Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sainte-Mère-Église, France - June 10, 2008

Sainte-Mère-Église straddles the N13 road on the Cherbourg peninsula, the major route connecting the D-Day landing zone and Cherbourg. As such, it was a key Allied objective to seize this tiny town from the Germans and thus impede any enemy efforts to send reinforcements from the heavily fortified port.
This task, Operation Boston,
fell to mixed units of 82nd and 101st U.S. Airborne Divisions who started dropping on the town as early as 1:40 AM on June 6th, 1944. Heavy casualties were taken, partly due to light from burning building illuminating the paratroopers and making them easy targets for small arms fire. Perhaps the most famous incident of the night involved paratrooper John Steele of the 505th PIR. His parachute caught on the spire of the town church and he spent the night feigning death while dangling there and watching events unfold in the square below. This, and other incidents from the same attack, were woven into the movie The Longest Day.
The outcome was that the town was taken by the early morning of June
6th and tenuously held with small arms until the afternoon of June 7th, at which time tanks and equipment began to arrive from Omaha Beach. Along with several other towns in the area, Sainte-Mère-Église claims to have been the first one to be liberated and with this version of events, it would be difficult to dispute this.
Somewhat belatedly - on November 6, 2007 - Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France, conferred the Legion of Honor medal on six of the US combatants involved in this action. Click here to see dangling paratrooper.

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