PURVIS, MS (WDAM) - Anyone who has celebrated the life of a veteran in the Pine Belt knows Howell Purvis.
"I play Taps for the Honor Guard, and today was number 330 funerals I've done," said Purvis. "The trumpet that I played Taps on today is the same trumpet that I've had all these years."
Purvis was a lieutenant in the Navy and served as a Navy pilot in Vietnam. He said the decision to join the military was "the game changer" in his life.
"I don't know where I would have gone had it not been for that," he said.
It's not coincidental that his last name is the same as the town he grew up in, even though the spelling has changed over the years.
"My great-great grandfather, Thomas Melville Purves, was the founder of Purvis," he explained.
But after his time at Pearl River Community College, Howell Purvis didn't stay in the small Mississippi town for long.
"I applied for a job with the Secret Service, and I was hired in January 1968," he said. "Went to Washington and spent 20 years in the Secret Service and was involved in the protection of five presidents."
Purvis served LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Regan and H.W. Bush.
"I saw more during that period of time in different places around the country than anybody would have ever seen in a lifetime," he said as he recounted stories only those close to the president would know.
As a Secret Service agent, he also had the responsibility of following the first two women to attempt an assassination upon a United States president.
"I interviewed Sara Jane Moore and Squeaky Fromme," he said. "After about eight years with Sara Jane Moore, I finally got her to admit to why she did it. She never had told anybody before."
As he looked at the framed pictures of each president he protected, it was an easy answer when asked who he enjoyed most.
"President Regan was greatly admired by Secret Service agents," he said. "He was very nice, he was polite, he was compassionate, he was understanding."
After he retired, Purvis eventually moved back to his hometown where he lives now, but he stays busy.
"I figured it up- I've driven over 10,000 miles back and forth to Hattiesburg," he said of the number of times he's performed for military events.
Purvis plays his trumpet every day for at least one hour, everything from Big Band music to church hymns, and his wife enjoys listening along.
"I married my sweetheart," he said.
Even though he has played at hundreds of memorial services, he can't make them all, which is when the VFW steps in with an artificial bugle. But if you ask Purvis, he will humbly tell you it's just not as good.
"Some of the guys get credit for being able to play a trumpet when all they're doing is turning it on," he said."They're not the real thing."