If you have seen the movie The Longest Day you are familiar with the small town of Sainte-Mère-Église. You may even feel you have been there before when visiting – and you have virtually since some scenes of the movie were filmed on-site. There is a wonderful, immersive, interactive museum in town dedicated to the 82nd and the 101st Airborne Divisions who parachuted into Normandy in advance of the D-Day landings.
Sainte-Mère-Église is where paratrooper John Steele’s parachute got snagged on the church tower in the center of town as he attempted to land outside town. He hung from the belfry for two hours, pretending to be dead, before the Germans in town took him prisoner (he later escaped). There is a monument to Steele on the church – with a model of a paratrooper hanging from the tower. The story of the paratroopers and their role played in the success of D-Day is also immortalized in a stained glass window in the church.
The Airborne Museum is across the street from the church in town and well worth the time. It is spread across several buildings with many displays.
The WACO building is home to a WACO glider that you can walk through and start to immerse yourself in the feelings and experiences of the paratroopers of D-Day. There are mannequins in the glider so you feel how close people were in the plane, and you also start to understand the camaraderie people felt after spending time together in these planes. There are all kinds of memorabilia in the museum – ration tins, helmets, uniforms, books, signs, even the French Francs and French phrasebooks US forces received for their arrival in France.
The C-47 building has a complete C-47 carrier in it. Again we walked through as if we were part of the crew and were preparing to jump. There are the sounds of war – gun shots, voices, radios, and transmissions. I can not imagine being in a plane like that and jumping out into the darkness. In addition to the plane there is a display that includes a model of Eisenhower at a Jeep inspiring the troops before they leave for their mission.
The final amazing building is the Operation Neptune Building.This building is 100% immersive. You truly become a paratrooper and prepare to take off from England, board the plane, and prepare to jump into Sainte-Mère-Église and then engage in on-ground battle and movements. This is one of the best museum exhibits and experiences I have had. The building is very new, opened in 2016 – you can see they used the best technology available to allow us to actually experience the events of history versus just read them.
Sainte-Mère-Église is a little bit off the beaten path if staying in Caen or towards Honfleur, however this museum is truly worth the time it takes to get to there as well as the time spent experiencing each building and the exhibits.
- This is a must-do. Be sure to add this Museum to your list of places to go when in Normandy.
- The Museum is very immersive. If you or anyone in your party has an aversion to immersive experiences you may want to skip this Museum – but still go to town and see the monument at the Church.