American veterans depart to be feted in France as part of 80th anniversary of D-Day

Jun 2, 2024, 8:57 AM | Updated: Jun 3, 2024, 4:50 am

ATLANTA (AP) — Hilbert Margol says he didn’t look on himself as a hero when his U.S. Army artillery unit fought its way across Europe during World War II. But he will be feted in France as one of 60 American veterans of that conflict traveling to Normandy to mark the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

“I know my brother and I never looked at it as we were any kind of heroes, nothing like that,” Margol said recently of himself and his twin brother Howard, who served with him. “It was just our time. That we were asked to serve. And we did.”

The 100-year-old Margol, who lives in suburban Atlanta, is among the dwindling band of veterans of the conflict leaving Atlanta on Sunday on a chartered flight for Deauville, Normandy. The veterans will take part in parades, school visits and ceremonies — including the official June 6 commemoration of the landings by soldiers from across the United States, Britain, Canada and other Allied nations on five beaches.

Margol didn’t land at D-Day, but the Jacksonville, Florida, native was among those who liberated the Dachau Concentration Camp on April 29, 1945.

The trip also includes high school and college students selected to escort the veterans and learn about their experiences. Charter flights also took veterans from Atlanta to France in 2022 and 2023.

On Sunday, the group of 60 veterans, donning customized jackets commemorating the anniversary, arrived at the Atlanta airport to the clapping and cheering from the flight crew and the Dutchtown High School marching band from Hampton, Georgia. The veterans were then guided through the airport to their terminal in a parade headed by the marching band.

World War II veteran Jake Larson, a 101-year-old American best known on social media under the name “Papa Jake,” said he joined the national guard when he was 15 for the money and landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day. Reflecting back on the three years he was in Europe, Larson said he is “no hero.”

“I’m just a survivor, but I’m here to honor those people who gave their life so I can be here,” Larson said Sunday before the flight.

He also had a message to world leaders: ““Make peace not war.”

Andy Negra of Helen, Georgia came ashore with the 6th Armored Division at Utah Beach on July 18, 1944, about six weeks after D-Day. It is his second trip back to France after also taking part in last year’s flight.

“Well to me, we fought for freedom, and we fought for peace, and we fought for a good life,” Negra, a native of Avella, Pennsylvania, said in a recent interview.

The trip is being organized by Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, the Best Defense Foundation and the North American branch of French tire maker Michelin.

“It is our privilege to celebrate and honor these heroes by flying them directly to Normandy and recognizing their incredible sacrifices and contributions to the world,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in a statement.

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American veterans depart to be feted in France as part of 80th anniversary of D-Day