These are the real brothers that inspired 'Saving Private Ryan'
The 1998 movie “Saving Private Ryan” is one of the all-time great war movies. While much of the movie is a fictional account, the premise behind Capt. Miller’s mission is based on a true story. That is the story of the Niland brothers — Edward, Preston, Robert, and Frederick — from Tonawanda, New York.
The two middle brothers, Preston and Robert, had enlisted prior to the beginning of the War. After America entered the war the oldest, Edward, and youngest, Frederick, known as Fritz to his friends, joined up in November 1942.
Because of the tragedy of the Sullivan brothers aboard the USS Juneau earlier that year, the brothers were split up and sent to different units around the Army.
Edward became an enlisted pilot, with the rank of Technical Sergeant, of a B-25 Mitchell bomber flying in the Burma-India-China theatre.
Preston was commissioned into the infantry and assigned to Company C, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division.
Robert and Fritz both became paratroopers. Robert served with Company D, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. Fritz joined Company H, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division.
As fate would have it, three of the brothers found themselves preparing for the invasion of mainland Europe.
However, before the brothers could start their “Great Crusade” to liberate Europe, Edward was shot down somewhere over Burma. He was listed as Missing in Action, but this usually carried a presumption of death at the time, especially if he had fallen into the hands of the Japanese.
Then, in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, Robert and Fritz joined over 23,000 Allied paratroopers in cracking Fortress Europe.
Although Fritz’s unit, 3rd Battalion, 501st PIR, was supposed to be the division reserve, the misdrops meant they were thrust into action in ad hoc groups. These forces were able to secure vital causeways, bridges, and locks allowing the 4th Infantry Division, and Niland brother Preston, to exit Utah beach later that day.
Elsewhere, Robert Niland had landed outside of Ste. Mere-Eglise with the rest of the 505th as part of Mission Boston. After the 3rd Battalion was able to capture the town early in the morning, the 2nd Battalion linked up with it to establish a defensive perimeter.
When a strong German counter-attack came from the south, Robert Niland and the rest of D Company’s 3rd platoon were left to guard the northern approaches to the town in a small village called Neuville.
When two companies of Germans came at their position, they fought tenaciously to hold them off to buy time for their comrades to the south. When the position became untenable, Robert Niland, along with two other paratroopers, volunteered to stay behind and cover the platoon’s retreat toward Ste. Mere-Eglise.
While manning a machine gun in the face of the German onslaught, Robert Niland was killed in action.
That very same morning, Lt. Preston Niland led his men onto the shores of Utah beach as part of the seaborne invasion of Normandy. Though casualties were relatively light for the men of the 4th Infantry Division on Utah beach, the battles beyond would be much tougher.
Despite having made if off the beaches, the men of the 4th Infantry Division still had numerous gun batteries of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall to clear. The task of capturing the Crisbecq battery, which had already sunk the destroyer USS Corry, fell to Lt. Niland and his men.
On June 7, Niland led his men against the German position. During the heavy fighting Niland fell mortally wounded. The rest of his unit was repulsed. The battery would not fall until several days later to units of the 9th Infantry Division.
The Niland brothers’ parents received all three notifications in a very short amount of time. Their only condolence was a letter from Fritz informing them that “Dad’s Spanish-American War stories are going to have to take a backseat when I get home.”
Fritz was unaware of the fate of his brothers.
Also read: 10 brothers who received the Medal of Honor
When the War Department received word of the tragedy orders were dispatched to return Fritz Niland to the United States. That task fell to the regimental Chaplin, Father Francis Sampson. Sampson located Fritz, who had been searching for his brother in the 82nd and began to paperwork to send him home.
Returning to the United States in 1944, Fritz served for the remainder of the war as an MP in New York.
Then, in May 1945, the Nilands received some rather unexpected news. Edward was found alive in a Burmese POW camp when it was liberated by British forces.
He had survived bailing out of his plane, several days in the jungle, and nearly a year as a prisoner of the Japanese. During his captivity he had lost significant weight and returned to New York at a meager 80 pounds.
The other two Niland brothers, Preston and Robert, are buried side-by-side in the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.
This is how Japan plans to hunt enemy subs
Japan decided to build a custom maritime patrol plane instead of converting and airliner - and the P-1 could blow away the competition.
This company owns a private fleet of aerial refueling tankers
Omega Air Refueling claims to be the only private air refueling service in the world.
VA chief fires head of department hospital in DC — again
The Department of Veterans Affairs says it's fired Brian Hawkins -- once again -- citing audits that found mismanagement at the facility.
This Special Forces medic's bravery in Vietnam has earned him the Medal of Honor
President Trump will award the Medal of Honor to retired Army medic Gary M. Rose who risked his life to provide care to his comrades in the Vietnam War.
These American WWII vets were awarded France's highest honor
Ten California men who fought overseas with the US forces have been awarded the French government's highest honor for their World War II service.
5 more epic military movie mistakes you have missed
With so many important aspects to pay attention to, filmmakers commonly make mistakes. Luckily we've brought our government-provided attention to detail!
The Air Force is getting ready to deploy this fearsome new gunship
The USAF plans to declare its newest gunship, the AC-130J Ghostrider, ready for combat this month, but the aircraft won’t actually deploy for a few years.
Turkey raises alarm with purchase of Russian-made S-400 missile system
Turkey finalized its purchase of the Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile system earlier this month, which can be used against NATO and US planes.
This is what the Afghans think of America's new war plan
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the new US strategy in Afghanistan stands a better chance of working than previous plans.
THE MIGHTY SURVEY GIVE-AWAY
We want to hear your thoughts. Complete our survey for a chance to win 1 of 5 gaming consoles