Haunting notes of taps his salute to the fallen

Saukville Legionnaire Tom Wieman has paid respect to veterans with his trumpet at more than 200 funerals and decades of Memorial Day services
Ozaukee Press staff

He doesn’t deliver mail, but the creed that says “neither rain, nor snow, nor heat” applies to Tom Wieman and his trumpet.

The Saukville Landt-Thiel Post 470 American Legion member has played at more than 200 funerals and has only missed two Memorial Day services in the past 40 years.

Wieman remembers playing in everything, from extreme heat to cold to pouring rain.

In bitter temperatures, Wieman said he keeps his mouthpiece in his pocket or his hand to keep it warm and dry. At one cold funeral at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Saukville, he brought his instrument to his mouth to play. No sound came out.

Wieman kept blowing air. Another Legion member had picked up the electronic bugle and was about to push the button.

“I could hear a little pop. There was ice in there,” Wieman said, “and I got ‘Taps’ out.”

Other times, the precipitation wasn’t frozen. On a day when he had to play at three funerals in a row, rain drizzled during the first and it was a downpour for the next two. Wieman has an Air Force trench coat that helps keep him dry.

“It doesn’t stop you,” Wieman said. “You’ve got a job to do.”

Extreme cold, he said, is the worst.

“If you’re standing too long you just start to shiver,” he said.

As a member of the 440th Airlift Wing in Milwaukee, Wieman said he remembers a service in frigid temperatures. He and his fellow honor guard members stayed in the their vehicles at the cemetery as long as they could.

Wieman recalled one of the members saying, “‘I hope this guy isn’t Catholic,’” since Catholics are known for their long services.

The fallen veteran indeed was Catholic, and Wieman said it didn’t seem like they sped up the ceremony due to the weather.

Wieman is Catholic himself, but he didn’t take offense to the comment.

“I kind of laugh at it now,” he said.

Regardless of the range of climate, however, one element has remained consistent: Wieman’s dedication to his service and his reason for it.

“I would say it’s an honor,” he said. “It’s an honor to salute the fallen that have served, to give them the respect that they deserve.”

Wieman’s service began back when he was attending Port Washington High School.

In 1978, the Legion’s bugler Russ Schreiner said he couldn’t play anymore. Wieman’s father Charles, then the Legion’s treasurer, said his son was a bugler for the Boy Scouts and could play.

That first Memorial Day was awfully nerve-wracking for the teen.

“I probably had a couple of squeakers in there,” he said, “especially with Russ standing by.

“There are still times I get a squeaker.”

Wieman has used the same trumpet all these years. In middle school, he played his grandfather’s coronet that was made in Czechoslovakia, but it needed to be fixed. His father got him a new trumpet.

After graduating from Port High in 1979, Wieman worked for the Village of Saukville and then a factory before joining the Air Force in the fall of 1980.

Each year while he was on active duty, Legion member Art Helm wrote a letter to his commanding officer requesting leave for Wieman so he could play at the Saukville Memorial Day ceremony.

The request was granted for three of his four years in the Air Force. He missed the Saukville observance the year he couldn’t get leave and only one other time, when was camping too far away to come back.

Wieman often camps during Memorial Day weekend, but every other time he made it back after staying up late the night before.

“Sometimes, I blew my best ‘Taps’ when I had a hangover,” he said with a laugh.

Some of his best memories came from 2004 to 2007 when Wieman’s son played “Taps” as a member of the Port High band.Wieman handled the echo.

“It was really neat. He was in his Port High uniform and I was behind him,” he said.

Wieman left the Air Force in 1984 and joined the 440th Airlift Wing and served as its honor guard’s bugler. He was medically discharged with asthma in 1991.

He has been the official bugler for the Landt-Thiel American Legion Post 470 the last 40 years but only a member for the past 26. His musical skill automatically assigned him to the Legion’s honor guard.

During funerals, Wieman sometimes does double duty, helping with the 21-gun salute and the bugle playing.

He has played at his brother-in-law’s funeral and at his father-in-law’s funeral out of state.

“You could say I went as far as Indiana to play ‘Taps,’” he said.

“I feel honored a little more so because they’re family. I’m in the mind frame that you guys deserve this and I’m going to give you the best I can.”

Wieman has also played for at least three-fourths of Saukville’s Veterans Day ceremonies.

Wieman knows his position is somewhat of an endangered species.

“It seems to be a dying breed. Not every post has (a bugler) and some wish they do,” he said.

Some posts have bugles that play a recording.

“It looks official. It’s better than nothing,” he said.

But it doesn’t sound the same.

“People react to the electric bugle as being tinny,” he said. “The quality and sound of a trumpet is so much better.”

Wieman said he plans to continue his service with the Legion as long as he can.

“As long as I play bugle, I’ll always be on the honor guard,” he said.

Whether it’s a funeral or Memorial Day ceremony, Wieman said the sense of commitment and reverence to the fallen veteran is the same.

“It has been special,” he said.



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