Mystery envelope puts WWII nurse in charge | Veteran shares her TAPS tale
By GREG ALLMAIN
Federal Way Mirror reporter
May 29, 2012 · Updated 10:08 AM
Perhaps one of the most mournful songs out there, TAPS, is used as the official song for commemorating the dead for the various branches of the United States military.
While the song itself is well-known, 91-year-old Navy veteran and Federal Way resident Dr. Mary Leason wants to make sure that people know the history of the song itself.
"The story takes place in Virginia. This young fellow wants to go to school, so he finds a school down South. And while he's down there, the Civil War breaks out, and he decided to be patriotic with the Southerners and enlist, so he enlisted in the Confederate Army," she said. "Up North, his father gets drafted and he goes into the service. His father becomes an officer, and has all of these men (under his command). They're all in the woods because there's a lot of fighting there…and he hears a moaning sound, but they think it's a trap, so they stay in place."
According to Leason and the official history of TAPS, what happens next is an astounding twist of fate.
"The captain decides he's going to check it out, and he crawled very slowly, and he saw that this Confederate soldier was dead. He finds out it's his son, and he looks in his pockets, and he found that he had written TAPS," Leason said.
The stricken father asks for the piece of music discovered in his son's pocket to be played by a full band the next day, but the request was denied because his son was a part of the Confederate army. Instead, the Army allowed the father to pick one musician to play the music discovered in his son's pockets, and that musician happened to be a bugler.
Leason's ties to the Armed Forces began in World War II, when she served in the Navy as a nurse, she said. Her husband John, now deceased, had come to American from Australia to avoid the draft that was instituted in the British controlled countries at the time. Unfortunately for him, America's draft caught up to him instead, Leason said.
"He went to Guadalcanal for three years, so when he left I joined the Navy," Leason shared.
She had been living in Rockford, Ill., because John was stationed at Camp Grant, Ill., at the time. When he was shipped overseas, Leason enlisted in Chicago, and got a very early taste of military life.
"We were at the Chicago station, I think it's called Union Station. There were 150 girls from all over, we all met at 5 a.m. for the train to go to boot training at Hunter College in New York, that's the Bronx. And so anyway, here we are, talking and wondering how we're going to like it, and all of a sudden, an officer comes, and out of the 150 girls, he hands me a big, long envelope," Leason said, humor in her voice.
Leason said the officer disappeared quickly into the crowd as she tried to hand the letter back, believing the officer was mistaken in handing it to her. She returned to her group of fellow recruits and opened the letter, and discovered a surprising fact.
"And I open it up, and it says, 'To the bearer of this letter, you are in charge of taking care of 150 girls, putting them on the train and mustering them'," she said with a laugh. "We got them all in, got them all settled, and had our boot training at the Bronx."
The WWII veteran was sent to Bethesda, Md., where she met Hellen Keller, and took care of one of Henry Ford's sons. Her time in the Navy took her from places like Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Chelsea, Massachusetts and Newport, Rhode Island.
"Then after that, they told me to go to dental school, so I went to dental school and got my degree. Medical and dental, so I did my part in the Navy," she said, the pride in her voice still present after all these years.
(Correction: In the May 25 issue of The Mirror, local veteran Dr. Mary Leason related an anecdotal story regarding the origins of TAPS. While an excellent story, it appears the anecdote is a popular misconception of the origins of TAPS. The historically accurate origins of TAPS can be found at http://www.west-point.org/taps/Taps.html.)Contact Federal Way Mirror reporter Greg Allmain at firstname.lastname@example.org or 253-925-5565 ext. 5054.