UMB dental school has 'Pat the Bugler' blowing his horn

October 06, 1992|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

America's last combat bugler knew it was time to put down his horn when they started booing him at Memorial Stadium.

The year was 1985 and the old soldier, celebrated at the 33rd Street ballpark as "Pat the Bugler," was down to his last four teeth.

A man who pantomimed taps before John F. Kennedy's horse-drawn casket, roused Oriole fans through six World Series and knew the privilege of playing a cavalry bugle found amid the carnage of Custer's Last Stand at Little Big Horn, he had to concede that it hurt too much to blow.

"I'd played for so long with just those four teeth that they were real loose. I was lousing it up so bad that the fans were telling me, 'Why don't you just quit?' and they were right," said Glen Burnie's Charles A. "Pat" Walker, 64. "So I quit until I could afford to have my teeth fixed."

He saved money for seven quiet years, and this past summer took the money he'd made working in the commissary at Fort Meade to the University of Maryland Dental School in Baltimore where surgeons fixed him up with a new set of teeth.

Traditional dentures would not do because the force of wind necessary to blow a bugle pushes the plates out of place.

The day in 1985 when Mr. Walker was booed at the ballpark, a few dentists happened to be sitting nearby and told him about "implants," a process in which titanium screws are anchored into bone beneath the gums and false teeth are fixed to the screws.

The vise-tight procedure dispenses with the need for such adhesive goop as Poli-Grip and Ora-Fix, but it's not cheap.

While dentists in private practice typically charge about $1,200 per tooth, it is costing Mr. Walker about $700 a tooth at the dental school. He is being fitted for six of them, enough to make music again once the operation heals.

"I would have loved to play the first Opening Day at Camden Yards but couldn't do it because of the teeth situation," Mr. Walker said recently at the dental school.

Pointing to Dr. David Skopp, he said: "This is my savior."

Dr. Skopp knew nothing of his patient's renown until the day Mr. Walker brought in a big cardboard box stuffed with a dozen scrapbooks trumpeting his career.

"It's rewarding to restore someone's self-esteem," the dentist said.

And for Mr. Walker -- a career soldier who volunteered for duty in Vietnam in 1966 because he thought it important to blow live taps for dead servicemen -- the return of teeth heralds a return of his identity.

"Some people are singers, some people are ballplayers," said Mr. Walker, whose tour of Vietnam is believed to have made him the last American to blow a bugle in combat. "I'm a bugler. That's what I am."

"Pat" Walker, who got his nickname for being born on St. Patrick's Day in 1928, learned to bugle as a Boy Scout while growing up a weaver's son in Ellicott City during the Great Depression.

Interested in music, he had no money for lessons but found an old bugle in the attic and taught himself to play. The Army became a home for his talent, and in 23 years of service he developed a repertoire of 22 bugle calls.

He blew from every corner of the Memorial Stadium, and his clarion call could be heard from the bleachers to home plate.

Now he's starting all over.

"I went down to see the Orioles and talk to them about coming back now that I've got teeth and they were glad to see me. They asked me where I'd been," he said. "When everything is healed, I'm going to start practicing. It'll take about five or six months."

Just in time for Opening Day.

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