SAVANNAH, Ohio — For many, it’s the most poignant moment in the Memorial Day service. All the words of remembrance have been spoken and the echoes of the honor guard’s rifles have faded into silence. Then, from some distant point in the cemetery, begins the mournful, beautiful sound of taps.
In 1946, organizers of the Memorial Day service in Dick Algeo’s hometown found themselves in need of a trumpeter to play taps. Algeo, then 19 and on leave from the Navy, stepped in to do the job.
That was 63 years ago — and he hasn’t missed a Memorial Day since.
“They just count on me,” said Algeo, a young and limber 82. “I was blessed with a pretty good lip.”
Algeo’s roots run deep here. He can see Savannah Cemetery, where the service takes place, from his kitchen window. The cemetery once was part of the farm that has been home to eight generations of his family.
Four generations are living and four are just up the hill, in Savannah Cemetery. “So, all of them are here,” said his wife, Phyllis.
The Ashland County farm’s 46 acres, home to lots of wildlife and 10,000 trees Algeo has planted over the years, is enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program.
Music always has been part of Algeo’s life. He was only in sixth grade when he began playing trumpet with the Savannah High School band. As a varsity basketball player, Algeo even played in the band at halftime. He’d scramble up to the gym’s balcony in his uniform, sit in with the band, then hustle back down to the floor to play the second half.
Algeo joined the marching band at Ashland College and played in a boot camp band when he entered the service. Later, when he and Phyllis moved to Holmes County, Ohio, to begin their careers in education, there were many Memorial Days when he’d play taps there, then jump in the car with his coronet, and drive home for the service in Savannah.
He has played for as many as 10 funerals and other veterans services per year. Now, he plays taps about two or three times a year, sometimes for the funerals of close friends.
It’s not easy to do, but it’s a final gift he is glad to be able to give to a fellow veteran. To Algeo, the notes of taps are sacred, like a prayer.
Algeo served in the South Pacific during World War II as a boilermaker on a troop carrier, traveling to the Philippines and to Japan during the U.S. occupation.
He retired after 26 years as an elementary and junior high school principal, but still keeps a hand in education. Algeo teaches three days per week in the Adult Basic Literacy and Education program through the Ashland County Career Center, helping students obtain their General Education Development diplomas.
Algeo is commander of Savannah Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5692, in charge of organizing the local Memorial Day program and parade, which begins at 10 a.m. at the town hall.
Once at Savannah Cemetery, the service traditionally takes place at the grave of the most recent veteran to pass away. Members of a local musket club fire the salute.
Playing taps always has been an Algeo family effort. This year, his great-granddaughter, Amy, will join him at the cemetery to echo the notes on a second trumpet, as Algeo’s children and grandchildren have done before her.
How does it make him feel?
“Old!” Algeo said, laughing.
He and Phyllis will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary this year, and have three children, six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
The Algeo family’s roots are not the only ones that run deep in Savannah. The farmhouse kitchen window also looks out on one of Ohio’s most famous trees — a Rambo apple tree many believe to be the last-known apple tree planted by Johnny Appleseed.
The Algeos have a scrapbook brimming with newspaper clippings about the tree, which has been studied and propagated by many researchers over the decades. In the last year, however, a large part of the old tree came down. Still, it’s persevered and has returned to greet another spring.
Algeo doesn’t plan to retire his coronet any time soon. As long as his lip holds out, he’ll be there on Memorial Day, playing the sacred notes of taps, helping to honor those who have gone on before.
“It’s a challenge,” he said. ” I’d like to keep it up as long as I can.”
(The author is a freelance writer from Seville, Ohio.)