Bust unveiled to honor French pilot who retired in Chipley

CHIPLEY  — A special ceremony in Washington County took place on Friday morning, honoring a French fighter pilot who lived out his retirement in Chipley.

The Russian Embassy donated a bronze bust of French Airman Marcel Albert to be permanently placed in Chipley, where he is also buried. ItÂ’s one of three around the world, displaying a legacy for generations to remember.

“The actions of this guy changed the world,” said French Air Force Col. Benjamin Vinot-Prefontaine, who was at the ceremony as the liaison for NATO-ACT (North Atlantic Treaty Organization – Allied Command Transformation). “The legacy he leaves here is very important.”

Albert was a World War II French fighter pilot who flew in the Normandie-Niemen squadrons. He fought alongside the Russians to defeat the Germans on the Eastern Front, flying 262 combat missions and earning honor in both Russia and France.

“It’s very important that we honor our veterans and for people to be aware of people like that who fought for freedom,” said Tallahassee resident Tatiana Warden, who attended the ceremony representing the Russian-American Community Center.

After leaving the military, Albert moved to the US, living out his days in Chipley with his wife Freda. 

“He was a very private man, very humble man,” said Dorothy Odom, President of the Washington County Historical Society. “Didn’t talk a lot about his exploits.”

His long-time friend, French airman and now Texas resident, Jean-Marie Garric, said Albert was like family and the bust is a symbol of sacrifice made for freedom.

“61 of them lost their life fighting the Germans,” Garric said. “And like I said, don’t forget the Russians because the poor guys paid a heavy, heavy price.”

Odom said itÂ’s a special gift, remembering a war hero, a Chipley resident, and a link between three countries, France, Russia and the United States.

“[It’s special] just to know that we can still pull together, like we did in World War 2, to come together for a common cause,” Odom said.

Vinot-Prefontaine said although Chipley isnÂ’t well known around the world, he hopes the bust serves as a reminder for young people everywhere.

“A young guy, an American guy, he will have to think about it and it will give a bigger perspective of what’s going on in the world outside of Chipley,” he said. “So I would say that Chipley is not in the middle of nowhere but it’s in the center of the world.”

An exhibit on Albert is on display at the Historical Society Museum in Chipley, and the bust will remain there so more people can learn about the man it honors.