published Friday, May 25th, 2012

Grandson plays taps at funeral in Chattanooga National Cemetery

Gunnery Sgt. Brian Turnmire, from The President's Own Marine Band, plays taps for his late grandfather Thursday during Ervin Clifton Turnmire's funeral at the Chattanooga National Cemetery.
Gunnery Sgt. Brian Turnmire, from The President's Own Marine Band, plays taps for his late grandfather Thursday during Ervin Clifton Turnmire's funeral at the Chattanooga National Cemetery.
Photo by Dan Henry.

For Gunnery Sgt. Brian Turnmire, making melody with a trumpet or a cornet in the President's Own United States Marine Corps Band is a special kind of honor.

He performed at President Ronald Reagan's funeral, President Barack Obama's inauguration and played taps for hundreds of military funeral services.

But on a beautiful Thursday afternoon in the National Cemetery in Chattanooga, as American flags lined the cemetery's road for Memorial Day, Turnmire's performance of taps struck an especially emotional note with him.

This time, he was playing taps for the military honors funeral of his own grandfather, Ervin Turnmire, who was a corporal in the Marine Corps during World War II and fought on Iwo Jima. The Lenoir, N.C., native died Monday in Chattanooga at 86.

"I've played for a lot of funerals for officers, but to come back and do it for my family member is really special," Brian Turnmire said.

A Rossville native and University of Georgia alumnus, Turnmire, 33, now lives in Washington, D.C., and came to Chattanooga for the service. He's been a member of the President's Own since he auditioned in 2002. Before that, he was lead trumpet in the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera.

After being accepted into the presidential band, Turnmire had to join the Marines.

On Thursday, after a service at the East Chapel of Chattanooga Funeral Home on South Moore Road, the procession made its way to the cemetery off Bailey Avenue downtown. Turnmire already was waiting in the shade of a tree in an effort to stay cool in his red uniform.

"Anytime I appear in uniform, I have to have orders from the Pentagon," he said.

The military "probably wouldn't have said 'no'" to his performing at his grandfather's funeral in uniform, he said, "but there is a formality" to getting permission to do so.

Pallbearers carried Erbin Turnmire's casket into a small concrete pavilion known as a committal, or internment, shelter. With Turnmire's casket resting on a slab of concrete called a bier, family and friends held their ceremony.

Brian Turnmire continued watching, waiting in the shade. To his far left were a group of Army soldiers with guns resting on their shoulders. On cue, the men pointed their rifles to the skies and, with three pulls of the trigger, the loud pops of the salute drowned out the birds chirping in the nearby trees.

Silence again, then Brian Turnmire placed his lips on the end of his trumpet and blew the familiar, solemn sounds of taps.

Before filing out of the cemetery, most attendees, including Trobaugh, made it a point to congratulate Brian Turnmire, calling his performance "beautiful."

"It was perfect," his older sister Tara Trobaugh said after her brother emerged from the distance and met those in attendance at the pavilion.

Trobaugh, who lives in Ringgold, Ga., said the service might have been standard, but there was some "specialness" to her brother playing taps solo at their grandfather's funeral.

"I think it's amazing that he's getting one of the President's Own at his personal funeral," she said.

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