D-Day's Pre-Dawn Paratroopers

Forever honored in church windows

Phil Briggs
June 05, 2018 - 2:50 pm

Sgt Fay Conroy

Among the stories of heroism and valor associated with D-Day, one of my favorites is a tale captured forever in the windows of a church.

Just before 2:00 am on June 6th, 1944, the sky filled with hundreds of American paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division.  Below them was the town of Sainte Mere Eglise, which was occupied by the Germans and burning from the air strikes intended to weaken their position. 

As the Paratroopers descended they became easy targets for the startled Germans on the ground.  Illuminated by the fires, many were killed while others landed in the flooded fields surrounding the town. 

Sgt Fay Conroy

One of those paratroopers was Pvt. John Steele of F Company, 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. During his landing, Steele's parachute got caught in the steeple of a church in the middle of the town square. Shot in the foot, Steele hung there for hours pretending to be dead.

Eventually cut down by the Germans, who were trying to retrieve whatever they could from him, they were shocked to discover he was very much alive.

Although he was briefly taken prisoner, he was able to escape later that morning as the tanks that landed at nearby Utah beach triumphantly arrived, sending the Germans into retreat and making Sainte Mere Eglise, the first town in France to be liberated.

In honor of Steele, a uniformed mannequin hangs from a parachute and rigging from the church's the steeple.

But Steele was not the only American the town remembers. These brave Allied troops have been memorialized forever in the stained glass windows of the church. 

Sgt Fay Conroy

One depicts the Virgin Mary and child above a burning Sainte Mere Eglise with paratroopers and planes around her. An inscription below the figures reads: "This stained glass was completed with the participation of Paul Renaud and Sainte Mere, for the memory of those who, with their courage and sacrifice, liberated Sainte Mere Eglise and France."

A second window is Saint Michael, the patron saint of paratroopers. The 82nd Airborne Division, the lion of Normandy, the Sainte Mere Eglise insignia and symbols for each of the combat jumps made by the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II are also represented in the window. 

Sgt Fay Conroy

With each passing year, so pass a few more veterans, who were part of the greatest amphibious military assault in history, D-Day or it's official name, "Operation Overlord".

So it's only appropriate that these brave soldiers are honored in a house of the Lord, so their glory may live forever in stained glass.


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