The Pentagon Was Happy to Help With Saving Private Ryan
The Pentagon helped with Saving Private Ryan, which depicts the travails of fictional GIs assigned a special task amidst WWII’s Normandy Campaign. Their mission: to find Private Ryan of the 101st Airborne Division – the missing but presumed still alive last of four brothers, the rest of whom were killed in combat. It is based upon a real tragedy: the Niland Brothers. In WWII, Edward, Preston, Robert, and Frederick “Fritz” Niland, four sons of Michael and Augusta Niland of Tonawanda, New York, served in uniform. Preston and Robert had joined the US Army before America’s entry into the war, and the other two joined in 1942. They could not serve together because of the Sullivan Brothers tragedy, five US Navy siblings who perished when the ship aboard which they served together was sunk in 1942.
New rules prevented immediate family members from serving together, so the Nilands ended up in different units. Three served in the US Army: Preston in the 4th Infantry Division, Robert in the 82nd Airborne Division, Frederick in the 101st Airborne Division. Edward joined the US Army Air Forces. Then came 1944, a horrible year for the Nilands. In May, Edward’s B-25 Mitchell medium bomber was shot down over Burma. His parents received a telegram that he was missing, presumed dead. A few weeks later, Mr. and Mrs. Niland learned that Robert had been killed in Normandy on D-Day, June 6th, 1944, and Preston was killed nearby a day later. When higher ups heard, they determined Mr. and Mrs. Niland would not lose their last son.