On Veterans Day next week, Colonel Arnald Gabriel will be just where he's been for decades: conducting a symphony and remembering lost comrades.
In his 91 years, the Army and Air Force vet has seen several lifetimes worth of triumph and tragedy.
He is one of the few vets left to remember what it was like to land on the beaches of Normandy in that first wave on D-Day.
He didn’t think he would survive.
“Gosh no,” he said. “Scared to death.”
Gabriel was a 19-year-old machine gunner. He said there are no words or movie that can give any of us a sense of chaos.
“If you watch Private Ryan and multiply it by 100, maybe that will come close to what the carnage was really like,” he said.
He marched across Europe to Germany with his two buddies, Harry Ashoff and Johnny Arrowsmith. On Jan. 9, 1945, a German shell hit the trench where they were sheltering.
“Those two buddies will remain with me forever,” he said, his voice breaking.
In a book just out, The Force of Destiny, Gabriel's son describes how he returned home and buried himself in work to deal with the mental anguish now called post-traumatic stress disorder.
When the Korean War broke out, Gabriel volunteered again. This time as a conductor for the Air Force Band. And for 34 years, Gabriel was a military band director. He played with some of the biggest stars of the day.
“Shirley Temple, Edward G Robinson, Peter Graves,” Gabriel said.
It was only years after he retired that Gabriel finally fulfilled a promise he made to his old buddies in the foxhole. He met the Ashoff’s son, who was just two when his dad was killed.
“He gave me a hug and said, would you be my dad?” he said. “I didn't have to answer.”
Gabriel still conducts 20 gigs a year. He already has one for the 80th anniversary of D-Day, when he'll be 100.
Next Thursday, the French Embassy will give Col. Gabriel one of its highest honors: a French knighthood, the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.