“The Sousa Tattoo”

by George Latimer

Scarcely had the dignitaries arrived when the strains of “Bullets and Bayonets” sounded in the distance. Within minutes the reviewing stand vibrated from the synchronized tread of marching troops and, then, the vanguard of the host turned the 14th Street corner and swept, like the Assyrians of old, down Pennsylvania Avenue past the White House toward the Potomac.

These were crack troops: the country’s last, the country’s finest. The setting sun reflected off burnished weapons, Corfam boots, and emblazoned helmets. Standards snapping briskly in salute summarized a great, an honorable military history. In the shimmering heat of a humid afternoon, the President saw the ghosts of Grunts, GI’s, Doughboys, Buffalo Soldiers, Blues and Grays, Minutemen, and the great War Chiefs joining the ranks, irresistibly beckoned to the march sounded by the Sousa music. This was their last tattoo. Swords had finally been beaten into plowshares. The warriors could go home. The ghosts could stand down.

The President took every salute and afterwards walked the short distance to the Oval Office alone. “El Capitan” played somewhere in the distance. “I will miss Sousa,” knowing well enough that his marches would still grace band concerts and Bowl parades, “but questioning if he would be comfortable with the purposes his marches would now serve in a world emasculated of ardor?” The thought saddened her. “But there would be so many fewer body bags, so many fewer families weeping to the sounding of “Taps.”

She entered the Office, listened a moment, this time to “Semper Fidelis,” while remembering an old folk tune, “I had a dream the other night, I’d never dreamed before/ When all the diplomats had made an end to war.”

 “A good trade,” she thought and closed the door leaving only winking fireflies to mark the music’s cadence.