American hero among us: A salute to Archie Fagan on his passing

World War II veteran, 97, was fixture until his final days at Flemington area ShopRite — where he served as reminder of character, gusto of ‘Greatest Generation’

Archie Fagan, an American hero, died earlier this month.

For those fortunate enough to have known him (I count myself among those lucky souls), the loss is heavy.

Archie (his given first name was Alvin, but everyone knew him as Archie) had an unquenchable enthusiasm for life, a natural charm that quickly drew you into his circle of friendship — and a sense of duty and patriotism few could match.

Archie lived 97 monumental years, including a few in Europe, where he served in the Army during World War II – fighting in the Battle of the Bulge and appearing as a military witness during the Nuremburg War Crimes Trial in 1946.

I met him seven years ago at the Flemington-Raritan ShopRite, where I was a regular customer and he was working essentially full time as a service manager and as the store’s good-will ambassador — yes, at the age of 90.

One moment, he was helping you choose the best cut of beef, then, he was on the store’s PA system excitedly announcing a sale on cold cuts, and then, he was picking the freshest produce for you — and, if Achie told you the produce was fresh, you could take it to the bank.

One shopper once told me she would come into the store even when she didn’t need to buy anything just so she could see Archie.

Archie, after all, was a local celebrity.

He made dozens of appearances at schools, fairs and other public gatherings, mostly to talk about his service in World War II and to remind everyone what his generation accomplished in overcoming the Great Depression and two enemies bent on world domination.

He would often lament (politely) that Americans knew little about their own history. And he rarely missed the opportunity to warn his audiences that “Evil can succeed when good men do nothing.”


Archie and his World War II comrades are a vanishing breed.

Of the 16 million who served in that war, only 119,000 are still alive, and we are losing them at a rate of 131 per day, according to the World War II Museum in New Orleans.

A hero’s tribute Archie Fagan no doubt deserved.

Archie’s tale of military service was extraordinary. He served in the European Theater of the war with Gen. George S. Patton’s famed Third Army as it cut a swath of liberation across France and Belgium and eventually Germany itself. He was involved in several military actions, including the Battle of the Bulge.

While he mostly spoke enthusiastically of his time in the service, there were some dark days that tested his seemingly bottomless well of effervescence.

He would speak reservedly about the day his unit was patrolling in the southern German province of Bavaria. When a noticeably unpleasant smell in the air led his unit and others to a clearing, they became the first units to come upon the Dachau Concentration Camp.

“That smell? That was the smell of death,” Archie would say.

Archie remained in Germany after the war ended and, at the behest of his commanding officer, became a military witness to the Nuremburg War Crimes Trial in 1946, which gave him the chance to come face to face with Goering, Hess, Von Ribbentrop and other architects of the Nazi regime, or “the faces of evil,” as Archie called them.

When he returned to the States (he would tell his audiences he unabashedly cried when he saw the Statue of Liberty on the voyage home), Archie put down roots in the New Hope area. He worked most of his life at the Fagan’s family market. When the time came to finally close the store, rather than retire, he came to work for ShopRite.

Like all of his generation, he would not accept being called a hero.

“The heroes are the ones who did not come home,” he always insisted. “I was a survivor.”


During my years as an employee for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, I participated in two dinners saluting our military and their contributions to New Jersey. I invited Archie to both events.

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I will never forget one scene at the first dinner, where Archie and a fellow World War II vet sat in easy chairs at the pre-dinner reception and told their war stories to a rapt audience of young active-duty service members who sat on the floor around them.

At both dinners, I had the honor of introducing Archie so he could lead the guests in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Archie took the podium and before reciting the Pledge, expressed an unapologetic enthusiasm and love for his country.

“This is the greatest country in the world, and the last best hope of mankind,” he said, paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln.

I am grateful for having known Archie Fagan and, in this age of revisionism and historical ignorance, I remain forever grateful to him for that reminder.

Ray Zardetto, a freelance writer, soon will lead up Military Matters, an ROI-NJ newsletter featuring information on veterans and veteran-owned businesses. Reach him at