Today if you were to make the journey to France and visit the small town of Sainte-Mère-Eglise you would notice the mannequin of a paratrooper hanging from a parachute caught on the church steeple.
Sainte-Mère-Eglise was the first French town to be liberated by Allied soldiers after American paratroopers fell from the clouds and touched down on occupied soil. Unfortunately, some of the paratroopers did not survive the jump–as they were easy floating targets for German soldiers on the ground.
One of the surviving paratroopers did not land on solid ground, instead, through an unusual course of events, his parachute was caught on a church steeple, leaving him hanging by a thread. He tried to cut himself down, but with a slip of the hand, his knife was on the ground. The paratrooper hung there for hours. He “played dead” in an effort to try and deceive German soldiers. He hung for so long, he began to fear that he would no longer have to play dead–but that he would actually be dead. In the end, his capture was inevitable, he was spotted by two German soldiers who quickly cut him loose and took him prisoner. Four hours after being captured, however, the paratrooper escaped out a back window of the house where he was held captive. He then miraculously rejoined his division.
This man was John Steele, described as an ordinary man who believed in the fight for freedom. John was not the only man to end up snagged by a church steeple, we know that two other men, John Ray and Kenneth Russel, also landed on and around the church that day. Over the years there has been slight controversy of the accounts that happened that morning; we may never truly know the exact events that played out. However, one thing is for certain, John’s legacy is far from ordinary. His story has been referenced and retold in numerous books, movies, and video games over the years, and until John’s death in 1969, he enjoyed every minute of it.
The truth is always important; and the important truth in this story, of which we are absolutely certain, is that this mannequin does not merely represent John Steele and his bravery. It represents the bravery of every young man who fell through the clouds and into France that unforgettable day on June 6, 1944.