Church in Sainte-Mère-Église with parachute memorial and effigy of John Steele.
On the night before D-Day (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 0100 hours, 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 in one of the pinnacles of the church tower, causing the cables on his parachute to stretch to their full length, leaving him hanging on the side of the church to witness the carnage. 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, 505th 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.