1944 Was a Terrible Year for the Nilands
Orders were sent to find Fritz Niland of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, whose paratroopers had jumped into Normandy on June 5th. Nine days after D-Day, Fritz stopped by the 82nd Airborne Division to see his brother Robert, and discovered that he had been on killed on June 6th. The same morning that Robert was killed, his brother Preston, a 4th Infantry Division lieutenant, led his men ashore on Utah Beach. Preston Niland and his platoon were ordered to take out a troublesome artillery position. On June 7th, 1944, Lieutenant Niland led his men against that position, and fell, mortally wounded. Within three weeks, tragedy befell three Niland brothers, and their parents received the terrible news about three of their sons within a brief span of time.
Their only consolation was a letter from their son Frederick, sent before he had learned the fates of his siblings. In it, he wrote: “Dad’s Spanish-American war stories are going to have to take a backseat when I get home“. Orders were quickly dispatched from the War Department to Normandy, to find Frederick, and return him to his grief-stricken parents. The task fell to Father Francis Sampson, chaplain of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. He tracked down Fritz – albeit in less dramatic fashion than in the fictional Saving Private Ryan. By then, Fritz had learned that he had lost his brother Robert. His grief grew when the chaplain told him about his two other siblings.