Veterans play nightly lullaby over Wilson Pond

WILTON — John Knight stepped onto his back stoop and blew taps into his second-hand horn.

Knight plays taps at night
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

John Knight relaxes on his back porch in Wilton recently after playing taps on his trombone. Each night at exactly 8:00 he plays the song that he so often heard during his military career.

Knight plays taps at night
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

John Knight plays "taps" on his back porch in Wilton recently. Each night at exactly 8:00 he plays the tune on his trombone that he so often heard during his military career.

As it does every night at 8 p.m., Knight's melancholy melody carried across nearby Wilson Pond, past the town landing and the gathered fishermen to the wide porches of the homes on the opposite shore.

When he finished, he paused and listened. Across the pond, a bell tolled a traditional Navy watch.

Ting-ting. Ting-ting. Ting-ting. Ting-ting.

“To me, it says 'Good night,'” said Knight, 86.

The nightly ritual began three years ago, when Knight — a veteran who flew 100 fighter missions over Korea — pulled out his trombone.

He thought of how taps seemed to calm him when he was in the Army. And he thought of how sound carries across the lake.

The whole performance took less than a minute. He liked the way the sound seemed to stretch over the water.

He did it again and again. People began stopping him on Sundays at the Calvary Hill Baptist Church

One Sunday, neighbor Dan Fonseca praised Knight.

“I knew from church it was John. I told him, 'If he's going to do that, I'm going to ring,” said Fonseca, a retired Marine who endured two tours of duty in Vietnam. He ordered a brass Navy bell, which now sits affixed to his wide porch.

“For me, it's about remembering my comrades who died,” said Fonseca, 62.

He began ringing only weeks after Knight started blowing his trombone.

The guys play almost every night from Memorial Day to Labor Day, taking breaks only when one of them is away from home.

“It's an all-summer thing,” Fonseca said. “A long drag.”

But the show of respect for comrades outweighs the inconvenience, he said, even when it's a chore to stand.

In Vietnam, Fonseca was hurt twice, the second time left a permanent scar on his forehead when a mine exploded around him.

Today, he moves slowly and tires easily. He endures dialysis treatments four times a week. Yet, he always stands to ring the bell.

In little ways, he feels compensated for the effort.

One evening, he gazed across the pond as Knight played. Fonseca watched as fishermen at the landing stood and held their hands over their hearts.

Such respect for the song is not necessary, Knight said.

“It's not the national anthem,” he said.”It's not the flag.”

Rather, taps was written by U.S. Army Gen. Daniel Butterfield in the Civil War to signify “lights out.”

To Knight, the melody recalls days when he was a young man flying over Korea.

“We had air supremacy almost the whole time,” he said. In 100 missions, Knight was never hurt.

He only once saw an enemy fighter. And he was going the other way.

However, Korea's anti-aircraft guns were too accurate. They killed many American pilots.

Standing behind his home with the trombone at his lips, Knight stood erect. Nothing else in this small town seemed to make a sound.

His tune lasted for less than a minute.

On Wilson Pond, people in two boats sat and listened. Sometimes, folks motor over from the far end several miles away just to hear Knight and Fonseca's good-night sounds.

And though they play nightly only in the summer, they sometimes brave the cold.

They play for the pond and they play for themselves.

“There are times in the winter when my wife asks, 'Do you miss your eight bells?'” Fonseca said.

“Then she says, 'I'll call John and tell him to blow his horn.'”

dhartill@sunjournal.com

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Comments

 's picture

Thank you for sharing...

...such a beautiful poem :)

 's picture

As usual

Some can't resist the inane urge to turn something so joyous and simplistic into a political argument. GIVE IT A REST. Hey, I bet these guys would even play taps for it.

Thank you to these wonderful men, what a lovely way to end the day.

 's picture

(sigh) you're right

...and I took the bait :(
(hangs head in shame)

 's picture

Brought tears to my eyes

Thank you for sharing this story! Thinking this is worth taking a trip to Wilson Pond some evening around 8PM... hoping to hear the gentlemen say goodnight :)

 's picture

Webb Lake

Sturges Butler has been doing this at the Kawanhee on Webb Lake for a very long time, as well.

 's picture

A rather offensive broad brush, don't you think?

That's like saying "The Democrats" are too busy passing laws to hand out our tax dollars to illegal immigrants and welfare recipients to be interested in creating jobs for the working class (Sorry, temporary positions with the census bureau or IRS don't really count for much). I think it is probably more accurate to say that there are many young Americans that hear it and do not understand... just as many are unaware of proper flag etiquette.

Although I hold a rather Libertarian viewpoint, I was raised by very Republican parents and grandparents. They were painfully aware of the significance of taps. They were also very familiar with driving their young male family members to the train station to send them off to war. Their political views in no way made them less patriotic. I would dare say the same holds true for many modern Republicans and Democrats, alike.

If, in fact, there are Americans among us who are unaware of the significance of taps... wouldn't it be more constructive to explain it to them ("Excuse me... this is taps... Please (take your hat off and) have a moment of silence to honor the fallen.") rather than to blindly berate them as nasty "republicans?"

Thank you, veterans, for fighting valiantly so that we may have the freedom to have these discussions here today. God bless the USA.

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