CORINTH, Miss. (WTVA) -- You may not know James Embrey, but if you’ve been to a military funeral at Corinth National Cemetery, you probably have heard him.
The 64-year-old Corinth resident remains one of a handful of buglers in north Mississippi who still routinely work veterans’ funerals, playing one last salute to the dearly departed.
"I didn’t serve in the military because I was 4-F," Embrey said. "I feel like [my playing] is a service I can do for the country and for our veterans, because I was 4-F during the Vietnam War. Had a [defect] of my aorta. Got that fixed in 1982, but that was too late. The draft was already gone by then."
It wasn’t until 1999 that Embrey started playing Taps at military funerals, and his first performance was quite by accident.
"The funeral home had waited too late to call the National Guard or the people at Fort Polk to do a military funeral," Embrey said. "So my friend calls me out of the blue and says 'You play a trumpet, don’t you? How about you play Taps at my daddy in-law’s funeral?'"
He’s played at more than 500 since then.
Embrey is part of a group of more than a dozen former service members whose goal is to provide full military honors to veterans. That in itself can prove challenging, because in recent years, former servicemen and women have been dying at an alarming rate.
"We’re losing a lot of our World War II veterans every day, and each one of those veterans needs to have a military funeral," retired U.S. Army Sgt. Richard M. Bridges said.
Sgt. J.C. Parker said they're incredibly grateful to have someone like Embrey helping out.
"James has devoted a lot to this," Parker said. "He’s good at it."
You see, because the demand for military funerals far exceeds the resources most can provide, many opt for a recording of Taps to be played, through an electronic horn in many cases.
Parker says that’s not the same.
"A person doing Taps means a lot more to us, and I’m sure it does to the people that we’re doing funerals and dedications for, to have someone doing it individually," Parker said. "It means more to the people than somebody just holding up a radio and playing it."
Vietnam veteran Bobby McDaniel agrees.
"In that electronic version, there's no heart. [With a live performance,] I can feel it," McDaniel said. "I know it's hard to understand, but I can feel it. I can tell the difference."
Bridges said the simple act of performing that piece of music means more to that veteran’s memory as well.
"No matter what branch of service he is, no matter when he served, no matter what rank he was, if he was a veteran, he deserves that honor," Bridges said.
Bridges adds that the honor is not lost on Embrey either, because of what he does for others.
"He could not serve, but he wanted to. He wanted to serve more than anything in this world, but they wouldn’t take him," Bridges said. "Because of that, he is with us and he pours everything that he has from his heart into those Taps when he plays."
Embrey said it's the least he can do for so many who gave so much.
"I'm playing for a veteran who served our country, and I want to do the best job possible," Embrey said. "And it's like saying goodnight. That's what taps is all about, saying goodnight."