11/8/2012 10:43:00 AM He plays Taps - rain or shine
by Diane Lohmann
Veterans Day is a Federal holiday set aside to honor armed service veterans. This year November 11 falls on a Sunday, so Veterans Day will officially be observed on Monday.
Roger Otte of Cannon Falls honors veterans on Mondays all year long. He volunteers to play Taps for military funerals at Fort Snelling.
His interest in volunteering began when he attended a friend's funeral there.
"I was impressed with the service," he said. "A few years later I had the time to volunteer."
He has been volunteering for more than three years and is part of the Monday squad. There are five squads, one for each week day.
"I play every Monday, rain or shine, except for Federal holidays," Otte said.
The services are scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at several committal sites around Fort Snelling. They are scheduled every 15 minutes and are not held at the gravesites. He has played Taps for as many as 16 services in one day. The famous melody originated in World War I. It signaled the end of the day and time for soldiers to go to sleep.
The famous melody originated in World War I. It signaled the end of the day and time for soldiers to go to sleep.
Each squad consists of about 20 people from the different military branches. They move around Fort Snelling on a mini coach bus, arriving before family and friends, and assisting with parking for the funeral.
"We wait for the family to get situated at the committal site and explain how the service will work," he said. "When we come to attention, a civilian can put their hand over their heart."
They salute when the remains are moved. The rifle men aim and fire three times. Taps are played and if there are two buglers, they do echo Taps. A flag is presented and they thank the family for the person's military career. When the squad is done, they march back to the bus and head to the next service.
Each squad has a squad leader, members who shoot their rifles, color guards with chrome rifles, a bugler, two flag folders and flag bearers who carry the U.S. flag, a flag representing the military branch the deceased served in and a Department of Veterans Affairs flag.
Sometimes there are requests for fly-overs or no rifles. A couple of months ago Otte started playing a postlude for the different military branches, while the squad marched back to the bus. Recently he had a request to play the Reveille, a song used to wake the troops for morning roll call.
"A lot of them (squad members) are elderly and from World War II," Otte said. "They just accepted me and never required me to blow a note when I volunteered for the job."
Also volunteering are Bernie Melter and James Pagel, both of Cannon Falls, and Ted Nemzek, a former Cannon Falls teacher. Known as the Memorial Rifle Squad at Fort Snelling, they were organized in 1979 and do 2,400 services a year. The service is provided only if requested by the family and there is no charge. Their uniforms consist of a white shirt, black tie and black pants. They also have a light jacket and a heavy jacket to wear depending on the weather, and a trench coat. They have never canceled a service due to bad weather.
"The winter temperatures are hard," he said. "Fingers freeze up and I limit my exposure to just the time playing."
Most services are casual, although there are some with chauffeured vehicles. For some of the older veterans, there may be no living family members to attend the service or serve as pallbearers.
Taps means this is
"It makes you feel good to be there," he said. "I can stay pretty cool but when I get back to the bus, others will say you made people cry. Taps means this is the end."
Otte, 70, served in the Naval Air Reserves during the Vietnam War and was stateside at the Naval Air Station in Minneapolis. He did maintenance work for six years. He met his wife, Marilyn, in 1972. An electronic data processing auditor, he worked for the University of Minnesota for approximately 20 years before being laid off. He then went into motor coach driving and works for Northfield Lines.
Otte started playing the trumpet after the second grade and played through high school. He was part of a trumpet trio with his brother, Leroy, now of Faribault, and his father, the late Erwin Otte. His mom, the late Edna Otte, played the piano. They often provided special music at church or community events.
Otte has played Taps for Memorial Day at Randolph Cemetery for more than 20 years and at the Minnesota Veterans Home in Minneapolis. He also plays at some local funerals. All three of his children, Dawn, Paul and Howard, play musical instruments, but none of them chose the trumpet. Both boys played in the State FFA band.
"Music you can have for a lifetime," he said.
Veterans Day, originally known as Armistice Day, is an official United States holiday honoring armed service veterans. The Federal holiday is observed on November 11, as the major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, with the German signing of the Armistice. Congress amended this act in 1954 by replacing "Armistice" with "Veterans" and it has been known as Veterans Day since.