Don Brittain was watching the news on television two years ago when he saw four trumpeters playing taps at a memorial service.
It moved him enough to get out his own trumpet the one hed purchased for $195 in 1952 and renew his practicing.
He had not played taps for years.
My wife downloaded the sheet music for me, Brittain said. It was the same 24 notes it had always been.
He checked his daily copy of The News Tribune and found the time for sunset. As the sun slid below his Browns Point view home, he stepped out on his balcony and played.
One of my neighbors told me it was my civic duty, and people do seem to enjoy it, Brittain said. I support our troops. I love playing.
He is 78 years old now and a widower. With the exception of winter months (the trumpet gets like ice!), he has not stopped playing taps since.
One of the first evenings he played, a neighbor was walking his dog on the street below Brittains house. At the first note of taps, the man heeled his dog, stood at attention and saluted.
That touched me, Brittain said.
Last fall, CBS heard about the daily rendition and called Brittain, asking to send a camera crew from New York the next day.
I was sure it was one of my buddies messing with me, Brittain said. When they hung up, I called the number back. Sure enough, it was CBS.
The resulting two-minute feature made the retired Boeing purchaser the most famous trumpet player in the Northwest, if not the best.
I got letters from men in Afghanistan, from people across the country, he said. It was flattering, and humbling.
It also helped Brittain hold himself together.
After 34 years of marriage, Brittain lost his wife, Jan, to cancer a long fight that included 18 months of treatment. In the end, she wanted to die quietly in the home she and her husband had bought and renovated together.
Thats how she wanted it, thats how it was, Brittain said. It was one of the hardest things Ive ever been through, but I was with her when she died.
That was 2011. Alone in their home, Brittain kept playing his trumpet. Friends tried to keep him busy. One insisted they make a road trip.
A friend said I had to go to Camby, Oregon, to meet Joe Marcinkiewicz who played and made horns, Brittain said. I drove down and the horns were spectacular and pricey, just under $5,000. That was more than I could pay, but Joe said, How about you give me a check for $1,000 and then pay what you want each month?
They made me a horn, and he gave me lessons taught me some things Id never known about. Ive got better range now because of him. The horn is so much easier to play than the one Id been using.
A lifetime earlier, Brittain played in a high school band that did dances and entertained around the Puget Sound. He never lost his love of music or the trumpet.
I love playing the blues, Dixieland, jazz, ballads, big band stuff. Id like to play in a community band, he said. A couple of years ago, I was contacted by a community band in Puyallup, but Jan was really sick and it just didnt work.
Now, Brittain is as excited, and nervous, as he was 58 years ago before his first paying gig. Theres a community band of seniors in Tacoma looking for a third horn, and Brittain is going to see if hes got the chops to join.
Married daughters Kira and Kim are supportive, and their dad has been practicing more than usual 30 minutes each morning, another 30 most evenings.
Hes endured his share of challenges over the years. Polio put him in a leg brace for life in 1948, and smoking led to emphysema. A first marriage went sour, his second left him a widower.
Still, Brittain has no complaints.
I can still hit high C, he said. I wont lie. Its hard living here alone. The house can close in on me but music helps me get through it.
Brittain smiled, hoisted the trumpet and played a bit of My Funny Valentine, then a little of Satin Doll. And after hed warmed up, he played taps.
Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638