John Knight is stirring a little patriotism in the waters of Wilson Pond.
Knight, a veteran of the war in Korea, raises his trombone every night at 8 p.m. and plays taps, delivering 24 notes of pride to his neighbors around the pond in Wilton. The music is returned each night by Don Fonseca, a Vietnam War vet and retired Marine who tolls eight bells, signaling a traditional Navy watch change.
The good-night exchange is stirring.
Knight says he started playing taps because he remembers its calming influence while serving in the Army. For Fonseca, ringing the bell is about remembering fallen comrades.
Knight is 86 years old; Fonseca is 62 and in poor health. This musical devotion is no small effort for either man, but each sustains his respective commitment night after night throughout the summer.
Their shared performance is patriotism come alive.
Patriotism — defined as “a love or devotion to your homeland” — is demonstrated in a great many ways, from laying wreaths at military funerals and memorial services, to cheering home a child’s run at the neighborhood Little League park.
We’ve seen patriotism demonstrated in the Gulf of Mexico as people fight to protect this country’s coastline and the way of life that exists — or used to exist — there.
Protests — protected by the First Amendment — are as patriotic as the Pledge of Allegiance.
As Americans enjoy the freedoms of this country that are the envy of the world, patriotism among the majority is on the decline, according to a Gallup poll released earlier this month.
According to the Gallup findings, 42 percent of American adults say they are “very patriotic,” down from 44 percent in 1994. In July, 19 percent say they are “somewhat patriotic,” down from 28 percent in 1994.
A recorded 6 percent of current-day adults don’t see themselves as especially patriotic at all. These are probably the people who don’t take off their hats during the National Anthem at Fenway.
Among those surveyed, Republicans and conservatives ranked themselves more patriotic than other Americans, growing 11 percent in patriotism since 1994, and men reported greater patriotic tendencies than women. The least patriotic are Americans ages 18 to 29, followed closely by self-described liberals, but most Americans do report some measure of patriotism.
According to a New York Times story on the poll results, though, nearly half of the people surveyed said “the next generation of Americans would enjoy less personal freedom than the current generation. Those who are older and wealthier were more likely to see government regulations as a serious threat to freedom. Younger people and nonwhites were more likely to see lack of economic opportunity as a serious threat.”
Of course, worry about economic opportunities and government regulations isn’t necessarily a signal that Americans love their country less than a decade ago, just that they may not have the same faith in government as they once did.
In Wilton, the playing of taps signifies the end of the day on Wilson Pond, a time when all is well and its residents are safely to rest.
Maybe patriotism is flagging elsewhere because all is not well in the United States, and not every citizen can rest in peace.