SME is located on the Cotentin peninsula of France and was ground zero for the D-Day liberation efforts. To the west lies the Merderet River (aka “The River that Runs With Blood”) and Utah Beach and the English Channel lie ten miles to the east. It is also bounded by the communes of Valognes to the North and Carentan to the South.
The region is known for its dairy production and horse breeding and the church at the center of town. The formal name of this church is “Église Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption de Sainte-Mére-Église.”
SME was founded in the 11th century and played an important part in the WWII Normandy landings. The village stood right in the middle of a route the Germans would have used for a counterattack on the troops landing on Utah and Omaha Beaches and it was an important first objective for the allies. This assignment was given to the US 82nd Airborne and the US 101st Airborne Divisions and it was one of the first towns liberated on D-Day.
In the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, one of the homes in the town caught fire (located where the Airborne Museum stands today). The German soldiers in the town were supervising a bucket brigade when American C-47 plans began flying overhead releasing their sticks of battle-ready soldiers. Unfortunately, the planes were off course and the troops were accidentally dropped over the town of SME. The fire illuminated the night sky and made the descending paratroopers easy targets for the Germans. Some American soldiers were sucked into the fire, many were shot before their feet touched the ground and many men found themselves hanging from trees and utility poles and were shot before they could cut themselves loose.
One famous happening that night involved paratrooper John Steele of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) who was trapped when his parachute caught on the spire of the town church. John was hit in the foot by a burst of flak and couldn’t control his parachute. He tried to free himself but was not successful. After two hours of playing dead, two German soldiers named Rudolf May and Alfons Jackl captured him. He was taken prisoner and his leg was treated. Three days later he escaped and found the troops of the US 3rd Battalion 505th PIR and was transferred to a hospital in England.
Today, the town of Ste. Mère pays tribute to John Steele and the many brave young men of the 82nd Airborne who gave their lives for the cause of freedom and to liberate this small yet strategically important village by continuously displaying a trapped soldier on the same spire that saved John Steele. Our drone camera flew in for a closer look at this stunning church and memorial one beautiful sunny afternoon in September.
Cinematography: Vincent Shade
Editing: Rick Romanowski