SAINTE-MERE-EGLISE, France (AP) – Philip Jutras, a World War II veteran who devoted three decades to keeping alive the memory of the Normandy invasion, has died at his home in Sainte-Mere-Eglise, the first town liberated by the Americans, a family friend said Tuesday. He was 87.

Jutras, a Maine native who for decades ran the Airborne Museum here, died Sunday from a head injury received in a fall down the stairs at his home three days earlier, according to Therese Leonard, who lives with the Jutras family.

“It’s really awful that he left us before the 60th” anniversary of D-Day on June 6, Leonard said. “It’s too bad.”

A well-known figure, Jutras appeared briefly in the 1998 Steven Spielberg movie “Saving Private Ryan.”

On May 27, 2002, during a visit to Normandy by U.S. President George W. Bush, Jutras gave a presentation of a stained glass window in the local church portraying the town’s liberation by U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions. More than 10,000 troops parachuted into Sainte-Mere-Eglise around midnight June 5, 1944, in the first operation of D-Day.

Jutras landed on Utah Beach after the D-Day landing. His supply unit outfit moved on to Sainte-Mere-Eglise. There, Jutras’ destiny played out years later when he returned to marry a local woman, Antoinette Castel, whom he had met while lodging with her family in the war years.

Jutras, who was born in Wells in 1916, returned to the United States immediately after the war, eventually becoming a Maine state senator. He served in the State Senate in the 1965 session and in the House in the 1969 and 1971 sessions.

After his first wife died, he returned to this Normandy town in 1972, marrying Ms. Castel.

Jutras volunteered to run the Airborne Museum and amassed one of the region’s best collections: a C-47 transport, a Waco glider, a halftrack, a tank, uniforms from the privates and generals, shaving soap, letters home.

“To me, this isn’t a museum,” Jutras said a decade ago as France prepared to celebrate the 50th anniversary of D-Day. “It’s a shrine to those who liberated Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France and Europe.”

Jutras served as a link for visiting U.S. veterans of World War II, maintaining contacts and updating collections of newspaper clippings and photographs, according to Leonard.

Funeral services were scheduled for Thursday at the local church, where he was to be buried. The U.S. Embassy said it is sending two representatives to the funeral, from the Defense attache’s office and the consul of Rennes, in western France.

Jutras is survived by two daughters from his first marriage and by his French wife.

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