From wreath laying to taps ceremonies, our traditions ensure we never forget to thank those who sacrificed for our country. One local in particular makes sure he does his part to keep these traditions alive.
Sarasota pays respect to its veterans.
The city comes together for Memorial Day parades, soldier memorials, Fourth of July celebrations and more.
But these traditions don't just happen. They are the work of many individuals, each contributing in their own ways. Danny Bilyeu has become a part of that support year in and year out, and maybe not in the way you’d expect.
Bilyeu has a long and involved history with the public service — you’ll likely remember him as a former city commissioner and later a field representative for U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan. If you have enjoyed Sarasota's annual holiday parade recently, it’s Bilyeu that organizes that lively march down Main Street each year.
His day job is as construction field manager for Habitat for Humanity Sarasota. But another one of what he considers his duties — quietly but no less importantly — is act as the bugler who plays taps on his horn to close out military funerals and services. If you've attended one of Sarasota's many tributes to those who have served our country, and stayed for the ceremonies that follow, you'll likely have seen Bilyeu standing proudly and blowing his horn in musical tribute.
The 24 notes that compose the melancholy music that typically ends military funerals and memorial services is an everpresent fixture at these events, and Bilyeu takes his role playing them seriously.
“It brings an end,” Bilyeu said. “Especially on Memorial Day, where we’re remembering those who gave it all. It’s a remembrance of them.”
Bilyeu found his musical passion early, growing up in Illinois where he started playing music in middle school.
That developed into playing for the high school band and learning to play the trumpet. He studied music in Manatee Community College — now the State College of Florida — and played jazz music.
He had a respect for the military even earlier than that. Bilyeu’s father was a Navy veteran who saw his share of combat while serving on a Destroyer warship in World War 2.
Living and learning about his father’s time in the military — and seeing the toll that time had on him — fostered a respect and patriotism in Bilyeu that he carried with him as he grew.
“I respected his service to the country,” Bilyeu said. “After he died when I was 15, I didn’t (play taps) as much until I moved to Sarasota in '79 and became involved with the (city) commission.”
Bilyeu started attending veterans events and services while serving as a city commissioner, and that carried on after he moved on to new positions. Bilyeu has played at veterans events, parades, memorial services and more.
When his dear friend Paul Thorpe, who started many downtown Sarasota parades and traditions, died in 2017, Bilyeu was there performing taps at his service at Sarasota National Cemetery.
He’s contributed to veteran groups in other ways as well. Bilyeu routinely plays the Kiwanis Veterans Breakfast each year and plays service songs for the group.
“It’s a privilege and an honor to be able to play,” Bilyeu said. “These people gave their lives so we can do what we do.”
One of his most proud moments through the years has been helping put together the Spirit of 45 observance program and three-day celebration in Sarasota in 2015, which had a dinner event that invited World War 2 veterans to attend and had big band music, swing dancers and more.
The weekend of events concluded with a large production with more than 40 trumpet players who played a moving rendition of taps at the Sarasota National Cemetery. Bilyeu still thinks about performing with the group, and the veterans he recognized over the weekend, with pride.
“It had to be the highlight of my work supporting veterans,” Bilyeu said.
In spite of his many times performing and participating in events, Bilyeu makes it a priority to keep from becoming the center of attention during the ceremony. When he's playing taps out in the Sarasota National Cemetery, he keeps away from the stage and stands behind the crowd near the headstones.
“You just need to hear the music, you don't need to see me playing because it's not about me," Bilyeu said. "It’s my contribution to what these people have done. There’s mixed emotions, but God gave me the talent so I’m going to use it.”
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