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Kentuckian attends 75th D-Day in Normandy, France

75th D-Day ceremony in Sainte Mere Eglise, France, honors Erick Harris’ great-uncle, U.S. paratrooper John Steele, a War World II legend

Erick Harris, Jackson Purchase Energy director, West Paducah, Kentucky, with Sainte Mere Eglise boys dressed as U.S. soldiers. Harris was invited to the 75th D-Day, June 6, 2019, to honor his great-uncle, famous paratrooper John Steele. Photo: Jean-Marie Lemoigne
Church of Sainte Mere Eglise with D-Day memorial honoring John Steele paratrooper on the belfry. Photo: alcatrax1981
Memorial depicting D-Day's U.S. paratrooper John Steele at the Sainte Mere Eglise church, Normandy, France. Photo: efwod
2019 WWII veteran ceremony in Sainte Mere Eglise thanking U.S. soldiers for liberating the town during D-Day invasion, Normandy, France. Photo: Jean-Marie Lemoigne
2019 WWII veteran ceremony in Sainte Mere Eglise thanking U.S. soldiers for liberating the town during D-Day invasion, Normandy, France. Photo: Jean-Marie Lemoigne
American cemetery in Omaha Beach, Normandy, France. Photo: Massimo Santi
American tank at Utah Beach, Normandy, France, commemorating invasion landing of D-Day, June 6, 1944. Photo: Mjucha

Erick Harris landed in Sainte Mere Eglise, Normandy, France, on Tuesday, June 4, for the town’s 75th D-Day ceremony to honor his great-uncle, famous U.S. paratrooper John Marvin Steele.

Steele of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment landed on the church steeple of the Sainte Mere Eglise historic church during the early morning of June 6, 1944, during the country-wide air drops of Allied forces. Sainte Mere Eglise was the first town in France that the Allies liberated during World War II.

Having lost his knife and unable to cut himself down, he hang there for two or three hours, until German soldiers stationed in the church’s bell tower noticed him in the dark and took him as a prisoner. Four days later Steele escaped and rejoined his division when U.S. troops attacked Sainte Mere Eglise. They captured 30 Germans and killed 11 others.

The town decided to hang a mannequin named “Big Jim” as a memorial of John Steele and what he did for their town.

“The mayor of Sainte Mere Eglise, Normandy, France, invited my father to come to the 75th D-Day ceremony. Since he could not go, he asked if my wife and I would go in his place,” says Harris.

Harris of West Paducah, Kentucky, and the board chairman of Jackson Purchase Energy, has been showered with thanks and questions in Sainte Mere Eglise. On the 75th D-Day anniversary date, June 6, Harris was interviewed by Television France One’s morning news, which is broadcast across France. He discussed the address book belonging to his great-uncle John, which he brought with him to share.

He attended other D-Day World War II veteran ceremonies thanking U.S. soldiers in Sainte Mere Eglise, which is just 10 kilometers from Utah Beach, where soldiers also landed.

On Sunday, June 8, Harris says, “I will meet the son of the German soldier who cut John down from the Sainte Mere Eglise 12th century church.”

Awarded the Bronze Star for valor and the Purple Heart for being wounded in combat, Steele died on May 16, 1969, in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

The incident was depicted in The Longest Day, a black and white 1962 epic war film based on Cornelius Ryan’s 1959 book by the same name about the D-Day landings at Normandy on June 6, 1944. Steele was played by Red Buttons and the movie also starred John Wayne.

Read more about famous U.S. paratrooper John Steele, who landed on the church steeple in Sainte Mere Eglise, during the June 6, 1944, D-Day night paratrooper air drop: NormandyAmericanHeroes.com.

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