Trumpet used on D-Day returns to Normandy Beach for 75th anniversary

It’s been 75 years since the D-Day invasion which marked the major turning point in World War II. On June 6, 1944, Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy.

FOX 4’s Brandon Todd is sharing the unique story of one of the survivors from that day.

The story starts with David Anderson, who has breathed life into lots of old, tattered and beaten instruments over the years. One trumpet he was given was a bit different.

“There’s cracks in some of the pipes. And there’s things missing. And, of course, it was not straight,” Anderson said. “There’s a lot of dents. A lot of work had to be done. It had to be just completely torn down, straightened and re-plated.”

The trumpet belonged to a young U.S. Army Sgt. Richard Wank, who lept off a Higgins boat yards from Normandy Beach on D-Day while never letting the instrument leave his grip.

“He was standing at the front of the boat and when the ramp dropped he jumped off and heard an explosion, turned around and everybody was dead,” said Jeff Wank, his grandson. “He makes it to the beach, gets shot along the way and laid on the beach for a while with that trumpet underneath him.”

Two days later still alive and clutching the trumpet, Sgt. Wank was found by medics.

“What they experienced was on a whole other level. It really was,” his grandson said.

Sgt. Wank’s family never really knew about that day in 1944 until right before his death in 2007.

“He would never say anything about it. He would never talk about it. The only thing he would ever say is, ‘It should have been me,’” his grandson said.

But Jeff Wank felt there was a legacy to share – both the story and the trumpet.

“What I was saying was, ‘You have to tell someone. You can't just keep this to yourself. This isn't just your history anymore,’” he said.

It wasn’t easy. Just handing the trumpet over to Anderson to be restored was difficult.

“He really didn't want to let it go. He told me as soon as he left... he sent a text that said, ‘I cannot believe I just let you leave with that instrument,’” Anderson said.

It took seven weeks to restore, an experience Anderson will never forget.

"Even though it's been restored, you can still see where he held his hands, just like on a firearm or something that's used a lot and held by someone a lot,” he said. "I was blown away. Just working on it was a real honor and mind-blowing experience.”

One day while working on the horn, Anderson had an idea. He knew the University of Texas Alumni Band would be performing in Normandy for the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

The connection was made and the newly restored trumpet went to one of the best of the brass, Kenny Bierschenk. He chose to perform Taps.

“As a musician, we often think of music as spanning the centuries. Taps being sounded at all these military events, it's the same now as it was back in World War II. It’s the same as it was in the Civil War,” said Bierschenk, a member of the UT Alumni Band. “To be able to play Taps on a bugle or on a trumpet that was actually used to do that very same thing 75 years ago when it was still a battle zone, that's really meaningful to me.”

In fact, Jeff Wank believes that solemn song was the reason his grandfather brought the trumpet with him that fateful day. It’s likely the only song he played after being rescued from that beach.

“And I think he played Taps for his friends,” he said. "That's why he brought it over there. I'm convinced of that. He knew there were a lot of people that would not return.”

An estimated 10,000 Allied troops were killed or wounded on the beaches of Normandy.

Sgt. Wank was awarded the Silver Star.

His trumpet will be played at several events this week.