at funerals, and will continue to do so as long as he can. He attributes part of his continuing tradition to simple luck: “I am fortunate in having most of my original teeth at age 91.” If he ever loses his front teeth, he will leave the color guard, as playing would then be close to impossible, he says. Until that time comes – if it ever does – Berg will play his part proudly. “To me, Taps represent the service of another veteran – the gratitude of those yet to cross the line.”