Airborne Museum (Sainte-Mère-Église)
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|Location||Sainte-Mère-Église 14, rue Eisenhower 50480|
|Collections||Military exhibits dealing with the 82nd and 101 Airborne Divisions, U.S. Army|
|Visitors||180 922 visitors in 2011|
The Airborne Museum (Musée Airborne) is a French museum dedicated to the memory of American paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions who parachuted into Normandy on the night of June 5–6, 1944. The museum is located in Sainte-Mère-Eglise.
The museum was chartered under a 1901 law, and opened in 1964 with the help of donations from both residents and veterans. The Museum is located in Sainte-Mère-Église, in the La Manche region of Normandy, close to the beaches used for landing on D-Day. Sainte-Mère-Église became famous because of paratrooper John Steele whose parachute snagged on the belfry of the church on June 6, 1944, leaving him suspended in the air. The aim of the museum is to honor the American airborne troops of the 82nd and 101st divisions.
The WACO building, shaped like a large parachute shroud, contains an authentic WACO glider, the only example in France. Visitors get to see a glider with models of soldiers getting ready for their flight. These gliders played a key role in transporting over 4000 troops as well as vehicles, ammunition and other military equipment, and rations for the soldiers. The museum also contains a wide variety of antique items from that era. This building is located on the same spot as the house which caught fire on the night of June 5, 1944, as shown in the movie The Longest Day. For the 20th anniversary of the Airborne Museum, General James M. Gavin, who led the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II, attended the ceremonies.
In 1983, in the presence of Bob Murphy (pathfinder of the 82nd Airborne Division), the inauguration of a second parachute-shaped building, which covers a C-47 plane, took place. This plane was involved in airdrop operations on Sainte-Mère-Église on the night of June 5 to 6, 1944 and in the missions that followed. This building allows the public to "assist" in the preparations for the biggest military operation of the War in England, June 5, 1944, at the bottom of a real C-47. They can observe a diorama of the different recruits from the war with General Eisenhower before D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. The public can also view a film entitled Combat pour la Liberté (Fight for Freedom) that describes life during the German occupation and the liberation of Sainte-Mère-Église and the Cotentin Peninsula
For the 70th anniversary of D-Day, a third building named Operation Neptune, opened its doors to the public. The latter was the first assault phase of Overlord plan (code name for the Battle of Normandy). The building was inaugurated in presence of veterans of World War II. Covering an area of 1200m², Operation Neptune is composed of rooms with realistic scenography that allows visitors to relive the D-Day experience. The visitor is first invited to board a C-47 airplane in England on June 5, 1944. Then the Battle of Sainte-Mère-Église unfolds including fighting in the marshes and for the bridges before the battle of the hedgerows. The tour ends in a hall with more evocative exhibits.
In May 2015, work was begun on a fourth building that will be annexed to Operation Neptune, the center of a Franco-American Ronald Reagan Conference center. In 2016 the Airborne Museum will open this new structure, which will hold temporary exhibitions, lectures, seminars and will feature a large cinema auditorium.
The museum holds more than 10,000 items, including a WACO Glider, a C-47 cargo plane, General James Gavin’s helmet, General Matthew Ridgway's, General J. Lawton Collins’s jacket, and John Steele’s decorations. The items on exhibit from World War II, were used by paratroopers who jumped into Sainte-Mère-Église during the Battle of Normandy. The museum contains mostly American equipment, but there are some replicas of German military equipment from the period. There are at least a hundred uniformed dummies used to model uniforms and equipment of the period.
Entryway to a C-47 aircraft