Kenosha native David Anderson is a professional, in every sense of the word, when it comes to the trumpet.
Having played the instrument since he was 9 years old, Anderson has seen trumpets of all ages, shapes, sizes, colors, tones and pitches but never one with the history and remarkable story associated with the tattered, silver horn that recently entered his Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, repair shop.
The 1926 Frank Holton & Co. model traveled the globe from nearby Elkhorn, where it was handcrafted, to the beaches of Normandy.
It was owned by U.S. Army Sgt. Richard Wank, who clutched the trumpet as his unit courageously leaped off a Higgins boat and stormed toward Normandy Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Wank was the only surviving member of his unit. He was shot and laid on the beach for more than 12 hours — still gripping his trumpet — as medics arrived.
Wank went on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge and several other German campaigns, earning a Silver Star for gallantry.
Wank’s fascinating stories were mostly untold until shortly before his death in 2007.
Anderson, a 1990 Tremper High School graduate, discovered the trumpet, and the story behind it, when Wank’s grandson, Jeff Wank, contacted him about six months ago. Anderson is the owner and sole proprietor of Brass Alliance, a trumpet repair and restoration business.
In honor of his grandfather, Jeff Wank asked Anderson to restore the instrument to its original condition.
Hard to let go
Anderson drove 60 miles to Wank’s house in Forney, Texas, and eventually left with the trumpet in his possession.
“He didn’t feel comfortable letting it go,” Anderson said. “He shot me a text message right away and said, ‘I can’t believe I let you leave with this thing.’ He put his trust in me.
“I really try to keep in touch with all of my customers. I keep them informed on the progress. I take before-and-after pictures. Everything I do is on a personal level.”
The project took nearly two months. Anderson somehow found a similar model online in Minnesota and was able to use some of the tiny screws and other rare parts, along with an immaculate carrying case, to put it all together.
Just as Anderson was ready to have the trumpet sent off to be silver-plated, he received another message on his business website from a University of Texas Alumni Band trumpet player.
He told Anderson he had a trumpet that he wanted re-plated and restored for a special, upcoming performance.
And this is where the story reaches the mind-blowing stage.
Back to Normandy
“This guy tells me this was his first trumpet and that he wants to play it when he and a group of about 500 others head to Normandy for a D-Day performance,” Anderson said. “It completely destroyed my brain.”
Three years ago, the University of Texas Alumni Band booked the trip in honor of the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
Anderson told the Texas band member about the unique D-Day trumpet he was in the process of restoring and informed Jeff Wank about the band’s unique trip.
Wank agreed to let the band take the trumpet to France, where acclaimed Cincinnati musician Kenny Bierschenk used the instrument to play taps during D-Day ceremonies on Thursday at the Brittany American Cemetery in Brittany, France and Omaha Beach in Normandy on Friday.
To make the weeklong trip even more memorable, the group invited Wank along as a VIP guest.
As Bierschenk performed taps, there wasn’t a dry eye in sight, according to University of Texas Alumni Band president Geof Sloan.
“It was very emotional,” Sloan said. “Kenny did a superb job. He’s a professional. I don’t know how he got through it, to be honest with you.”
Bierschenk said he was honored to be a part of the ceremony.
“It was an amazing experience to bring that trumpet back to Normandy,” Bierschenk said. “The story has touched and inspired so many people.”
Connected to history
These moments, of course, would never have been possible without Anderson. He was the true orchestrator of the improbable, fate-like connection and the master craftsman behind the restoration.
“Not to overblow it too much, but sometimes I wonder if this is why I was led to this industry in the first place or at least one purpose in my life,” said Anderson, who was a member of several Kenosha-area concert and marching bands and performed with the Phantom Regiment drum-and-bugle corps. “The odds of this happening ... like I said, it’s just mind-blowing.”
Sloan said the trumpet, the story behind it and his band’s performances combined for an unforgettable tribute to one of the most significant events in world history.
“I think it was a perfect alignment of the stars,” Sloan said. “I don’t know any other way to put it.
“If you think about it, there’s a part of those guys that died 75 years ago, and those that survived, whose stories still need to be told.