|Archie Fagan - Grand Marshal 2023
By Bruce Doorly
|The Grand Marshal of the 2023 John Basilone Memorial Parade is Archie Fagan.
During World War II Archie was part of three significant events as he saw combat and interrogated enemy soldiers at the Battle of the Bulge, was on hand for the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp, and was an observer at the Nuremberg Trials.
|Archie was born in 1927 in Philadelphia to a large Jewish family that would eventually include eight children.
When the family fell on hard times during the depression he was sent to live with his grandparents.
Through an affluent uncle he was able to attend an elite high school for boys.
One week out of high school he was drafted into the army which he entered on June 6th 1944, which was D-Day. He had basic training for sixteen weeks at Camp Wheeler in Georgia. In December 1944 he was sent overseas.
|Battle of the Bulge
Upon arriving in Europe his unit was quickly thrown into the fight as the Germans had been successful in a counteroffensive in Belgium that would come to be known as the Battle of the Bulge.
Since Archie spoke Yiddish, a language that is a combination of German and Hebrew, he was assigned the job of interrogator as he was able to communicate with the Germans who had been taken prisoner. To his surprise he found that many of these Germans were teenage boys as young as fifteen or old men in their fifties. They were humble and nothing like the arrogant German soldiers that were found in the German army at the beginning of the war. (Many of the elite German troops had been captured or killed in Russia a couple of years before).
|During interrogation Archie and the other interrogators gave the prisoners Lucky Strike cigarettes and Clark Bars to loosen them up.|
|The most vital piece of information that the American interrogators were able to extract from the German prisoners was that they were
running out of gasoline. After his brief stint as an interrogator, he was sent into the battle.
He would fire his M1 rifle in several battles where he unfortunately saw some American troops killed.
It was a cold winter. He and many other men often slept under a Sherman tank as the heat given off by the tank was the best way for them to stay warm. As the Battle of the Bulge raged word came that the Germans had executed many American prisoners who had recently surrendered. Thus, the Americans were told to take no prisoners.
|In one battle, Archie was injured by a German mortar shell. The doctors behind the lines fixed him up and sent him back to the front.
When asked in this interview why he did not get, or ask for, the Purple Heart, he said “I was not there to get medals, but to fight and survive.”
To this day Archie still has shrapnel in his back and a visible wound on his palm.
Being Jewish Archie was warned that should he be taken prisoner he was to quickly dispose of his dog tags as they had his religion printed on them and the Germans would likely execute him immediately.
|Dachau Concentration Camp
A few weeks before the end of the war in Europe as his unit was marching towards Berlin, the capital of Germany, they learned that our Russians allies wanted to take the capital. The Americans granted this request as this would save countless American lives. So, Archie’s unit and other units were diverted south east.
Along the way the American discovered the Dachau Concentration Camp. The first American troops arrived at this camp on April 29th 1945 to images of unimagined horror. The camp held thousands of emaciated inmates that were on the verge of death and there were thousands of dead bodies. There were fifty railroad cars on train tracks within the camp that had heaps of dead bodies. The German guards were still present and they were being dealt with. Archie’s unit arrived a couple of days later. They had been briefed by other American troops as to what lay ahead, and when they were ten miles away, they could smell the camp. Yet when they arrived, they were still shocked at the sickening site.
Archie said “the images will haunt me till the day I die.”
|The sign at the entrance to the camp said|
(translated) "Work Will Set You Free"
|He recalls that the soldiers were told not to feed the prisoners.
Due to their condition, they needed medicine and a carefully planned diet to recover. Many prisoners died after the camp was liberated as they were too far gone to be saved.
|Archie went on to further explain how many of the German guards changed into prisoners’ outfits to attempt to hide among the prisoners.
But the healthy guards were recognized in the days to come as they were easily distinguishable from the real prisoners who were thin and sick.
Over the next week the Americans executed many of the guards. Archie was witness to this, but he did not take part in the executions. Later that year many additional guards at Dachau were put on trial, found guilty, and hanged.
When Archie was still in Germany after the war he was asked if he wanted to attend the trials of the top Nazis. These trials, which came to be known as the Nuremberg Trials, were held at the “Palace of Justice” in Nuremberg, Germany. They received worldwide attention.
Archie remembers like it was yesterday as he looked down from the balcony at the “faces of evil” - Hermann Goring, Rudolf Hess, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Alfred Jodl, Albert Speer, Karl Dönitz and others.
|Since the participants in the trial spoke a variety of languages, interpreters were used. Everyone had headphones that allowed them to hear their native language. Archie remarked that the interpreters were very good, thus one had no trouble following the proceedings. He attended the trial for two days. The remaining trial and ensuing verdicts were a couple of months away. Archie still remembers which Nazis received the death penalty and who got a prison sentence.|
|He is still bothered that the most evil Nazi of those on trial, Hermann Goring, managed to commit suicide in his cell with a smuggled-in cyanide capsule.|
|When he was eligible to come home from overseas, Archie was offered a promotion, but he had enough of army life and he felt it was time to return to his family. He recalls that when he first arrived at New York Harbor he shed tears upon seeing the Statue of Liberty.
The John Basilone Parade Committee is honored to have Archie Fagan as Grand Marshal of the 2023 parade. The public is invited to come out to see him on parade day Sunday, September 24th in Downtown Raritan starting at 1 PM.