Private John Steele…The Rest of the StoryBy
Private John Steele survived his ill-fated landing on the church at Ste. Mere Eglise in Normandy with a bullet wound to his foot and temporary deafness. His parachute canopy caught on the church’s spire and left him hanging with his head near the constantly ringing church bells.
Unfortunately, he was the only survivor of his “stick” (a squad of paratroopers usually consisting of between 17-19 men) that jumped on D-Day. However, some disagree that Private Steele was the sole survivor. Perhaps one other paratrooper survived after his parachute caught in a tree in Ste. Mere Eglise. He cut himself loose from his harness with his jump knife and ran to safety. Only later did he discover that he had cut off his thumb cutting his harness.
But back to Private Steele…he played dead while hanging from his parachute, but the Germans eventually captured and took him to Cherbourg in Normandy for interrogation where he remained until liberated by the US Army’s 4th Infantry Division three weeks after D-Day. To his credit, he did not reveal any useful information to the Germans during interrogation.
Private Steele lived in relative obscurity in Philadelphia after the war until the movie, The Longest Day, came out in 1962. The movie was a big hit and supposedly Private Steele never had to pay for his beer in Philly bars when he mentioned to his fellow patrons that he was the real life paratrooper hanging from the church’s spire in the movie. He died in 1969 at the age of 57.
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