On June 6, 2016, those who still remember commemorated the 72nd anniversary of D-Day—the beginning of the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi control. It was a daring proposition: under the command of American general Dwight D. Eisenhower, Allied forces stormed heavily mined Normandy beaches guarded by imposing cliffs, atop which the Nazis had mounted a formidable array of firepower. John McManus’s recent book on D-Day captures the situation in its title: The Dead and Those About to Die.
My father, Albert Israel Siegel, was among the men who fought that day. His father—my grandfather Max—had fled Russia to avoid conscription into the czar’s army. In America, Albert volunteered to serve. He saw his first combat as a soldier in the Army Signal Corps during the second wave of landings on D-Day. Loaded down with 60 pounds of equipment, he and his fellow soldiers had to jump into a landing craft bobbing in the waves 40 feet below their transport ship. A third of them mistimed the jump and ended up flailing about in the turbulent waters. The open landing craft was already under heavy fire—that would only grow more intense as they approached Utah Beach—so attempting to rescue the drowning men wasn’t an option. Three out of the 42 men in my father’s platoon made it up the cliffs.
My father died in 2000. He rarely spoke of his war experiences. Still, I did learn a bit about his confrontations with General George S. Patton. Once, while my father rested with his unit along the side of the road, Patton, passing in a jeep, screeched to a halt and loudly insisted that my father put his helmet on. He obeyed, but the next time would be different. Following the German defeat in spring 1945, many Jewish prisoners who had escaped from the concentration camps were nonetheless being penned up by Patton. Against orders, my father and a number of other soldiers released the Jewish prisoners. An infuriated Patton wanted my father and his compatriots court-martialed. But in Paris, GIs who were aching to return home rioted, putting an end to talk of court-martials. My father and his friends, he told me, were soon on a troop carrier on their way back to America.
On the morning of this past June 6, I turned on my computer expecting to see some small remembrance of D-Day on Google’s landing page. I say “small” because on Memorial Day, Google saw fit to commemorate our war dead with a miniature American flag. But there wasn’t even that on D-Day; there was nothing. Though I was taken aback, I shouldn’t have been. Two weeks earlier, Google had celebrated the career of West Coast Japanese-American activist Yuri Kochiyama, who had been interned along with her family during World War II. She went on to celebrate the likes of Malcolm X and Osama bin Laden, declaring in the wake of 9/11 that the U.S. government was the biggest terrorist in the world.
Google’s competitor Bing, by contrast, celebrated D-Day with a commemoration of the U.S. Army Rangers’ heroic assault on Pont du Hoc, the heavily fortified escarpment connecting Normandy’s Utah and Omaha Beaches. In their initial combat mission, the Rangers’ Dog Company scaled the cliffs under withering fire and took out essential German positions. I can’t be certain, but I’ve always assumed that my father made it to the top of the Utah Beach cliffs in part because of the Rangers’ bravery. It’s a small matter, but I’ve replaced Google with Bing as my search engine.
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