Lincoln music teacher invited to anniversary D-Day performance

Lincoln music teacher invited to anniversary D-Day performance

Lincoln Central Elementary School music teacher Dan Pedro, left, will perform in Normandy, France, on the anniversary of D-Day this June under the direction of World War II veteran and D-Day survivor Col. Arnald Gabriel. 

LINCOLN – On June 6, exactly 75 years after the Western Allied troops of World War II stormed the shores of Normandy, France on D-Day, a Lincoln teacher will perform on Omaha Beach under the director of D-Day survivor Col. Arnald Gabriel, paying tribute to those who gave their lives in service of their country.

Central Lincoln Elementary School music teacher Dan Pedro was invited to participate in the concert by Gabriel, who has been returning to Normandy every five years to direct the anniversary concerts. Pedro met Gabriel two years ago as a graduate student at the American Band College, where Gabriel served as a guest conductor.

While Pedro said performing tenor saxophone for the anniversary of D-Day would be an amazing honor no matter what, he expects performing under the direction of Gabriel on Omaha Beach to be an especially emotional and humbling experience.

“I feel privileged to be able to experience this with him,” he said.

A cursory search uncovers a treasure trove of information about Col. Gabriel, a musical icon whose story is one of tragedy and triumph. The soon-to-be 94-year-old served as a machine gunner during World War II, landing on D-Day with the 29th Infantry Division, earning two Bronze medals for his service on and after D-Day.

In a video interview with the American Veterans Center last year, Gabriel opens up about losing two close friends during the Battle of the Bulge when a mortar shell hit their foxhole.

“We had become very close because I had met them and we had been together for two months. In combat that’s very unusual, because when I trained as a machine gunner with the 29th in England, they said the life expectancy of a machine gunner in combat was three day,” he said.

After his discharge from the Army in 1946, his high school band teacher encouraged him to pursue a career in music and attend college at Ithaca, where Gabriel went on to earn a bachelor and master’s degree in music education.

After college, he achieved the highest score ever on the Air Force bandleaders exam and rejoined the service, rising to Commander and Conductor Emeritus of the U.S. Air Force Band, U.S. Air Force Symphony Orchestra and Singing Sergeants before his retirement in 1985.

On June 6, Gabriel will return to France to direct a mass band in Paris and Normandy, to include Pedro and musicians from across the U.S. The musical performance is part of a full schedule events to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, which will be attended by President Donald Trump and other heads of state.

Pedro said he looks forward to being able to share the experience with his students at Lincoln Central when he returns.

“It’s important that they understand what freedom costs,” he said.