Clouds covered the sky over the beaches of Normandy on Friday, with the wind blowing through the sand on what would be considered a chilly day in Texas.
The scene made Joe Dahlstrom think about the cool, dark, overcast weather Allied troops experienced as they headed toward the beach during the early hours of June 6, 1944. He tried to imagine the day as he visited Omaha Beach.
“It was not raining as it did on the day 75 years ago, but the wind was blowing, and I’m sure the water was cold as the troops arrived,” Dahlstrom said. “I imagine the weather was already uncomfortable on its own, and then to have the German soldiers shooting at them ... It would have been a very trying time for the troops as they were trying to reach the land.”
Dahlstrom, the director of libraries at the University of Houston-Victoria, is in France to perform with the University of Texas Longhorn Alumni Band for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The group was invited to perform for the landmark occasion by Historic Programs, the company that organizes the annual memorial parade in Normandy.
The band performed at the Brittany American Cemetery and Memorial on Thursday, and at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial on Friday. The group performed the national anthems of the United States and France, he said.
There was also a mass band performance that included the alumni band and 10 high school bands from across the United States. The bands performed “Hymn to the Fallen” by John Williams from the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” a film that is set during the Normandy invasion during World War II.
“That was a very moving part of the ceremony,” Dahlstrom said.
After the ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial ended Friday, Dahlstrom visited the graves of three Victoria men who died on D-Day – Ernesto Lujan, Walter P. Reyna and Hoy C. Bonnett.
He also visited the memorial site, Wall of the Missing, to see Rafael Gonzales Garza’s name. Garza’s name is on the list on the Wall of the Missing because his body was never recovered.
Dahlstrom said he was unable to visit the grave of Victoria resident Henry C. Lassman, who is buried at the Brittany American Cemetery.
Dahlstrom placed a Texas flag of the three Victoria men buried at the Normandy cemetery, which was a moving experience, he said.
“It really brings home that these are not just names on the crosses. These people lived in the same place I live,” he said. “It makes it all that much more meaningful.”
The band will perform Saturday in the D-Day Memorial Parade and Allied Musical Salute in Saint-Mère-Église in Normandy.