SIESTA KEY, Fla. — Every night on Siesta Key, when the sun slips two-thirds of the way down the horizon, beachgoers can hear the unmistakable first note of a bugle playing taps. It is always perfectly timed, with the last note occurring as the sun disappears, respects have been paid and another day is complete.
Rudolph “Buster” Heinle is the 96-year-old World War II veteran who started the tradition from the third-floor Casa Blanca condo he shares with his 92-year-old wife Irene, about a mile south of the Siesta Key pavilion. Some nights as many as 100 people will gather below their lanai and when the song is over they clap. During storms they have had people stand under the cover of a breezeway because they just have to hear it, no matter the weather. Everyone leaves having been touched.
“I think it’s beautiful,? Irene says.
“It goes right through you,? Buster says.
The stirring tribute has been going on for about seven years, though truth be told they used to draw their blinds and take some Thursday nights off for “Steak Night? at the Dutch Valley restaurant. Buster, for the longest time, played the song on his bugle, but had to switch to a recording from Arlington National Cemetery a few years ago when he broke a tooth and needed a plate put in.
“I play it for the guys I know, the guys I’ve known and the guys I wish I had known,? Buster says. “I play it for those who went on as much as I play it for myself.?
People usually stand at attention — though not always — with their caps off. Some place their hands on their hearts. That’s one of the objectives the couple has: to educate people, especially the young people. And they have. Teens will stop playing volleyball upon hearing the first note and you wouldn’t believe the overall reaction they have received from their nightly tribute.
Young kids draw pictures and they used to keep them on their refrigerator. One day a mother brought her 4-year-old boy to the condo, and he stood right there in the kitchen, and sang all four verses to the song.
“He was so cute and Buster gave him a $10 bill,? Irene says. “He was so thrilled that he probably sang that song all the way home in the car.?
One night two nuns on vacation stood beneath their lanai and began crying upon hearing the song. The next day the nuns came back with a plate of muffins and the day after that they came back with a bouquet of flowers. Now Buster, Irene and the two nuns are the best of friends.
They receive letters too. Here is one from Ruth and Tom Staley of Fort Wright, Kentucky: “My father was a World War II veteran. He was a Navy man and served on the U.S.S. Taylor. Every time you play taps I think of him. The last time I heard it was at my dad’s funeral.?
And here is a letter from a 12-year-old girl named Beth: “You create music of the ocean. This makes my heart melt into the sunset with every note. Thank you for giving a little piece of your heart to the world. It is truly beautiful.?
Buster and Irene are from Wisconsin and both were married before. They had known each other for 60 years before deciding to get married in 2003. Their two-bedroom condo on the Gulf of Mexico has one of the great views in the world. Irene bought it in 1968 for — get this — $30,500, and it was furnished.
Buster spent four decades working on the railroad in the upper Midwest for Soo Lines and served in the Marines as a gunnery sergeant. He was at Midway 75 years ago and when he hears taps he is reminded of the fellow soldiers who were buried at sea in canvas bags with rocks inside for added weight.
He first heard the song played at age 12. He didn’t learn how to play it on the bugle until he was 50. It is the only song he knows, and perhaps that is exactly how it should be.
Every morning when Buster and Irene wake up the first thing they do is check the newspaper to see what time the sun sets. Then, when it is time, when the sun is touching the horizon, he will take a device out of a small cardboard container that used to hold a music box. The device is shaped like a microphone and he will turn it on when the sun is two-thirds of the way down. The device is what plays taps on a recording, perfectly timed to when the sun officially sets.
With the first haunting note everyone will recognize the song and gather beneath the lanai of the third-floor condo on Siesta Key beach.
Some veterans will stand and honor those they know and wish they had known.
Some daughters will remember the funerals of their fathers.
Some nuns will cry and return the next day with flowers.
And some 12-year-old girls will listen as their hearts melt into the sunset with every note.
Information from: Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune, http://www.heraldtribune.com