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