The bond between a Normandy town and the Americans who liberated it is memorialized in a unique way -- on a church where an American paratrooper found refuge 75 years ago.
On the church, dangling from the clock tower, is a dummy paratrooper. It hangs on the only church in Sainte-Mere-Eglise, the first village liberated by the Allies, and is a reminder of how the parish became an important part of World War II history.
It was there on June 6, 1944, where John Steele of the 82nd Airborne landed on the pinnacle of the church tower, dangling for two hours. He played dead before the Germans took him prisoner, but Steele later escaped and rejoined his division when U.S. troops of the 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment attacked the village capturing 30 Germans and killing another 11.
The battle for the town and its inhabitants are described in the book and movie “The Longest Day” where Steele is played by Red Buttons.
Steele was awarded the Bronze Star for valor and the Purple Heart for being wounded in combat. He died on May 16, 1969, in Fayetteville, N.C.
Today, Steele and the events that took place on that day are commemorated by the Airborne Forces Museum, across the street from the Catholic church that has a parachute with an effigy of Private Steele in his Airborne uniform hanging from the steeple. Bullet holes are still visible on the church's walls and a stained glass window in the chapel depicts the Virgin Mary with three paratroopers, one of which is Steele, in the foreground.
On Wednesday, WWII veterans recreated the D-Day parachute drops in a field of wildflowers outside Carentan, one of the objectives of the thousands dropped over Normandy as a prelude to the seaborne invasions in 1944.