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Funds kept for live 'Taps' at military funerals

Bugler Lou DiLeo plays taps at Calverton National

Bugler Lou DiLeo plays taps at Calverton National Cemetery in Calverton. Cuts by the New York National Guard to funding for civilian contractors who staff military funerals will eliminate the salary of the last bugler in the area who plays taps live at Long Island cemeteries. (Aug 30, 2012) Credit: Ed Betz

A planned budget cut that would have eliminated the playing of "Taps" live at military funerals on Long Island and across the state has been scrapped after sparking political opposition.

"We're pleased we will be able to continue contracting for the services of a bugler on an as-needed basis," Eric Durr, a spokesman for the New York Army National Guard, said Wednesday.

Last week, Durr announced that a planned 29 percent cut in Pentagon funding supporting National Guard funeral units would force the state to stop paying for live buglers. The last contract employee who plays "Taps" at Long Island funerals would have been out of a job effective Sept. 30.

To fulfill its obligation to staff virtually all military funerals, the National Guard was preparing to expand its use of volunteers from veterans service agencies, who mostly perform "Taps" using electronic bugles. The faux instruments play recorded music, using electronic inserts.

That's currently the practice at roughly two-thirds of military funerals on Long Island, Durr said.

A Newsday article detailing the proposed budget cut drew an outpouring of calls and emails from outraged readers. Several individuals volunteered their bugle-playing services.

One reader offered the services of his 78-year-old neighbor, who he said has been playing at military funerals for more than 60 years despite severe hearing loss.

Taking up the cause, a number of elected officials, including Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer and Reps. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills), Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and Peter King (R-Seaford), contacted the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Va., to oppose the cuts.

The pressure worked wonders, with Schumer announcing the restoration of funding Wednesday.

Durr confirmed that the U.S. Department of Defense has informed state National Guard officials that the proposed cut won't appear in the 2012-13 federal budget, which starts Oct. 1.

As a result, Louis DiLeo can continue playing at military funerals held at Long Island cemeteries. By his own account, the Seaford music teacher has played "Taps" at more than 7,200 military funerals since he was first contracted by the National Guard in 2006.

So far this year, DiLeo, who is paid $50 per funeral, has earned about $22,000 for his performances.

Although the current funding level will be maintained, Durr cautioned that the National Guard has no plans to expand the playing of "Taps" live.

"There just aren't enough military buglers to cover all of the funerals," he said.

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