John Steele dummy on Sainte Mère Eglise
John Steele dummy on Sainte Mère Eglise

The Legend of John Steele, American Paratrooper

Under the cloak of night, the skies above Normandy throbbed with the hum of aircraft, each one pregnant with the promise of liberation and fraught with the peril of war. Among the brave souls aboard these steel beasts was Paratrooper John Steele, his heart pounding in rhythm with the engines, as the fateful hour approached. Clad in his battle gear, every piece of equipment meticulously checked.

As the green light blinked, signaling the leap into the unknown, Steele and his comrades hurled themselves into the void, their silhouettes swallowed by the dark maw of war-torn France. The world spun in a maelstrom of wind and adrenaline, yet Steele’s semi automatic M1 Garand rifle, secured by its trusty sling, remained steadfast against him, a constant companion in the chaos.

Fate, however, had its own designs. Steele’s descent became a flight not just into enemy territory but into legend. His parachute ensnared on the church spire of Sainte-Mère-Église, he dangled precariously, a specter in the night. Steele played dead, suspended between heaven and earth, a silent witness to the unfolding drama below.

After playing dead for hours hanging from the church spire in Sainte-Mère-Église, John Steele was eventually captured by German soldiers. Despite his precarious and vulnerable position, Steele survived the ordeal. His capture, however, was not the end of his story in World War II. Steele was taken as a prisoner of war but managed to escape from the Germans. After his escape, he rejoined the fight, continuing to serve with his unit for the remainder of the war.

After the war, Steele returned to his normal life and became a celebrity of sorts, known for his extraordinary experience during the D-Day invasion. His story, particularly the part where he was caught on the church steeple in Sainte-Mère-Église, made him a symbol of the courage and unexpected turns of war. Steele’s legacy lives on, not just in military history but also in the town of Sainte-Mère-Église, where a dummy paratrooper hangs from the church spire in his honor, commemorating his remarkable story and the broader efforts of the Allied forces during the Normandy invasion.

John Steele passed away on May 16, 1969, due to cancer.

John Steele’s remarkable story of being caught on the church steeple during the D-Day invasion of Normandy is most famously depicted in the 1962 film The Longest Day.” In this movie, Steele’s experience is one of the many vignettes that illustrate the heroism and complexity of the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944. The film is based on Cornelius Ryan’s book of the same name and is renowned for its detailed and accurate portrayal of D-Day events. John Steele is portrayed by actor Red Buttons, and the scene of him hanging from the church steeple in Sainte-Mère-Église has become one of the most iconic moments in World War II cinema.

John Steele, American Paratrooper
John Steele, American Paratrooper