Wayzata resident Gary Marquardt will be very busy on Veterans Day, as he is every year, by choice … even though he is not a military veteran.
As a member of the volunteer group Bugles Across America (BAA), Marquardt goes to local cemeteries where families are decorating graves of loved ones who served, playing taps over each veterans’ grave. “I play over and over from grave to grave often with several families trailing along to share in the moment,” he says.
The military has a longtime custom of providing two officers for a flag presentation whenever a veteran is buried. It doesn’t have the manpower to provide a bugler for each burial. That’s where Marquardt and other members of BAA come in. There are many local members and over 5,000 nationwide now having served over 130,000 veterans.
Each year Marquardt sets a goal of playing at at least 100 veterans’ funerals, by request of families. Between funerals, he plays at vets’ graves in local cemeteries, almost every day, as one of 131 registered BAA buglers in Minn.
There’s a tale behind his dedication. Marquardt became aware of the need for volunteer buglers about 10 years ago when he attended the funeral of a friend’s father-in-law in South Dakota. As is customary, there was a U.S. Army rifle squad presentation of a folded American flag to the deceased veteran’s widow, but one aspect of the ceremony seemed lacking. “Some guy stood behind a tree and played a recording of Taps,” Marquardt says.
The story goes back even farther. Marquardt did not serve in the military; both his father and his wife Joan’s father fought in World War II in Europe. As a young man, Marquardt was not subject to the Vietnam-era draft because he had a student deferment. That changed in 1969, when he graduated from North Dakota State College of Science.
“When I was in college I was a football player. Reading and hearing about the war, I could ‘see’ my own death, in a rice paddy with a .50 caliber machine gun. I was just waiting to get drafted,” he says. Then, Marquardt collapsed at work and spent four weeks in the hospital with a duodenal ulcer—which made him 4-F and exempted from the draft. “I was very happy about that. But ever since then, I have felt guilty. Today, I have four (deceased) friends whose names are on the veterans wall in D.C.” he says.
A Sioux Falls, S.D. native, Marquardt is retired, since selling the graphics company he founded in 1980, and lives on Spring Park Bay.
Coincidentally, Marquardt’s neighbor, Bruce Hedblom, formerly conducted the 451st Army Band at Fort Snelling. “I asked him if I could learn to play at my age and he said, ‘It’s not easy, but you could,’” he says. Marquardt started taking lessons from Bob Bushnell, until recently the owner of Minnetonka Music in Excelsior. It took Marquardt about a year to learn to play Taps, using the bugle, which has no keys and a range of only eight notes.
Once he started helping memorialize vets, Marquardt was surprised by the emotions he felt when getting ready to play at a gravesite. He took an online course through Julliard school of music to help him put emotions aside, and the overcome nervous feeling he gets just before he plays. “It’s a poignant and sad, and important occasion so you want to do such a great job. I have to disassociate myself from all of that,” he explains, and focus on playing.
Marquardt and others BAA members have been working to make the families of aging veterans aware of the service provided by BAA volunteers. “Nationally, the problem remains that veterans and their families usually don’t ask,” he says. “So, we end up going through obituaries and calling mortuaries, asking if the family would like a live bugler at their ceremony.”
The publicity effort received a boost last year when, the week before Veteran’s Day, Kare 11 news reporter Boyd Huppert did an article on Marquardt’s work locally. The segment went viral around the country on other Gannett TV stations, and then was featured on NBC’s Nightly News on the evening of Veteran’s Day. A subsequent feature in the November, 2017 issue of Readers Digest also helped.
On Memorial Day this year, Marquardt played at the annual service for vets at Our Lady of the Lake Church's cemetery in Mound. “I was floored when he came in and told me about his group,” says church Administrator Rhonda Eurich. “It’s a great ministry. He doesn't want any payment or glory, it’s just something he feels.” Eurich and her family were personally touched when Marquardt came to Glencoe in June to play at the funeral of her father, a Navy vet who died on June 23. “We were overwhelmed by his generosity,” Eurich says.