Frenchman joined U.S. D-Day forces to free homeland

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PARIS -- When he left Paris at age 18, the plan was to go to New York City for a year and learn his father's sewing machine trade. Six years later, Bernard Dargols found himself crossing the English Channel in a U.S. Army uniform, sloshing ashore on Omaha Beach to a homeland that had persecuted his Jewish family.

Mr. Dargols' journey from Paris to New York and back ended when he drove his Army jeep into a courtyard in the recently liberated French capital, then strode upstairs into a darkened apartment and into the arms of his weeping mother. Until that moment, he hadn't known whether she had survived the Nazi occupation.

"She hadn't seen me in six years, and I saw she was alive," Mr. Dargols said in an interview ahead of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion that helped defeat the Nazis.

Once back in Paris, he learned about cousins who had been taken away to concentration camps, and his grandfather, who had managed to escape the French transit camp at Drancy. He learned that his father's sewing machine shop had been seized.

Emotion overcomes Mr. Dargols even now, at age 94, when he thinks back to the increasingly desperate letters from his family, describing Gestapo sweeps and racial laws that robbed his father of his shop. His father and brothers had fled. Their mother stayed behind to care for both sets of grandparents, too frail to escape.

Today, he avoids Germans his own age. "I had such a hatred of the German army," he said.

In New York, after France's Vichy government sided with the Germans, the French consulate in New York sent Mr. Dargols a draft summons. He ignored it. He was determined to fight -- but not alongside the Nazis.

His friends said they were sure that the United States would soon jump into the war -- so he got U.S. citizenship and signed up for the U.S. Army.

Mr. Dargols is multilingual from his English-born mother and his father's Yiddish. He has an uncanny recall of topography, numbers and names. Those qualities would serve the Allies well.

He was sent to England, under orders to say nothing about his military work.

His father and two younger brothers escaped France and, in an 18-month journey that took them via Cuba, eventually reached New York. They moved into his apartment as he left for basic training.

On June 5, 1944, Mr. Dargols found himself in a boat as a U.S. Army staff sergeant, part of a small intelligence unit that landed in Normandy on June 8 -- D-Day Plus 2.

His colonel's orders were to head into the village of Formigny and learn about German forces in the area.

He had no problem persuading people to share what they knew about German forces, and made it back to base every time. The road he took from Omaha Beach has borne his name since 2008.

Mr. Dargols returned to New York, and married his French fiancee. The couple eventually returned and settled in the land of their birth. His father also returned to France, where he was reunited with his wife and reopened his shop.

Mr. Dargols killed no Germans in his Army time; gathering information was his job. "I wanted to kill so many Germans," he said. "I was not given the chance to kill one."

Now in his twilight years, he doesn't regret that, but neither does he forget what befell his country and family. "I don't wish youngsters to be faced with the same tragedy as I was faced, and not [be] prepared to be a soldier."


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