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French soldier who stormed Normandy beaches with American forces dies aged 98

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French soldier who stormed Normandy beaches with American forces dies aged 98
Bernard Dargols pictured on Omaha beach in 2014. Photo: AFP
12:42 CEST+02:00
Bernard Dargols, the only French soldier to fight in an American uniform as Allied forces stormed the coast of Normandy at Omaha Beach in a battle heralding the end of World War II, has died aged 98, the Caen Memorial war museum said on Tuesday.

"We are deeply saddened by Bernard's passing... surrounded by his loved ones, a few days from his 99th birthday. We will miss him terribly," the museum said on Twitter.

His death comes just a few weeks before France is hosting ceremonies to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, which are to be attended by US President Donald Trump.

Dargols had left France in 1938 for an internship in the United States, and after seeing France's Vichy leader Philippe Petain shake hands with Adolf Hitler, he enlisted in the US Army, later obtaining joint French-American citizenship.

Bernard Dargols, left, in American uniform in 1944. Photo: AFP

He was just 24 when he crossed the Channel from England to France on June 8, 1944, two days after Operation Overlord was launched to help wrest back France from Germany.

"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 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!"

Dargols, whose family had Jewish origins, had an aunt and uncle who were deported to the Nazi death camps where they died, though his mother managed to remain in Paris during France's occupation.

After the war he took over his father's sewing machine shop, but he often spoke about the bloodshed he witnessed, giving interviews to ensure younger generations never forgot the high price paid. 

"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."

 
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