The Longest Day of John Steele
(Revised and Edited)
Private John M. Steele (1912–1969) was the American paratrooper made famous in the movie, The Longest Day. He literally landed from the air in Sainte-Mère-Église, the first village in Normandy liberated by the Americans on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
On the night of the D-Day invasion (June 5–6, 1944), American soldiers of the 82nd Airborne parachuted into the area west of Ste-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 0100hrs, the town square was well-lit and filled with German soldiers and villagers when two sticks (planeloads of paratroopers) from the 1st and 2nd battalions were dropped in error directly over the village.
The paratroopers were easy targets and Steele was one of only a few non-casualties. His parachute was caught on the steeple of the village church in Ste-Mère-Église, leaving him hanging from its roof-top to witness the carnage below. The wounded paratrooper hung there limply for two hours, pretending to be dead, before the Germans took him prisoner. 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, Steele was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor and the Purple Heart for being wounded in combat.
But his story as a brave soldier starts much earlier and continued well past the episode in Sainte Mère Église. There is much more to the story of paratrooper John Steele.
There are some inconsistencies in various stories that have been cobbled together about him, but it is clear that John Steele was a fearless and brave soldier. He had volunteered his service as a paratrooper and had earlier served in the 82nd Airborne Division in North Africa, prior to parachuting into combat in Sicily with F Company, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. On the night of 9 July 1943, John broke his left leg and was sent to a hospital in North Africa. After he recovered he returned to Italy and fought with his unit from Salerno to Naples.
During his jump into Ste. Mère Église on the night of 5-6 June 1944, John was wounded by a shell fragment and was unable to steer his parachute. As he dangled from the church spire while a battle was going on below him, he tried to cut himself free but his jump knife slipped from his hand. He dangled helplessly for more than two hours, until a German soldier named Rudolf May cut him down and took him prisoner. Despite being wounded, he escaped three days later and rejoined a nearby Allied unit. He was then transferred to a hospital in England for recovery.
After recovery from his latest wounds, he returned to action and parachuted into action near Nijmegen, Netherlands where he participated in the liberation of that city. In November of 1944 he participated in the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes region near Reims, France. When the Allies crossed the Rhine River into Germany in early 1945, John Steele was there, advancing with his unit from Frankfurt to the crossing of the Elbe River, when World War II ended. He finally returned to the United States in September 1945.
John Steele returned to Ste. Mère Église several times since the war and was made an honorary citizen there. Although he wished to be buried there, that dream was not realized. He died of cancer in 1969, at the age of 57 in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
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Last paragraph city of 'Ninejen' is not existing, it needs to be 'Nijmegen':-). Could you correct his? Best regards from Holland/The Netherlands.
Spelling change made in paragraph 7. Nijmegen should now appear in corrected copy. Thank you for your diligence.