In the twilight, the somber tones of a lone trumpet playing taps float over birdsong at the entrance to the New Jersey Veterans Home in Paramus.
Standing next to the home’s sign with his trumpet is 13-year old Alex Saldana of Oradell, an eighth grader at River Dell Middle School.
In two weeks, 37 military veterans have died at the home, at least 10 of them from the coronavirus. Alex doesn’t want them to be forgotten.
“I know it’s very hard for them right now, and they made the ultimate sacrifice for this country,” he says. “I wanted to show respect and give them a sign of hope throughout this outbreak and sad time.”
It was impossible to get any closer than the entrance because National Guard troops are stationed there, but Alex says he hopes at least some of the veterans heard the song.
“I definitely hope that some of them heard about it or learned about it to give them hope that people know what’s happening to them and that people care about them and that they will not be forgotten,” Alex says. “I really want to show that to them and hope that if I keep doing this, it will be helping them.”
Alex has been playing the trumpet since fourth grade and serves as the bugler for Boy Scout Troop 36, playing taps at every meeting. He has vowed to play taps and the Marine Corps hymn every night outside the veterans home.
He had already chosen the veterans home as his Eagle Scout project, set to begin in the next few months. He says his plan is to collect necessities for the veterans by partnering with communities and businesses throughout the state.
Alex’s father, David, is a detective in the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office and a veteran of the Marine Corps.
Melissa Saldana, Alex’s mother, said the home holds a special place in Alex’s heart because of his father’s service and time he spent with the veterans for a Bingo night in sixth grade.
“I know what he did to help this country,” Alex says of his dad. The veterans made those same sacrifices.
Saldana said she and her husband hadn’t realized how big of a deal Alex’s gesture of respect was until they heard about the video she had posted to her Facebook page on the radio. She began getting messages from friends saying they saw the video on the national news.
The response to the video has been “tremendous,” Saldana said. She said they’ve received a lot of support from the Oradell community.
“That was the moment we realized that his tribute was reaching many people from all over,” Saldana said.
Saldana said she is proud of Alex and that he has “an enormous heart and he always wants to make others feel loved.”
“We are happy that he was able to take his talents and use them in a positive way during this tragic time that we’re all experiencing,” she said.
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