John Steele (paratrooper)

John Steele (paratrooper)


Private John M. Steele was the American paratrooper made famous in the movie, "The Longest Day" who landed in Sainte-Mère-Église, the first village in Normandy liberated by the Americans on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

The operation

On the night of the D-Day (June 5-6, 1944), American soldiers of the 82nd Airborne parachuted into the area west of Ste-Mère-Église in successive waves. The town had been the target of an aerial attack and a stray incendiary bomb had set fire to a house east of the town square. The church bell was rung to alert the town of the emergency and townspeople turned out in large numbers to form a bucket brigade supervised by members of the German garrison. By 0100hrs, the town square was well-lit and filled with German soldiers and villagers when two sticks from the 1st and 2nd battalions were dropped in error directly over the village.

The paratroopers were easy targets and Steele was one of only a few non-casualties. His parachute was caught in the steeple of the village church in Ste-Mère-Église, leaving him hanging from its roof-top to witness the carnage. The wounded paratrooper hung there limply for two hours, pretending to be dead, before the Germans took him prisoner. Steele later escaped from the Germans and rejoined his division when US troops of the 3rd Battalion, 505 Parachute Infantry Regiment attacked the village capturing thirty Germans and killing another eleven. For these actions and his wounds, Steele was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor and the Purple Heart

John Steele died of cancer on May 16, 1969 in Fayetteville, NC.


Today, these events are commemorated by the Airborne Forces Museum in Place du 6 juin in the centre of Ste-Mère-Église and in the village church where a parachute with an effigy of Private Steele in his Airborne uniform hangs from the steeple. Bullet holes are still visible in the church's stone walls. Inside, there are stained glass windows, with one depicting the Virgin Mary with paratroopers falling in the foreground.

Though injured and deafened by the church bells, Private Steele survived his ordeal. He continued to visit the town throughout his life and was an honorary citizen of Ste. Mère Église. The tavern, Auberge John Steele, stands adjacent to the square and maintains his memory through photos, letters and articles hung on its walls.

Film Portrayal

Steele is portrayed by Red Buttons in the film "The Longest Day". Darryl Zanuck's movie was made after the Cornelius Ryan book of the same name.

External links

* [ Obituary, NY Times, May 17, 1969 "John M. Steele, Ex-Paratrooper Who Landed on steeple D-Day"]

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