Cherbourg and Sainte-Mère-Eglise, June 5, 1994 – Eighteen days after leaving Montreal, the Royal Viking Sun docked in Cherbourg, France. It was impossible to take in all the land excursions. Sandra and I settled on a 25-mile bus excursion to Sainte-Mère-Eglise, the small village where Operation Overlord (as the Allied invasion of Normandy was called) was launched.
It was on June 5, 1944, with a heavy heart and knowing he was sending many of his troops to their certain death, that General Dwight D. Eisenhower launched the D-Day invasion and famously said, “Let’s go.” (Some historians claim Ike said, “OK, let’s go.”)
On June 6, 1944 at 0130, the day known as D-Day, hundreds of paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions parachuted during the night, and landed in and around the town of Ste-Mère-Eglise. Their mission was to clear the ground between the sea and Ste-Mère-Eglise, so that the troops landing on Utah Beach on June 6 could advance rapidly inland. Their mission mustn’t fail.
Private John Steele of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment became a legend when his parachute got caught on the church spire in town. He was shot through the foot and hung there in pain for two hours pretending to be dead before the Germans noticed he was alive and cut him down. One story has Pvt Steele escaping from the Germans in Ste-Mère-Eglise; another version has him being taken prisoner for two years, then escaping. (Red Buttons would portray Pvt Steele in the 1962 movie The Longest Day.)
On June 6 at 0430, the American flag was raised in front of the Town Hall, making Ste-Mère-Eglise the first town in France to be liberated from the Nazi occupation.
(Photo: Villagers from Ste-Mère-Eglise show their thanks to the Americans 50 years later, June 5, 1994.)
Excerpted from the upcoming memoir Author, Publisher, Marketing Man, 1990-2015, by William and Sandra McGee. Next post June 5, Part 2. All D-Day Posts