The Spirit of 76

Dale Seaquist has played ‘Taps’ at Sister Bay Cemetery on Memorial Day for 76 years

Dale Seaquist was just 14 the first time he played “Taps” at Sister Bay Cemetery on Memorial Day. On May 30, he’ll play there again for the 76th consecutive time. 

“Money was scarce after World War II,” Seaquist said, “and the trumpet I wanted so badly cost $375. My dad told me if I earned half the money, he’d try to come up with the rest. I picked a lot of cherries!”

He played “echo Taps” the first two years, while his cousin, Winfield Anderson, played the first notes. Since then, Seaquist and his trumpet have become a familiar presence in Door County and beyond.

“My trumpet and I have been all over the country,” he said. “New York City; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Atlanta; Chicago; Madison; Green Bay and points west.”

But he’s made sure he has never missed Memorial Day in Sister Bay – even during his time at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and even while serving in the military and stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey, as part of the 1st Army Band, which appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show.

“Memorial Day has always been important to my family,” Seaquist said. “My father, John, and his brothers, Ralph and Reuben, started the male chorus at the First Baptist Church in Sister Bay to perform at Memorial Day ceremonies right after World War I. After World War II, the newly formed Billy Weiss American Legion Post 527 took over the memorial program.”

Seaquist was drafted soon after the Korean War and was on call to play “Taps” on hundreds of occasions.

“The military police drove me all up and down the East Coast,” he said. “I’ll never forget one event where I was to play as what I was told was the largest American flag in the world was raised and lowered. It was pouring rain and very windy, and it took 21 soldiers to get that flag up and down.

“Just before the ceremony, the band director said I’d be playing ‘To the Colors Bugle Call’ – something I wasn’t familiar with. He gave me sheet music, but it soon collapsed in the rain and wind, so I improvised what I hoped sounded appropriate.

“When I got back to the barracks, there was a call from the colonel who had been in charge of the day’s activities. ‘Seaquist,’ he said, ‘you made a mess of that. You need to memorize that music.’ Of course, that’s what I did that very night, and a good thing, because the next day I was called back to the same location for a repeat of the program.

“That night, there was another phone call from the colonel. ‘Seaquist,’ he said, ‘that was just beautiful. How would you like to come to West Point to be the official bugler?’ It was an exciting offer, but would have required extending my enlistment time, so I thanked him, but said I needed to get home to take care of my cherry trees.”

Seaquist has played for hundreds of funerals and continues to do so, still remembering the words his mother uttered when he first got his trumpet at age 14: “The first music you learned was in church. See that you use that horn for something worthwhile.”

“If it’s a military funeral,” he said, “there is, of course, patriotic music, but I always try to play something that glorifies God and will help to ease the family’s pain, too.”

Playing the trumpet has not been Seaquist’s only involvement with music. The male chorus begun by his father and uncles was inactive for a few years, but it was revived mid-century by Melvin Kasen, the vocal music teacher at Gibraltar High School. Seaquist was a member, singing bass. 

When Kasen moved away in 1951, the year Seaquist graduated, he took over and kept it going for many years, never missing a performance on Memorial Day. Men from a number of churches now participate. In the past, they have sung several times in Chicago, including at Soldier Field and the Moody Church.

Seaquist came from a family of musicians. His father played piano and organ at church. Seaquist’s oldest brother, Bob, a trombone player, was a bomber pilot in World War II who was shot down over France. He eventually made it home safely and later settled in Santiago, Chile, where he founded the Lincoln International Academy, the largest school in South America. Now headed by Bob’s son, John, it has more than 2,000 students and 600 teachers on two campuses.

Weston, the middle Seaquist son, also played trombone, but he had polio as a child and was almost completely paralyzed for a long time. Against all medical odds, he recovered. His trombone had a dented slide and could be played only with the slide upside down. 

When Bob made an appeal on Weston’s behalf on radio station WGN in Chicago, Tommy Dorsey, the best-known trombonist in the world at the time, heard about it and gave Weston a Super Olds trombone from the F.E. Olds Company in San Francisco, engraved, “To J. Weston Seaquist from your friend and well-wisher Tommy Dorsey.” Weston went on to play his trombone at UW-Madison and became a biology teacher in Panama.

Dale Seaquist now owns his brother Weston’s trombone, as well as a trumpet made by the same company. His most recent acquisition is a bugle made in 1843 that he found in Indiana. It’s probable, he thinks, that some young man or boy played it during the Civil War.

Rare Live Version of ‘Taps’ and ‘To the Colors’ This Weekend

On May 30, Seaquist will play, as usual, at ceremonies at Sister Bay’s Hendrickson Park at 9 am and at Little Sister Cemetery at 10:30 am. (See the complete list of Memorial Day services in this issue of the Peninsula Pulse.) 

What many people who hear Seaquist won’t know is that live versions of

“Taps” and “To the Colors” are a rarity these days. Many of the buglers who played “Taps” in the past, like those whom the song honors, are no longer with us, and many of the renditions we hear today come from instruments that look real, but have a small player in the bell that starts with the push of a button. 

But Seaquist’s playing for this Memorial Day service 2022 will be as real as it was 76 years ago. 

He said, “Someone asked me, ‘How long are you going to keep doing this?’ And I said, ‘Until I get it right!’”