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The Villages
Sunday, April 14, 2024

Villager pays homage to his father by commemorating D-Day in France

D-Day. The early morning hours of June 6, 1944, when the first of 160,000 Allied soldiers waded onto the beaches of Normandy and the battle to reclaim Europe had begun.

While most arrived as part of the largest amphibious assault in history, the previous night paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division had landed around the nearby town of Sainte Mere Eglise. Their mission was to drive out the Germans and secure the surrounding countryside for the advancing American Army.

Tony Alger, front row, third from right, and other members of the North Central Florida 82nd Airborne Division Association.

Although the division sustained heavy casualties, by 4:30 a.m., the town was under American control and Sainte Mere Eglise became the first French town to be liberated.

Seventy-four years later, the son of one of those unsung heroes recently returned to that French countryside to retrace his father’s actions and to better understand his bravery during those pre-dawn hours.

Villager Tony Alger had already followed in his father’s footsteps when he, too, enlisted in the 82nd in the early 1970s.

Villager Tony Alger, left, and Saint Mere Eglise Mayor Jean Quetier, with the plaque of appreciation from the North Central Florida 82nd Airborne Division Association.

Tony had made 150 jumps while in the Division and was promoted to jumpmaster. Later, he received a commission and became an Army helicopter pilot stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., and in Panama.

Today, the Village of Fernandina resident serves as the 82nd Association’s vice chairman.

“My wife, Hope, and I went to France with other Villagers who also are members of the North Central Florida 82nd Airborne Division Association,” Alger said. “We’ll go back next year for the 75th anniversary, but by touring the area now, we avoided the anticipated huge crowds.

“I was amazed how grateful the city’s residents remain for America’s involvement. There are many American flags and statues everywhere,” he added. “I met with people who, as teenagers, had witnessed the fighting and remember seeing dead soldiers.”

American Legion National Commander Denise Rohan, left, and Tony Alger at the Colleville-sur-Mer Cemetery.

Alger also visited the nearby cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer that bears the remains of 9,300 Americans who were killed on D-Day. The seemingly endless rows of grave markers overlooking Omaha Beach were memorialized in the 1998 movie “Saving Private Ryan.”

“The city’s mayor, Jean Quetier, found out that my father was one of 8,000 soldiers who fought there,” Alger said. “During this year’s D-Day commemoration honoring World War II veterans, I had the honor to present him with a plaque expressing our appreciation for his residents for their caring, respect and remembrance of our soldiers who are buried there.
The mayor had thanked all those who liberated his city, Ager said, “especially those who had died on this soil for our liberty.”

During his visit, Alger was videotaped by an Army media team. His reflections about his father and the instrumental role of the 82nd Airborne Division can be found at https://www.dvidshub.net/video/604830/tracing-footsteps.

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