A familiar bugle call ushers in a day of tribute for those who served 

  • Vietnam veteran Frank Tryon of American Legion Post 21 listens to taps at the Memorial Day ceremony at the State House. GEOFF FORESTERphotos / Monitor staff

  • Russ Wright of Webster is comforted by his daughter Sarah at the burial site of his father-in-law at the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen.

  • Russ Wright of Webster pauses at the site of his father-in-law at the New Hampshire Veterans cemetery in Boscaswen before placing the flowers on the grave of his father Monday, May 29, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/29/2017 11:28:29 PM

Those first three familiar notes blown by Dan Hayes – notes that move us to sadness, sometimes to tears – set the tone for the day.

Hayes stood across the street, isolated from the Memorial Day ceremony in front of the State House. Lawmakers and representatives from the VFW and others were there, showing respect for the war dead on a chilly, overcast morning.

Hayes’s version of taps was perfect, beyond a “cracked note” he said he hit because “it was too cold to play, I guess.”

From what he told me after the tribute on a closed-off North Main Street, Hayes would have blown taps had it been 10 degrees and snowing.

“The reason I do it is it’s annoying when you hear a recording,” said Hayes, who’s 57 and lives in Concord. “It drives me nuts. There used to be a recording, and it infuriated me. I don’t care; I will be here at every single one of these tributes on Memorial Day.”

Hayes works for the Department of Safety, and his respect for this day, this weekend, was palpable. His love for music was easily traceable.

His father, Bob Hayes, served on the USS Essex in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He was a firefighter who wore an asbestos suit while pouring water on planes that had caught fire after rough landings.

He also played the trombone in a band on that mighty aircraft carrier, entertaining the men each afternoon. He died three years ago at age 92. He left his mark, as two of his sons are music teachers, and his third and youngest son plays a mean bugle.

“My whole family are musicians,” Hayes told me. “My father influenced me. I’ve been to so many concerts on the North Shore.”

There, while growing up in Salem, Mass., Hayes watched his father play at Willows Park, which now features a covered stage called the Robert Hayes Bandshell. There’s also a plaque there, dedicated a few days ago to Dan’s father, explaining what Bob Hayes meant to the city musically, and what he meant to the country as a wartime firefighter on the high seas.

So his son plays taps, combining his love for music with his admiration for his father, on a day of tribute and appreciation across the country.

In the Granite State, nowhere is the mood more solemn than at the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen.

There, I found Ginny and Russ Wright of Webster, each of whom was visiting their late father. Russ’s dad, Gordon Wright, died in 2002.

He was an infantry scout in Europe. He moved ahead of his platoon, sizing up the road and area, making it safer for the advancing Americans.

Russ said his father was shot in the hip while carrying a wounded buddy across a river near the French-German border.

“He had him over his shoulder,” Russ told me.

He also said Gordon was captured and held in a wine cellar, dark and tight. Ginny noted that her father-in-law was claustrophobic before that experience. She also said Gordon came home with post-traumatic stress disorder and a drinking problem.

“When he was not drinking, he was a gentle giant,” Ginny said. “He had huge hands.”

Gordon was a lumberjack – rugged, old-school, tough. He walked with a limp later in life, a reminder of the bullet he took while helping his friend.

“He didn’t talk about it much,” Russ said.

The couple went to the cemetery with family: the Wrights’ daughter, Sarah; Ginny’s sister, Darlene Flateau; and Flateau’s daughter, Kathy.

They put flowers on Gordon’s grave, and they put them on the grave of Ginny’s father, Verne Smith Jr., a Navy aerial navigator who died in 2015. The family had a cookout this weekend, before going to Boscawen to pay their respects.

“This place is amazing, beautiful,” said Flateau, visiting from New York State. “It’s so well-kept.”

In another area of the perfectly manicured grounds, a woman in pink pants sat alone, crying gently as she rubbed the top of a grave marker. The stone read “Robert Brennan, U.S. Army, Vietnam.” It said he died in 2014 at the age of 62.

“It’s my father,” the woman told me. She said nothing else, politely declining my request to tell Brennan’s story. Soon, she moved to her car and left.

It was that kind of day. A day that began in the morning with a bugler standing across the street from a ceremony, playing taps for what he said was about the 10th consecutive year.

“These people have given their lives, and what have I done to give back to them?” Hayes said. “So I play for them. I do what I can. They deserve to have at least that.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304, rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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