Bernard Dargols, a Paris-born Jew and only French soldier to fight in an American uniform as Allied forces stormed ashore at Normandy’s Omaha Beach in a battle signaling the end of World War II, has died aged 98.
His passing comes just a few weeks before Europe stops to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, which are to be attended this year by U.S. President Donald Trump.
The Caen Memorial war museum made the announcement on Tuesday by taking to Twitter:
— Le Mémorial de Caen (@CaenMemorial) April 30, 2019
Dargols immigrated to the U.S. in 1938 to work in Manhattan. He quickly became a U.S. citizen, and waded ashore as a U.S. Army staff sergeant, as part of the D-Day armada.
He was just 24 when he crossed the Channel from England to France, a bare two days after Operation Overlord was launched to help wrest back France from Germany.
In what remains the biggest amphibious assault in history, some 156,000 Allied personnel landed in France on June 6, 1944. An estimated 10,000 Allied troops were left dead, wounded or missing, while Nazi Germany lost between 4,000 and 9,000 troops, and thousands of French civilians were killed.
“Some GIs were killed in the water. By what miracle was I going to make these last few metres” to the beach, he recalled in a 2012 memoir written with a grand-daughter.
“If the Liberty Ship had been able to quickly go into reverse, I think I would have asked them to do it,” he said.
– A jeep named Bastille –
A few hours later, aboard a jeep nicknamed “La Bastille”, he found himself surrounded by his fellow Frenchmen who couldn’t believe their ears.
“What a feeling to hear French spoken, to be taken in the arms of all these people older than me, calling me their liberator,” he recalled.
“If I had kept all the bottles of calvados brandy they were giving me, I think I could have opened my own specialist shop!”
The native French speaker went on to become a crucial U.S. intelligence agent, able to sneak into Norman villages to pinpoint German positions and determine on which roads the enemy forces had laid landmines. In 2008, Normandy officials named a road after him.
C’est avec tristesse que je vous annonce le décès de Bernard Dargols, vétéran français de la bataille de Normandie https://t.co/xjn4VCgdug
— D-Day Overlord (@ddayoverlordweb) April 29, 2019
Dargols told Time magazine in 2014 he had badly wanted to fight the Germans, after seeing newsreel footage of Adolph Hitler shaking hands with the French leader Philippe Pétain, whose government collaborated in deporting about 73,000 Jews from France to the Nazi concentration camps.
His mother survived the Nazi occupation of Paris by hiding in her apartment building—a fact Dargols learned only in 1944, when, as an American G.I., he drove his Jeep into the courtyard underneath the family apartment, after Paris’ liberation, and found his mother alive.
He later moved back to Paris but never forgot what he or his comrades in arms were fighting for – or against.
“Today we’re seeing the signs of anti-Semitism,” he told AFP in a 2014 interview.
“I want young people to fight back against it.”
AFP contributed to this story
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