Taps sounds for Gene Horner, who spent decades honoring Alaska veterans with his bugle

Horner volunteered to sound taps at military ceremonies for 25 years, believing that a recording wouldn’t do. Family and friends this week recalled his legacy of service.

Gene Horner spent much of his life honoring veterans with his bugle at countless Alaska memorial and burial ceremonies. On Tuesday, it was Horner who was honored, as another bugler sounded taps and friends and family gathered near his flag-draped casket at Fort Richardson National Cemetery.

Horner, who died May 1 at age 74, leaves a legacy of solemn service. For decades, he volunteered to sound taps when a veteran was buried with military honors, believing that a recording, though permitted under military protocol, was insufficient. “I take it real serious,” Horner said in a 2017 interview. “I want to be there.”

“It is especially appropriate that Gene’s final resting place is here,” Chaplain Michael Leskowat said Tuesday before an audience of about 60 in the small ceremonial shelter at the cemetery. A breeze rattled the doors and windows as a light rain fell.

“Over the past 25 years, the notes of Gene’s bugle have paid honors to the lives of thousands of other veterans. Now those same notes will honor him,” Leskowat said.

Horner, a Vietnam War veteran, was a bugle and trumpet player for the Army’s 4th Infantry Band. After active duty, he moved to Alaska in 1970 and later built a career as a piledriver. As a trumpeter, he was a mainstay member of the Mat-Su Concert Band.

“That’s my outlet. I’m a mediocre trumpet player, and I can hold my own down on third trumpet,” he said in 2017. “I mean, I love to play.”

Horner, of Palmer, said in the 2017 Anchorage Daily News story that his mission to honor veterans grew after he attended the funeral of a World War II vet in 1999. When he realized the Army band wasn’t there, he asked permission to sound taps himself. Virginia Walker, longtime director of Fort Richardson National Cemetery, invited him to return for many years.

“I play right to the family. (That) is where my heart is going. And it doesn’t matter if there’s two people here or if there’s 200 people here. It’s the same thing,” he said in 2017.


His obituary said he supported 100 to 300 funerals a year. Walker, who attended Tuesday’s graveside service, estimated Horner was called on more than a thousand times for burials and other ceremonies, not just at Fort Richardson National Cemetery but at other locations around Alaska. She said she would try to repay his kindness with snacks and baked goods.

“We did everything we could just to make it a pleasant experience for him, because he was just so great to us,” Walker said.

Duane Mendenhall, the current director of Fort Richardson National Cemetery, said Horner supported several ceremonies in the months prior to his death. Horner is survived by Priscilla Horner, his wife of 53 years, and his son, Jack Horner. After the ceremony, Jack Horner said the day had been a reminder of the number of lives his father touched, not just in military circles but in recovery, music and church communities.

Jack Horner said his family had a saying: “Keep calm and call Grandpa.”

“Whenever we needed something, we could call him and know that he would be over with a hammer, a helping hand, a word,” Jack Horner said. “And what I didn’t realize was that was true for so many more people than just our family.”

Horner’s death came after an injury from a fall, Jack Horner said. An outpouring soon followed.

The Mat-Su Concert Band concluded its May 4 performance in Horner’s memory. Buglers Doug Scheaffer and Hank Hartman sounded “Echo Taps,” a variation on the taps tradition in which buglers stand at a distance from each other for sonic effect. An audience of nearly 250 people stood in silent tribute, many placing their hands on their hearts.

Before Tuesday’s ceremony, Sgt. Josh Hernandez of the Army’s 11th Airborne Division Band said he volunteered to sound taps for a man he had met several times. He said he found Horner easy to talk to. Hernandez, 32, said he envisions carrying on his own mission to sound taps even after his active duty days are over.

“At least on me, (Horner) left a lasting kind of impression on the importance of this ceremony and providing honors,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez sounded taps from a walkway outside the pavilion, raindrops beading on his bugle, beginning moments after an Army honor guard fired volleys.

“I don’t see a reason why I would stop doing it, Hernandez said. “I want to do it as long as I can.”

Marc Lester

Marc Lester is a multimedia journalist for Anchorage Daily News. Contact him at mlester@adn.com.