Description: Private John M. Steele was the American paratrooper made famous in the movie, "The Longest Day" who landed in St. Mère-Église, the first village in Normandy liberated by the Americans on D-Day - June 6th, 1944...
During the first night of Operation Overlord (June 5-6, 1944), American soldiers of the 82nd Airborne parachuted into the area west of St. 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 01:00 AM, 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 John Steele was one of only a few non-casualties. His parachute was caught in the steeple of the village church in St. 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. John 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, John Steele was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor and the Purple Heart John M. Steele died of cancer on May 16th, 1969 in Fayetteville, NC.