The Sainte Mere Eglise display and surrounding area at the Armed Forces History Museum is enhanced by audio which brings to life this WWII D-Day invasion in Normandy. This diorama is a unique re-creation of the infamous church where Private John Steele was hung up by his parachute on the steeple above the German outpost during the WWII D-Day invasion. After several hours, the Germans captured Private Steele, but did not harm him. Within 3-4 hours, Private Steele was rescued by the US Army and rejoined his outfit. The replica of Sainte-Mere-Eglise – along with the soldier suspended from the steeple – is reminiscent of the infamous Red Buttons portrayal of Private Steele in the movie – The Longest Day.
A Brief Look at the Sainte-Mere-Eglise and D-Day
The Manche department in Normandy is located in north-western France and believed to be one of the first towns liberated as a result of the D-Day invasion. In the wee hours of the morning, the US 82nd Airborne and the U.S. 101st Airborne divisions descended upon the town where paratrooper casualties were heavy. A significant number of buildings in the town were on fire which resulted in a brilliantly lit night sky, exposing the now vulnerable men as they descended. Several died as they could not help but land in the fires below and others remained entangled in the treetops and utility pole. These soldiers were shot before they could free themselves.
The most infamous recollection of this day involves John Steele, whose parachute was caught on the pinnacle of the church at Sainte-Mere-Eglise. In an effort to appear already dead, he hung motionless from the church for two hours, but was eventually spotted and taken down unharmed by the Germans. Shortly thereafter, Steele was rescued by the US Army and was able to rejoin his battalion prior to their attack on the village in which 30 Germans were captured and another 11 were killed.
To this day, this epic battle from World War II is commemorated in this small town. Along with an Airborne Museum and various gift shops, a dummy paratrooper remains suspended from the church to commemorate the legendary story of John Steele during the WWII D-Day invasion in Normandy.