"The rifleman fights without promise of either reward or relief. Behind every river there's another hill - and behind that hill another river. After weeks or months in the line only a wound can offer him the comfort of safety, shelter, and a bed. Those who are left to fight, fight on, evading death but knowing that with each day of evasion they have exhausted one more chance for survival. Sooner or later, unless victory comes this chase must end on the litter or in the grave."

--General Omar Bradley

For the first time in motion picture history, Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan (SPR) has accurately portrayed using computer filmaking technology--the automatic weapons fire-swept 20th century battlefield, tracers and all--- to include the impact of these bullets onto soft human flesh---and the result is a "reality check" just short of experiencing the real thing. An excellent web site with video clips is the Encyclopaedia Brittanica one:

Imagining D-Day

SPR is important as a common frame of reference. In fact, I would make watching SPR the FIRST event in Army basic training followed by a lecture by a charismatic speaker on WHAT WAR IS. Do this BEFORE you start throwing bunks and wall lockers over etc. We are failing to reach into the hearts/minds of our young Soldiers and making them realize why what we do is important and requires their FULL CONSCIOUS EFFORT. We are still training everyone like a piece of feces, stay-in-your-lane draftee Army reliving WWII. We need a PROFESSIONAL ARMY. You don't get this by treating people like feces, have them endure it then revert back to their real selves. We need to change the Soldier permanently into a THINKING WARRIOR, not an arrogant dumb-ass marine. A Soldier who is going to know things like "sticky bombs". We need to teach our Soldiers all kinds of "tricks" like Larteguy says:

What follows is more about what can be learned from this fine film to save Soldiers today than just nit-picking the technical errors of the movie. This film is a great learning tool as it gives quickly to many people a common experience, though vicarious---its amazingly accurate----so the viewer will relate better to what he has seen to what we need today. SPR is a story about how a patrol is sent ahead of sea landing troops to find a Airborne trooper named Ryan whose other brothers were killed in the war and bring him back home safely so at least one offspring of the Ryan family survives WWII. The story is derived from a true story from WWII, when legendary Army Paratrooper chaplain Francis Sampson was sent after jumping in on D-Day with the 101st Airborne to return the last surviving Niland brother home (see email from Cate Niland to Stephen Ambrose). Leading the mission is a 2d Ranger Battalion Captain John Miller played by Tom Hanks whose company is decimated in the initial assault on the beaches.

1. The German Army was better prepared than we were in WWII

The first thing you realize as the film begins on Normandy beach in WWII, is that the Germans were better prepared than we were for ground fighting. While their inter-locking fields of machine gun fire from Atlantic Wall defenses were cutting into our men's flesh as they left their (Higgins boats copied from Japanese designs of the 30s) landing craft, we couldn't return fire with our own machine guns because men were put out in waist-deep water, but hit a deep runnel as they waded in and had to swim through surf and a strong tidal current pulling them eastward. Flamethrowers, mortars, bazookas, and many personal weapons were dropped into the water and lost.

The Higgins boats depicted in the film do not have any weaponry to fire support the troops running down the bow ramps to continue to suppress the enemy after the naval gunfires shifted:

U.S. Army Center for Military History (CMH) file on Omaha Beach:

"In addition to the ships, a large number of fire-support craft were to place area fire on the beach defenses, and point fire on certain other targets. Five LCG (L)'s with two 47-mm guns each, accompanying the leading assault wave, were scheduled to fire 630 rounds on selected strongpoints beginning at H-20 minutes. Sixteen LCT (A and HE)'s, carrying tanks to land in the first wave, were each fitted so that two M-4's could fire over the ramp, beginning from a range of 3,000 yards at about H-15 minutes; each gun had an allowance of 150 rounds. Ten LCT (5) s carried the 36 105-mm howitzers (self-propelled) of the 58th and 62d Armored Field Artillery Battalions, due to land in the third hour of the assault. These howitzers were mounted to fire from the LCT's, opening at a range of 8,000 yards about H-30 and closing at a range of 3,700 yards by H-5 minutes. Their allowance was 100 rounds per gun. Finally, 9 LCT (R)'s stationed in positions 3,000 yards o shore were to fire 1,000 HE rockets each when the leading assault wave was 300 yards from the beach.

