I am the Daughter of a WWI Regimental Sergeant Bugler
Published: 2 November 2023
By Arlene Bridges Samuels Special to the Doughboy Foundation web site
Then and now bugler
Regimental Sergeant Bugler Henry Erwin Bridges (left) playing the bugle at an Army tent encampment in France in 1918 France during World War I. At right, his daughter Arlene Bridges Samuels stands next to Doughboy Foundation bugler Nathan Clarke after the playing of Daily Taps at the National World War I Memorial in Washington, DC in 2023. Clarke is the Principal Trumpet of the Maryland Symphony, and also a member of a premier band in Washington, DC.
My father, Henry Erwin Bridges, born in 1896, served as a Regimental Sergeant Bugler in World War I and survived “The Great War.” Drafted in 1917 among millions of American soldiers, he arrived in France by ship, and deployed to the Western Front dug in with horrific mud and disease-filled trenches. Like most veterans then and now, he did not talk about his traumatic war experiences.
Henry Erwin Bridges
However, Daddy shared one story which laid the foundation for my patriotism, my honor for him, and veterans past and present. The Day of Remembrance, now called Veterans Day, emerged from World War I. November 11, 1918, marked the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month when Allied nations and Germany ended “the war of all wars.”
In a respectful tone, Daddy shared his one-sentence story. “Arlene, I shook the hand of General Pershing when I served in World War I.” That handshake with one of America’s most famous military leaders remained in his memory-and mine-all these years. A Six-Star General, John J. Pershing was honored with only one other Six-Star General; President George Washington. Still famous in military history today, Pershing led the American Expeditionary Forces to Europe in 1917. Although the European war broke out in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson was finally forced to deploy American troops in response to Germans sinking American ships traversing the Atlantic.
Returning by ship to New York Harbor in 1919, Daddy traveled home to Birmingham, Alabama. My handsome daddy and my beautiful mother eloped in 1940 amid a May-December love story. Their marriage explains the age span between my dad and me. I was born in 1946 when he was fifty years old. He died at sixty-nine when I was a 19-year-old college sophomore.
Now at seventy-seven, I have cherished the few earlier family photos of daddy. One of my favorites shows him in uniform playing his bugle in an army tent encampment in France. I have maintained an interest in World War I due to my affirming dad, his pre-war musical talents, and his unforgettable encounter with General Pershing.
My patriotism also grew within two family contexts. Before I was born, my parents had founded their business, Universal Decorators. They built professional floats for parades throughout the south. I saw hundreds of parades for Christmas, spring and summer festivals, and centennials. When the Parade Marshall gave the signal, our beautiful multi-themed floats slowly rolled down streets packed with delighted, cheering crowds.
Arlene Bridges Samuels next to the bronze sculpture of General John Pershing, at the National World War I Memorial in Washington, DC.
Daddy and I stood along streets together making sure we saw and heard every military marching band. Memories of our family listening to John Phillip Sousa’s rousing tunes with American flags fluttering in the breeze filled me then and now with tears of pride, patriotism, and memories of my affectionate dad.
After retiring a few years ago, I joined Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) based on my dad’s long family line. My patriot ancestor arrived on our shores around 1660 from Ireland. He oversaw the Revolutionary War weapons cache in a small North Carolina town. My interests intensified when I learned that the World War I Memorial opened to the public in April 2021 in Washington, D.C.
On a recent trip to Washington for meetings last May, my husband and I headed for the memorial where every day at 5 p.m. a military bugler wearing a WW I uniform plays TAPS. We arrived at the plaza in plenty of time so I would not miss one note. Beforehand, we viewed General Pershing’s imposing eight-foot-tall bronze statue. My dad’s story began to come alive standing next to it.
Nathan Clarke sounds Daily Taps at the National World War I Memorial in Washington, DC.
Walking to another side of the plaza, I readied myself with anticipation. The bugler arrived to take his position under the beautiful American flag. Dressed in an authentic WWI uniform, he lifted the bugle to his lips and sounded the first notes of TAPS. Instantly, my imagination transported me to a French battlefield where my dad would have sounded his bugle especially since I have a photo of him playing it. My husband, a Navy veteran, stood nearby. He hugged me with my tears falling after hearing TAPS that I knew Daddy often played.
Standing at the WW I Memorial listening to TAPS, I envisioned my daddy 108 years ago taking orders from top brass about enemy movements then correctly sounding the right signals for his regiment. Knowing the signals and forcefully blowing them meant life and death in the supercharged context of war. As a Regimental Sergeant Bugler, he was responsible for training other buglers with the imperative protocols and signals in combat communications.
Since General Pershing highly valued music to keep his troops uplifted and motivated in the darkness of war, buglers like daddy served not only on the battlefield and in marches. They went to French hospitals to play for the wounded. Many scenarios flooded my mind also based on reading books and articles about WW I history.
Henry Erwin Bridges
Visiting the WWI Memorial, standing next to General Pershing’s statue, I read the permanent historic texts emblazoned on a nearby wall. One of them read, “In their devotion, their valor, and in the loyal fulfillment of their obligations, the officers and men of the American Expeditionary Forces have left a heritage of whom those who follow may ever be proud.”
Without daddy’s presence for most of my life, hearing the uniformed bugler at the WWI Memorial, and reading the tributes, deeply embedded a musical and visual memory into my heart. The quality of these meaningful moments gave me a powerful glance into his military service more than a century ago.
Ceremonies and commemorations have served as my life’s memory markers until I see my loved ones again. Our eternal citizenship will unfold within heaven’s perfect peace. I am thankful to God for blessing me with my daddy. May it be so for families, friends, and all Americans who honor their much – loved veterans on Remembrance Day 2023.
Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After nine years she retired and later worked part-time with International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA. Arlene is now an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and writes a weekly column at CBN ISRAEL. She has often traveled to Israel, including being invited three times by Israel’s Government Press Office to their annual Christian Media Summit.