By MATT HOPF
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Reprinted with permission from the Herald-Whig
Fifteen minutes after artillery fell silent on July 27, 1953, 24 notes on a bugle could be heard at the United Nations Truce Camp in Panmunjom, Korea.
Quincy native Bob Ericson, a U.S. Marine sergeant and the 1st Service Battalion bugler in the 1st Marine Division, sounded taps at 10 pm “to signal the end of the war and memorialize those who had fallen in the war.”
On the 60th anniversary of the war’s cease-fire, Ericson once again performed taps — this time at the commemoration hosted at the Illinois Veterans Home. Just a month earlier, he played taps at the Korean War Memorial in Washington while on an Honor Flight.
After the Veterans Home ceremony, Ericson recalled that moment during the Korean War.
The shelling before the cease-fire was so intense that after dark, soldiers could read a newspaper from all the flashes.
“At 2145 (9:45 pm), it was like someone threw a switch,” Ericson told the Herald-Whig. “There had been a 12-hour artillery barrage — all day long as fast as they could shoot. At 9:45, they all stopped. It was scary. You could hear a pin drop.
“We were all holding our breaths. We couldn’t believe it was ending. We all thought that somebody was going to take a shot, but they didn’t.”
It was one of the thousands of times that Ericson played taps going back to 1941.
In a 2008 article in the Herald-Whig, he said he started receiving calls to play taps when he was 11. His first performance was an Armistice Day program at the Illinois Veterans Home.
“I was nervous — an 11-year-old. At the time it was a pretty big deal,” he recalled. “Then World War II started 26 days later with Pearl Harbor. And they asked me to be a bugler for the American Legion burial detail, which had just been organized in anticipating a lot of casualties throughout World War II. Of course, there were.”
Ericson passed away in July 2021 at the Illinois Veterans Home at the age of 90.
Over the years, he played taps thousands of times honoring those who served their country, including a funeral for a Civil War veteran in Memphis, Mo.
His four children regularly tagged along with him when he would sound taps at a funeral.
“All of us were reminiscing (Wednesday). I know we would go to the cemetery with him during the services,” said his youngest daughter, Diane Abbott. “We’d run out and collect the shells from the 21-gun salute.”
In 1995, Ericson was invited to perform for the dedication of the Korean War Memorial in Washington.
“I feel very fortunate that I traveled with Mom and Dad in 1995 to the dedication of the memorial,” Abbott said.
The bugle he played in Washington was made special for him in 1995. After calling a manufacturer on Long Island, he was told that regulation bugles weren’t produced anymore.
“But I told him what I was doing and why I wanted one, and he says, ‘I’ll run one off for ya,’” Ericson recalled in 2008. “So he did. He made me a single-run bugle. Solid brass, stamped official U.S., you know, everything about it, so that’s what I’ve been using since ‘95.”
He was originally supposed to play taps the evening of the dedication, which included fireworks, but rain canceled the festivities. However, Ericson and nearly two dozen members of the Quincy chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association held an impromptu ceremony for the visitors at the memorial.
“Everyone applauded and cheered and crowed around, waiting for my autograph. It was heart-warming experience,” he said in a July 28, 1995, article in the Herald-Whig.
He repeated the performance the next morning.
In 1997, he sounded Taps for the dedication of the Illinois Korean War Memorial in Springfield.
For the 50th anniversary commemoration of the cease-fire, Ericson was invited to Seoul to play taps. Ericson and his wife, Gladys, were seen preparing for the trip on the “CBS Evening News” with Dan Rather.
Ericson continued to pay tribute to those who died in the Korean War, as well as veterans of other wars throughout his life. When Ericson [was] laid to rest [in July] at Calvary Cemetery with full military honors, taps [was sounded] once again.
This time it was to honor him.
This article was written by Herald-Whig Staff Writer in July to honor the life of Quincy Native Bob Ericson, who was a prominent Marine bugle player who played taps at the end of the Korean War. Mr. Erickson passed away in July, at age 90, at the Illinois Veteran’s Home.