Analysis of the combined plans shows that the great weight of air and naval bombardment would fall on the immediate beach defenses in the Omaha area, including positions which could put flanking fire on the beach. All the main enemy strongpoints, and the Pointe du Hoe coastal battery, were targets for attack both from air and sea.

BEGINNING AT H Hour OUR NAVAL FIRES WOULD SHIFT TO INLAND TARGETS such as possible assembly areas, or wait for direction by naval shore fire control parties......

It was evident at H Hour that the enemy fortifications had not been knocked out.

Just how much had been accomplished by the preliminary bombardment can only be determined later from enemy sources. Many gun positions and strongpoints certainly SURVIVED THE EARLY FIRE. The well-concealed emplacements were hard enough to locate later in the day, with better visibility and chances for observation. The tanks and artillery operating from LCT's in rough water were handicapped by conditions making ACCURATE FIRE DIFFICULT. The rockets, according to most reports from the assault troops, made a heartening display but FAILED TO HIT defensive positions-an opinion which cannot be accepted as final and which runs counter to naval reports.

The assault troops experienced their worst disappointment of the day when they found the beach unscarred by air bombardment; they were correct in concluding that the AIR BOMBARDMENT HAD HAD LITTLE EFFECT ON THE BEACH DEFENSES. Overcast conditions forced the use of Pathfinder instruments by the Eighth Air Force Liberators. With that technique, the range of possible error in the drop would be so increased as to endanger the approaching waves of landing craft. A bombing plan had already been made to cover this eventuality, by delaying the time of bomb release enough to push the center of the estimated drop patterns well inland..

Naval gunfire had practically ceased when the infantry reached the beach; the ships were under orders not to fire, unless exceptionally definite targets offered, until liaison was established with fire control parties."

The sarcastic remark common during WWII and repeated throughout the film is "FUBAR" or "F----d Up Byond All Recognition" comes to mind.

As Tom Hanks and his surviving men push inland, the Germans are overwhelmed by superior American numbers who after being decimated, win with quantity over quality: "as landings increased in volume, enemy positions still in action were not able to concentrate on the many targets offered. "

When the Germans are met in battle in the streets of France, they follow directly behind their tanks to use them as moving shields. They were equipped with armored assault gun vehicles. When the lightly equipped Americans use bazookas against the German tanks, the rockets bounce off the German armor. We have to kill tanks at close range with improvised munitions, hand emplaced, killing several men. The Germans effectively use towed 20mm anti-aircraft guns to slice up the G.I.s as they try to kill tanks by hand.

The Germans having learned from bitter Russian city fighting that shock action from tanks and assault guns are vital to winning in cities. In one scene, the American sniper is killed when a German assault gun (or Panther tank facsimile) blasts his bell tower he was in to smithereens. He had a rope to raise up his .30 caliber medium machine gun, but didn't figure on using it to escape quickly by rappelling if targeted.

Earlier in the movie, a German sniper in a tower kills the first of Hank's rescue squad and is silenced by their sniper. Had Hank's rescue force been equipped with a light tracked or wheeled APC, (M3 half-track or Bren gun carrier) they would not have suffered their casualties approaching the town where Private Ryan's Paratrooper unit guarded the bridge. They lost a man to the town sniper in the rain, then their medic assaulting on foot a MG 42 medium machine gun nest in front of a wrecked radar station. If it were in today's setting, a M113A3 with a .50 cal HMG or Mk-19 40mm Grenade Machine Gun or a 106mm recoilless rifle could have destroyed both positions from a safe stand-off without any of Hank's men getting killed.

Even at the film's end when the P-51s fly over and the allegedly better equipped "heavy" ground forces link up with the Paratroopers/Hank's Rangers they are equipped with the thinly armored M4 Sherman a tank with a puny low-velocity, short-barrelled 76mm gun no match for the German Tiger/Panther tanks across the bridge with high velocity 75-88mm guns and better armor.

The lesson for today (1998) is that things have not gotten much better for the troops leading the way, making the "forced-entry" by air or sea.

