Army veteran Jessica Johnson of Biddeford honors other veterans by playing taps at ceremonies and funerals, often with her 17-year-old son Julian Truitt. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Sometimes, as the melancholy notes of taps spill from her trumpet, tears roll down Jessica Johnson’s face.

In those solemn moments – as a veteran is laid to rest or people who gave their lives for their country are remembered – she thinks of the sacrifices they made for others.

“You’re honoring them and giving them their last rite as a soldier,” she said.

Most of the time, those listening have no idea that Johnson is a veteran. Yet it is in those moments that she feels most connected to her military service and to others who have served.

Johnson, who served in the Army and Army Reserves in the years following 9/11, has always been quiet about her military service. She never went to combat zones like so many others, she said, and she doesn’t see her time as especially heroic.

“My service to country was very mundane,” she said. “I feel like I serve more good playing taps.”


Johnson, 40, graduated from Biddeford High School in 2000 and enlisted in the Army three years later. She had watched the aftermath of the terrorist attacks and was struck by the selflessness of those in the military who responded alongside first responders.

The military, she realized, would give her the opportunity to serve others.

“I genuinely wanted to help the country,” she said.

She went to South Carolina for basic training, then to Fort Leonard Wood in the Missouri Ozarks for advanced individual training as a truck driver. She loved life as a soldier, the friends she made and the tasks she was trained to do.

She was sent to Kitzingen Army Airfield in Germany, far from dangerous battle zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, but knew the work she was doing there also was important. She transported goods and worked in a supply room, developing budgets and making sure necessities got where they needed to be.

Two years into her service, Johnson fell down a flight of stairs while carrying equipment. The back injury she sustained ended her active duty and she returned to Maine. She served in the Army Reserves for another two years.


When she came home, she didn’t talk much about her time in the Army, even though it solidified her desire to give back to her community. More than anything, Johnson has valued the connections she made with those she served alongside and all of the veterans she has met in the years since.

There’s an instant kinship that feels like brotherhood or sisterhood and transcends differences in politics or backgrounds, she said.

“When you serve in the military, you build a camaraderie with people you don’t even know. When you meet other veterans, you fall into conversation about what the experience was like,” she said. “You become a community with people you never served with.”

Johnson settled in Biddeford to raise her five children and open her seamstress shop, Soul Stitcher. That work keeps her busy, but what brings her the most joy is the Sew Together community initiative she started to teach others how to sew items for hospitals and animal shelters.

“I think it’s extremely important, whether you’re serving your country or a small business owner, that if a community provides for you, you give back to the community,” she said.

Johnson plays taps as a volunteer at military funerals, parades and ceremonies, acts of service that feed her soul. On Veterans Day and Memorial Day, she often travels to multiple ceremonies. This Veterans Day, she’ll play at ceremonies in Sanford-Springvale.

She taught her 17-year-old son, Julian Truitt, to play taps and talks with him about the importance of honoring veterans throughout the year.

Now, he joins her at ceremonies, the 24 melancholy notes from his trumpet echoing hers.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: