Brittain’s religion is not Judaism; he’s not interested in the latest time to daven the after mincha prayer service, or, on Friday, to determine the right time for candle-lighting.
He’s figuring out when to play Taps.
A trumpet player since he was a kid, a one-time member of a school band, Brittain takes his instrument to his back porch at dusk every day and belts out the 24-notes of the wordless, plaintive melody that has played at military funerals and other somber occasions in this country since the Civil War.
“I’m in another zone when I am playing. I’m not aware of anything other than the fact that I’m playing this and I’m trying to play it as best I can,” he told CBS News, which ran a report on Brittain’s unique service one recent day.
When he plays, the neighborhood listens, CBS reported. Everyone comes outside and stands at attention, according to the story.
Brittain is not a vet. He had polio when he was a kid. Healthy, he “would have served in a heartbeat.”
He plays to honor those who did serve – and those died in uniform. “[I want to] support our guys who are over there fighting,” he said.
On Veterans Day or Memorial Day, observed in the breach in this country, as are other patriotic holidays that for most Americans mean little more than another day off and an occasion for department store sales, soldiers’ sacrifice is a matter for another time, another place. Today, outside of poor, minority communities, few people in this country know anyone in the military.
When a soldier falls, it’s usually a stranger.
Brittain would feel at home in Israel, where, until recently (draft-dodging has become less unfashionable), everyone, outside of the haredi community, served, and, when a soldier “fell,” everyone knew someone who knew someone – etc. – who knew that soldier. In Israel, the annual day set aside for the day of mourning for fallen soldiers is truly a day of national mourning, the military cemeteries crammed with friends and relatives of the deceased from sunup to sunset.
Were Brittain in Israel, he could tell you when sunset comes.
This Friday, sunset in Tacoma is 7:26 p.m.