Sleep in peace, soldier boy

By Mary Marek
Posted 3/4/99

As funerals go, Jesse Radda’s wasn’t all that different than many others. Family members and friends gathered to say good-bye. There were tears, but not too many.

Jesse had lived a long life …

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Sleep in peace, soldier boy


As funerals go, Jesse Radda’s wasn’t all that different than many others. Family members and friends gathered to say good-bye. There were tears, but not too many.

Jesse had lived a long life and perhaps it was time for him to go. After all, his beloved wife, Olive, had gone before, and the last couple of years had been lonely without her. The minister pointed out that Jesse died on Valentine’s Day; a fitting time to join his wife.

The minister wore the uniform of an officer in the United States Army and the music consisted mostly of battle hymns, but, since it was the funeral of a World War I veteran, that wasn’t totally unexpected.

A couple of things did set this funeral apart from most, though. For one thing, Radda was 101 years old when he died, and second, when it came time for the notes of “Taps” to waft over the mourners, it was Radda who provided the music.

Jesse Radda played “Taps” at his own funeral.

Radda was born April 29, 1897, in Richmond. His family moved to a farm northwest of Washington in 1913 and he graduated from Washington High School in 1917. He enlisted in the Army and saw active service in France during World War I.

It wasn’t surprising that he became a bugler in the Army. Music had been an important part of Radda’s life long before that. Jesse’s parents, brothers and sisters all loved music and each played several instruments. They formed the Radda Family Orchestra and performed at social gatherings, as well as in their own home.

Jesse and his brother, Don, were charter members of the Washington Municipal Band and the Washington Concert Band. Jesse also played in the Richmond Metropolitan Band, the Washington Drum and Bugle Corps and the Columbus Junction Band.

But he was best known for playing his bugle for military funerals and for Memorial Day and Veterans Day observances. During his lifetime, Jesse Radda played “Taps” at more than 500 gravesides, for fallen soldiers from every war since, and including, the Civil War.

Had he lived a few weeks longer, Radda would have been one of only a half dozen surviving Iowa World War I veterans slated to receive the French Legion of Honor, that nation’s highest military honor, for their service on the battlefields of France. The medals, which will be awarded during a ceremony March 3 in Des Moines, are being given by the French government to living veterans of Allied countries who fought on French soil.

Radda’s niece, Julie Zieser of Washington, said, “I’m kind of angry he had to wait so long” for the medal. “The French government should have done something sooner.”

He may have died before receiving the French Legion of Honor, but Jesse Radda didn’t live 101 years without being rewarded in other ways.

In 1934, he was a musician in the Washington Municipal Band when it won the state championship in Cedar Falls.

In 1960, after laying “Taps” at a graveside for the 168th time, Jesse was presented with a service award medal for “unselfish work done for both the American Legion and his departed comrades as official bugler for military services during the past 40 years.”

A charter member of the Washington VFW Post, he was honored in April 1983 at a 50th anniversary celebration.

In April 1997, he received the 75-year certificate of continuous membership with American Legion Post 29 of Washington. It was noted at that time that his was the first such certificate awarded by Post 29.

In 1991, at the age of 93, Jesse Radda hung up his bugle. By then, he had played at more than 500 gravesides.

He began thinking about his own funeral and asked his neighbor and friend, Shirley Curtis, if she would honor him by singing “Taps” at his service.

Mrs. Curtis, who, like most of us, hadn’t realized that “Taps” had words, suggested Jesse make a recording of himself playing “Taps” and the recording could be played at this funeral. So, that’s what he did.

Thursday, February 18, Jesse Radda played “Taps” to honor a fallen veteran for the last time.

“Sleep in peace, Soldier Boy,

’Til the bugle calls you

with the dawn.

Sleep and rest,

God is nigh,

Soldier Boy.”