The town's main claim to fame is that it played a significant part in the World War II Normandy landings because this village stood right in the middle of route N13, which the Germans would have most likely used on any significant counterattack on the troops landing on Utah and Omaha Beaches. In the early morning of 6 June 1944 mixed units of the U.S. 82nd Airborne and U.S. 101st Airborne Divisions occupied the town in Operation Boston, giving it the claim to be one of the first towns liberated in the invasion.
A famous incident involved paratrooper John Steele of the 505th PIR, whose parachute caught on the spire of the town church, and could only observe the fighting going on below. He escaped capture by feigning death until the town was taken the next day. The incident was portrayed in the movie The Longest Day.
Later that morning, about 0500, a force led by Lt. Colonel Edward C. Krause of the 505th PIR took the town with little resistance. Apparently the German garrison was confused and had retired for the rest of the night. However, heavy German counterattacks began later in the day and into the next. The lightly-armed troops held the town until reinforced by tanks from nearby Utah Beach in the afternoon of June 7. Other notable soldiers in the Allied assault on the town:
Krause and Vandervoort both received the Distinguished Service Cross for their actions in the capture of the town.
Henry Langrehr was also involved in the capture of Sainte-Mère-Église. He crashed through a greenhouse roof, as retold in the movie The Longest Day. On November 6, 2007 he received, along with five other men, the Legion of Honor medal from the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy.