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Q: Parachutist in Ste Mere Eglise, Normandy ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Parachutist in Ste Mere Eglise, Normandy
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: britnurse-ga
List Price: $2.00
Posted: 08 Oct 2002 21:00 PDT
Expires: 07 Nov 2002 20:00 PST
Question ID: 74278
I recently visited Ste Mere Eglise, the Normandy village taken by the
allies on D-Day.  There is a parachute with a dummy parachutist on the
church.  I thought his name was John Walsh, an American who visited
Ste Mere Eglise many times before his death in 1963.  I'm a Brit
living in Tucson, Arizona.  Have I got his name wrong?  How can I find
out more about him?  I didn't realise until recently that "The Longest
Day" (film) truly portrayed a real person.  Molly Stockton, Tucson,
Arizona.  e-mail  (Yes, I was born in Southampton,
England, but don't remember too much about D-Day; I was only 9 years
Subject: Re: Parachutist in Ste Mere Eglise, Normandy
Answered By: angy-ga on 08 Oct 2002 23:04 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi, britnurse-ga !

The Normandy Battlefields site gives the story at:

They say:

"American paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division erroneously
parachuted into the town square in the early hours of D-day. M.
Hairon's burning barn, top mid-photo, illuminated the scene making it
easy for the Germans in the square to shoot the descending troopers.
Private John Steele's parachute caught on the steeple. He survived by
feigning death until the town was occupied in the daylight hours. His
parachute effigy still hangs on the steeple. The airborne museum
stands on the site of Hairon's barn. The town has been a gathering
point for returning veterans of all divisions."

There is a nice photo of the church and the village.

More can be found at:

which says:

"St. Mere Eglise was the principal objective of the 82nd Airborne on
the early morning of June 6. It was the site of three days of intense
fighting as the Germans repeatedly counter attacked in attempts to
retake the strategic town from the occupying American paratroopers.
The village is perhaps best remembered for its church, in the center
of the town square, where Paratrooper John Steel (sic) of the 505th
PIR became trapped when his parachute was ensnared by a steeple. He
watched helplessly as the rest of his company was killed by the
waiting Germans.

The stained-glass windows of the church are a tribute to those who
liberated St. Mere Eglise. At the upper left are airborne wings. At
the upper right is the parachute and glider that made up the badge of
American Airborne Command. The lower left cut-out shows the insignia
of the 82nd Airborne Division (AA for "All American Division"). The
faint parachutes at the lower right are a constant motif in the
windows. The symbol of the Free French (the Cross of Lorraine) is
shown bottom center."

There are photographs of the windows.

Jack's Travel Guide at:

describes the events and has a photo of the effigy hanging from the
church, as does Doug's Photos:

(third row down, photo on right, click to enlarge), which shows the
scale a bit better.

Another site has a more detailed account of the action in Ste Mere
Eglise at:

This is a tour guide description:

"One of the most disastrous drops (in a night filled with disasters)
occurred in Ste.-Mère-Eglise. Around midnight, a stray incendiary bomb
had set fire to the house of Monsieur Harion, located to the east of
the square. Wakened by the mayor and the tolling of the church bell,
the townspeople turned out in large numbers to form a bucket brigade
supervised by members of the German garrison. (The hand pump used that
night still sits on the east side of the square.) While the house
continued to burn, the drone of planes could be heard over the tolling
bell. The firefighters, looking skyward, saw ghostly silhouettes
drifting down on them. Two sticks from the 1st and 2d battalions had
gotten their green jump light directly over the village. Illuminated
by light from the burning house and tracers from German AA guns, the
paratroopers were easy targets for the Germans below. Few survived.
One who did was Private John Steele, whose parachute caught on the
steeple of the church in front of you. The wounded paratrooper hung
there limply for two hours, pretending to be dead, before the Germans
took him prisoner. The less fortunate hung from the trees all around
the square where they had been shot. Once the fire in Monsieur
Harion's house had burned itself out and the last of the paratroopers
were killed or captured, the German garrison (a transportation
company) quite inexplicably called it an evening and turned in.
A mile northeast of Ste.-Mère-Eglise, Lieutenant Colonel Edward
Krause, commanding the 3d Battalion, assembled ninety men within an
hour of landing and promptly ordered an advance on the village. Around
dawn, the German garrison was again turned out, this time by the
rattle of small-arms fire. Krause's men cleared the village in a rush,
capturing thirty Germans and killing another eleven. With
Ste.-Mère-Eglise in American hands, Krause ran a worn American flag to
the top of the village flagpole, a flag that he had carried with him
from Sicily."

