French WWII ace dies in Texas at 92

Marcel Albert, a French pilot who defected to the Allies from the Vichy regime following its collusion with the Nazis, and went on to become the second-leading French ace of World War II, died Monday in Texas at age 92.

Flying Russian-built Yak-1 fighters and later Yak-9 in duels with German aircraft on the Eastern front, Albert scored 24 victories in 262 combat missions, second only to Pierre Closterman, who has been credited with 33 kills.

In November  1944 he was awarded the Soviet Union’s highest decoration, the Gold Star and title of “Hero of the Soviet Union” — a reward almost never given to foreigners.

Albert joined the French Air Force in 1938 and after Nazi forces attacked in May 1940 he shot down a pair of German planes. Under the Vichy government, his squadron was redeployed to Algeria where Albert flew a few missions against the British forces in Gibraltar.

But in October 1940 he and two other pilots defected and surrendered their airplanes to the British.

Albert joined the RAF and flew 47 missions in Spitfires. In late 1942, Albert joined the Normandie fighter group, a Free French fighter created by Charles de Gaulle in 1942 to help repel Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union.

Albert’s Normandie-Niémen unit was composed of nearly 100 French fighter pilots, almost half of whom were killed in action.

Albert moved to the US in 1948 and lived in Harlingen, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley.

Last November, France’s ambassador to the United States, Pierre Vimont, travelled to Texas to present Mr. Albert with a medal recognizing him as a grand officer in the Order of the Legion of Honor, according to the New York Times.

And just three months ago, he received a visit from Russia’s consul general in Houston, Nicolay Babich, who presented him with a commemorative medal struck for the 65th anniversary of World War II’s end in Europe. Babich also brought a bottle of vodka as a gift from the Russian people, the paper added.

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