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A son remembers his father, an Army band trumpeter

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative. On this Memorial Day weekend, we remember Sergeant First Class Jodi Walz, a Desert Storm veteran and a member of the U.S. Army band.

GENA GEAR: He loved playing for Memorial Day, you know, when they would go around the cemeteries. And he felt that it was necessary to pay tribute to these people.

SIMON: Jodi sang and played trumpet, an instrument that his son, Ryan Walz, picked up also. After Jodi died from COVID-19 in November 2020, Ryan came to StoryCorps with his mother, Gena Gear, to reflect on his father's service.

GEAR: He wasn't a particularly fabulous singer, and he would even say that himself, but he was a performer, and that's what he enjoyed.

RYAN WALZ: Yeah. I remember him in front of the stage like he owns the place, putting the trumpet to his face and blowing as hard as he can with his eyes closed.

(LAUGHTER)

GEAR: You know, I think he took a lot of pride about being in the military and about doing a good job.

WALZ: Yeah. In the beginning, you know, up until I was 7, it was like he was the coolest person ever. But if you were to graph out my relationship with him, it's a general downward slope. And as I started becoming my own person, it felt like he didn't make it a priority to reach out or connect to me. And that was pretty hurtful.

GEAR: I think what he had in the military, he didn't have it in civilian life anymore. Like, whatever scaffold he had been standing on started to crumble, and he didn't have a way to build a new identity for himself. And then he started to drink more and more and more.

WALZ: One of the harder things about just after he died - all these people would come up to me and be like, he never shuts up about you guys.

GEAR: Yeah.

WALZ: And it's like, well, then why didn't he, like, tell us that, you know?

GEAR: I know. So that kind of leads me to his funeral. I think it was your idea to play "Taps," right?

WALZ: Yeah. I wanted to play "Taps" because he would have wanted me to play "Taps."

GEAR: I think that is a testament to your strength and your character. Despite how complicated people are - and he was, for sure - you were able to set that aside, making sure that he was honored and respected. You didn't ever waver on whether to do it or not.

WALZ: Well, when you play "Taps," you're also letting them know that we still appreciate your service. We still appreciate what you did. And you're still allowed to rest peacefully.

GEAR: To have that come from his son - I mean, he would have taken pride in that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Gena Gear and Ryan Walz, remembering Army Sergeant First Class Jodi Walz, who served for 30 years in the U.S. Army band. To hear more from their conversation, you can get the StoryCorps podcast at npr.org. This interview will be archived at the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.