The Sturminster Marshall site also describes what happened at twin
town Ste-Mère-Église at:

They say:

"On the night of the 6th June 1944 American regiments of the 82nd and
101st Airborne Divisions were parachuted into the area of
Ste-Mère-Église in successive waves. On the following morning at dawn
the town became the first place in France to be liberated, although
fighting continued in the area for several days. While the battle for
Ste-Mère-Église raged, Allied forces began landing on the beach of
Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, known ever since by its code name of 'Utah

Today, these events are commemorated by the Airborne Forces Museum in
Place du 6 juin in the centre of Ste-Mère-Église. A paratrooper called
John Steele was caught on the church tower, and a mannequin
paratrooper hangs there to this day. The paratrooper, though injured
and deafened by the triumphal church bells, survived his ordeal."

Pictures of the musem, known as the Musée de Aéroportées, in the
market square, can be found at:

The Trans Europe Tour site:

tells us that the museum is actually parachute-shaped !

An eye-witness account of the battle by Henry Langrehr , from
"Soldiers and Sons" 2001, can be found at:

This includes: 

"As I came across the church yard and saw John hanging from the church
roof and thought he was dead. I fought my way across the church
square. You can see your enemy's face and they are young too. The
fighting was close quarters and heavy for a short time. I know
something was protecting me, because bullets were flying everywhere."

Finally at:

There is a long article originally published June 17th 2001 in the
Knoxville News-Sentinel, describing the whole action from the point of
view of film maker Ken Russell, who apparently was a member of the
505th and was himself caught on the church roof, above John Steele.
It's a graphic account of a horrific night.

The paratrooper's name is variously spelled "Steel" and "Steele" in
different accounts., and he is described as hanging from two to eight
hours. One source attributes him to the 101st instead of the 505th.

has photographs of uniforms and equipment,  badges, and some of the
museum exhibits.

The World War ll Pilots site at:

has a detailed description  of the Three-One-Five Group's D-day
experiences around Ste. Mere Eglise, when the 315th sent in 844
paratroopers and 41,236 pounds of equipment. Other groups, including
the 505th and British 38 and 46 Groups took part.

There's a very comprehensive list of D-Day links at

These include links to a description of the 506th's part in the
action, and at:

there is an American Experience page on the landings which includes
details of all euipment and supplies carried by the men down to the
emergency rations which included chewing gum.

I was hoping some references to a scale model of John Steele would
turn out to be him, but they turn out to be of a Canadian Mountie of
the same name!

Thank you for an interesting question. As you see, each account adds a
little bit to the story.

Search Terms:
"Ste. Mere Eglise Normandy"
"paratrooper John Steele"

Clarification of Answer by angy-ga on 11 Oct 2002 02:12 PDT
Thank you - I found it a quite fascinating story. And, no, I turned up
nothing at all on his later life; I did look, because I was curious
britnurse-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Fantastic research on your part -- far more info than I expected. 
Just one thing:  Even when I did get his name right, I could never
find out any more about John Steele: his life in captivity and after,
until his death in 1963.  I suppose no one has written a biography. 
Pity.  But that doesn't detract from the info you sent me.  Now I know
why I (and almost everyone else, it seems) use Google!  Molly

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