82nd Airborne paratroopers cut down a 101st flag from an iconic bar on D-Day

Troopers didn't like the flag of their rival airborne division flying over Sainte-Mère-Église, a town the 82nd Airborne liberated on D-Day.
Joshua Skovlund Avatar
82nd Airborne Division 101st Airborne Division Normandy France
The moment right before an 82nd Airborne paratrooper cut down the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) flag that was waving above the famous Stop Bar in Sainte-Mère-Église, France during the 80th anniversary of D-Day celebrations. (Screen shots from Fancy_Fancy_Bear Instagram reel.)

Soldiers in the 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne divisions fought together on D-Day 80 years ago, but they carry on a fierce rivalry over hallowed spots the two liberated across Normandy. The latest chapter in that feud came this week when 82nd paratroopers took offense to a 101st flag flying over the Stop Bar in Sainte-Mère-Église, a town that 82nd paratroopers famously liberated on D-Day and have gathered at on D-Day anniversaries in the decades since.

A video emerged this week of an 82nd paratrooper climbing atop the Stop Bar in the town’s central square and cutting the 101st flag down as dozens of current and former paratroopers cheered from the streets below. The Stop Bar, in Sainte-Mère-Église central square, has long been a central meeting spot for 82nd troops and vets.

An 82nd paratrooper who was there told Task & Purpose what happened.

“The past few anniversaries we have in our drunken splendor mentioned that we want to take that filthy thing down because the 101st has never landed in Sainte-Mère-Église and that this is an 82nd town first and foremost,” the paratrooper said. “So 101st has no place to be in Sainte-Mère, so to have their flag above our stop bar is heresy.”

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The 101st flag, said the paratrooper, had flown over the bar for each of the last several D-Day anniversaries, which often serve as unofficial reunions for current troops and vets of the 82nd, which is known as the “All-American Division.” Sainte-Mère-Église was the site of some of its fiercest fighting during the invasion, including one of D-Day’s best known stories, in which 82nd paratrooper Pvt. John Steele landed on the roof of the town’s church, and hung there for over two hours. He was taken prisoner, but later escaped.

The church is visible in the background of the flag video.

“We have had multiple NCOs last year and the year before explicitly state: ‘Give me the order, give me the directive, you say the word,’” the paratrooper said. “From an E-5, to an E-6, to an E-7, and the request just goes up the chain. No one ever did anything in the past two years. However, this year, we finally pulled the trigger, and we executed what needed to be done.”

The rivalry over French turf between the 82nd and the 101st has been going strong since both units dropped thousands of paratroopers into Normandy during the D-Day invasion. While Sainte-Mère-Église was at the heart of the 82nd’s actions, the 101st seized an area around the town of Sainte Marie-du-Mont.   

But the paratrooper said it didn’t stop with their All-American flag flying high. Another flag had taken its place by the next day — possibly installed, the Americans suspect, by a secretive French resistance.

“Someone took down one of [the 82nd flags]  and replaced it with a French flag during the curfew hours,” the paratrooper said. “Now it appears that it’s zip-tied up there. So, we don’t know if it’s official or if it was carried out by just a couple of Vanguard-type hooligans of the French local populace.”

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