Local News

Festival held surprise guest

The Thayer County Historical Society’s Fall Festival in Belvidere saw another annual success and positive responses. 

“It seemed like there were booths everywhere,” Thayer County Museum Curator, Jackie Williamson said. 

Among the pumpkins and vendors were the Sons of the Union Civil War Veterans, who returned from last year’s festival. 

“They did shoot the cannon,” Williamson said. “The Sons love coming here.” 

She added the car show with its unique awards made by Mike Thieme. 

“He loves doing it. We wouldn’t have a car show if it wasn’t for him,” she said. 

Indeed, the annual car show fills the front yard of the former schoolhouse that houses artifacts with classics and draws plenty of visitors. 

The festival ended at 4 p.m., for most people, but it was far from over as Pastor Jose Flores of Trinity Lutheran Church in Deshler and St. Mark’s in Ruskin, brought his experience in touring historical battle sites in France. 

“I always preface my talks by saying its unlike any other tour I’ve been on,” Flores said. 

Flores served active duty in the U.S. Army from 1970-1991, and retired as a 1st Sergeant. He hadn’t given the rest of his life any serious thought until he was asked by a pastor.

“I’ve been pastoring ever since,” he said. 

He’s also an amateur historian, with an emphasis on World War II. 

It was in a WWII magazine he saw the advertisement for the D-Day Memory Tour with requirements. 

“We had to read a certain number of books and learn about D-Day because we were going to those battle sites,” he said. 

It was truly a tour for historians and WWII enthusiasts as participants were “immersed” in the history by living it.

“Full Immersion” is the descriptive D-Day Memory Tours provides on its website. Those on the tour are given replicas of the U.S. Airborne uniforms worn the day paratroopers came ashore in 1944 to liberate France.  

The daily 6 a.m., wake-up call was followed by breakfast and a briefing, similar to a military briefing. 

Flores said the landscape is dotted with battle sites. 

“Markers, signs and evidence of the war, like bunkers with cannons, is still there,” he said. They also rode to battle sites in vehicles restored to the WWII era. 

“We stayed at the sites of those battles in tents, just like the combat soldiers,” he said.

Flores said the tours aren’t reenacting. Instead, the journeys are for historians, who want to relive D-Day as close as possible. 

“There was so much going on that day. It takes seven days to tour about 80 percent of it,” he explained. 

He said on the fateful D-Day, 10,000 soldiers paid for the liberation of France with their lives.

The tour went to the Omaha and Utah beaches, where the Screaming Eagles and All American Airborne Divisions landed. 

“D-Day was the pinnacle of their historic service. They were the first troops to land in occupied France,” he said. 

Flores has priceless tidbits from the tour to tell, and from the second tour he took with his son-in-law in June to celebrate the 75th anniversary of D-Day. 

He said he had become fond of French bread and cheese, and after receiving “stand down” orders upon the end of the second tour, the group went on a civilian tour to buy bread and cheese. 

“Standing in line at the bakery, I stepped up to the counter and looked at the glass case. They were sold out,” he said with a chuckle. 

As he was leaving, a stranger offered him her loaf after she asked if they were Americans.

Flores was planning to take the bread and cheese home with him on the plane, but admits it was consumed before he left for the airport. 

On his second tour, he didn’t live in a tent because of the 75th anniversary. They had visited Omaha Beach days before the ceremony. The beach was sealed off for dignitaries June 6, and tour participants stayed in a château. 

“I didn’t really miss the tents,” he said. 

In touring Omaha Beach, Flores was struck by how quiet it was. 

“You could almost feel the presence of soldiers who were there and are still there,” he said. 

Nearly 12,000 Americans are buried in the area.

Flores has been the official pastor for the churches since July of 2017. He started as a vacancy pastor and came to the area from Grand Island, where he was director of chaplain services at CHI Health St. Francis hospital. 

He is also the chaplain for the Deshler Volunteer Fire Department. 

Williamson said she recommends groups hear what Flores has to say. 

“We must always be conscience of what has happened in the past. We need to remember what they sacrificed,” Flores said.