Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC.
Clay Aiken Sings 'God Bless the U.S.A.'
Remembering John M. Steele
'Longest Day' Is Vivid Memory
The longest day has been immortalized in books and on the movie screen. The biggest day in World War II also lives wherever John M. Steele is.
June 6, 1944, D-Day for the Allied invasion of Normandy, is portrayed in the parade of autographed pictures, newspaper/magazine articles, medals and documents that line the walls of a special room in the Wilmingtonian's home.
That was the headline and lead for a feature I wrote for the Wilmington Morning Star in 1963 about one of 13,000 paratroopers dropped into France during the D-Day invasion. Like many, Private Steele missed the drop zone and was carried over the town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise where his chute caught on a church steeple when he tried to steer away from a burning building.
At the Washington premiere of the 1962 movie The Longest Day, John met Red Buttons who portrayed him in the film. "Thanks a lot, John," the actor quipped. You got me four days of work with 20th Century!"
"He's a nice guy and a real character!" the original steeple climber said with a grin.
Pvt. Steele (third from right) and team prior to D-Day invasion.
In the first hour of the invasion, Steele hit the church roof and slid down, his chute wrapping around the spire. When he tried to free himself, pain shot through his leg and his combat knife clattered to the street below.
With the battle raging all around him, the trooper wisely decided to play dead and dangled on the spire for 2 1/2 hours. Later, a group of German soldiers, intent on stripping the "body" of cigarettes and other rations, discovered he was still alive and took him prisoner.
Three days later during an American tank attack, he and another wounded soldier leaped through a window and escaped to friendly lines. Following two weeks in an English hospital, Pvt. Steele returned to the war and was among those who broke through to Bastogne where the 101st was surrounded in the Battle of the Bulge.
For these actions and his wounds, the soldier was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor and the Purple Heart.
I especially remember John Steele and The Longest Day on Memorial Day. When I interviewed him the summer before my junior year in college, he had cancer and was planning to enter a veterans administration hospital for cobalt treatments.
John Steele monument in Ste. Mere Eglise, France.
According to his bio at Wikepedia, he died on May 16, 1969, in Fayetteville, just two weeks short of the 25th anniversary of D-Day.
An honorary citizen of the first village liberated by the Americans in June 1946, John (I'm pretty sure I called him "Mr. Steele" in '63) visited Ste. Mere-Eglise several times before his death. His story is commemorated in the Airborne Forces Museum in the center of town.
National Symphony Orchestra in concert. (Capitol Concerts photo)
Events Salute Those Who Served
At graveside ceremonies, parades, concerts, and other festivities in Washington, DC, and throughout the nation, America this weekend pays tribute to those who have served and sacrificed for their country.
Featuring the National Symphony, a mix of dramatic readings, documentary footage, and live musical performances, the National Memorial Day Concert is slated for 8 p.m. ET Sunday on the west lawn of the US Capitol.
The concert, which will be broadcast on PBS stations live and in an immediate rerun, will also be seen overseas by US military personnel in more than 175 countries and aboard more than 200 US Navy ships at sea on the American Forces Radio and Television Network.
The National Memorial Day Parade, an annual tradition of remembrance with patriotic marches and floats in Washington, DC, is slated for 2 p.m. Monday. The 2010 event, which will include a special tribute to the US Marine Corps, will be televised live to US service members around the world.
On Monday, Vice-President Joe Biden will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.
At 3 p.m. local time, according to the 2000 National Moment of Remembrance Act passed to emphasize the meaning of Memorial Day, all Americans should "voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect.'"
On Memorial Day, we honor the John M. Steeles of our lives. Have a very special Memorial Day Weekend!