Our battleships are gone, (but could be returned to duty). U.S. light/Airborne troops still do not have light tanks since their combat-proven M551 Sheridans were retired and not replaced by the M8 Armored Gun System as promised and HQDA will not even loan them M113A3 light armored personnel carriers to them so they can move faster than a foot slog and mount heavy weapons to blast enemies in buildings and tanks. It will be men on foot against tanks, this time at least with AT4, SMAW-D rockets and Javelin anti-tank guided missiles that will work. In some cases 4x4 HMMWVs can be air-dropped and be used to fire Javelin, EFOGM, LOSAT missiles.

But for the most part, the light infantrymen themselves, will be vulnerable to enemy fire to get into positions to use these weapons. The CMH report:

"The troops were tired and cramped by the trip in, and found their loads of weapons and ammunition heavy to get across the sand. As one of them put it: 'The burdens we ordinarily carried, we had to drag.' Though much special equipment, such as bangalore torpedoes, ammunition, and heavy weapons, had been jettisoned when men were debarked in deep water, much more was saved at the: cost of casualties to the men who were slowed down in carrying it."

We wouldn't lose key weapons dropped by Soldiers trying not to drown if we had water-proofed all-terrain carts today to tow/float them ashore.

While the Germans were quick to use anti-aircraft guns in ground attack roles, U.S. Air Defense Artillery (ADA) leaders are reluctant to offer their Avenger HMMWV 4x4 vehicles firing 2.75" Hydra-70 rockets for this purpose, and our own towed and M113 light AFV 20mm Gatling cannons have been retired from the Army so are unavailable to light early entry forces. The CMH Omaha reports on tanks:

"the best testimony in their favor is the casual mention in the records of many units, from all parts of the beach, of emplacements neutralized by the supporting fire of tanks. In an interview shortly after the battle, the commander of the 2d Battalion, 116th Infantry, who saw some of the worst fighting on the beach at les Moulins, expressed as his opinion that the tanks 'saved the day. They shot the hell out of the Germans, and got the hell shot out of them.' "

Today's AFVs could have 120mm turreted mortars for both direct and indirect fire capability like the Russian 2S9 Nona BMD variant has. ALL WE HAVE TO DO IS BUY THE OFF-THE-SHELF 120mm TURRETS AND MOUNT THEM ON OUR VEHICLES.

The Navy is mounting no weapons on its air-cushion Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC), and Landing Craft Utility (LCUs), neither have any armored protection when their bow ramps go down, even though in WWII landing craft were equipped with 4.7 inch guns, rockets to saturate beach defenses with fire, though not depicted in SPR. The current and replacement Marine Corps armored amphibious tractors conspicuously absent from the beach landings on Normandy do not have any weapons larger than heavy machine guns and future 25mm guns and will have a tough time defeating enemy tanks and dug-in infantry...thus it will be another slaughter on the beaches if the enemy resists again.

Some of the good things we had in WWII, we don't have now: armament on landing craft, even a sniper in every squad would be a major asset for long-range pinpoint fire. This can be done by placing an Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight on the M16A2 rifle of a designated marksman in each infantry squad.

The Bangalore torpedo sections that were able to explode a way through the German wire/obstacles pinning Hanks' men on the beach are being retired instead of improved on and replaced with vehicle trailer mounted rocket line charges that will be unavailable in a forced entry by air or sea, and will not work in vegetated areas without a clear path for the rockets to fly.

What if vehicles cannot be delivered with the assault troops like when the Duplex Drive (DD) modified Sherman tanks sank?

2. Smoke screens, where were they?

The U.S. Army CMH history cites:

" Several hundred yards of bluff west of les Moulins draw were obscured in heavy smoke from grass fires, apparently started by naval shells or rockets. Blanketed by this smoke, enemy guns and emplacements were unable to deliver effective fire on that end of Dog Beach, and units landing there were comparatively unscathed. At other places, what would seem to be an occasional "blind spot" in the enemy fire pattern let a craft get men ashore with few losses. In the main, the first wave was hard hit."

As the German bullets slice our men in the open beaches you want to scream out, "THROW SOME SMOKE GRENADES!!!!" The Germans had smoke grenades in WWII.

Why wasn't Naval guns used to deliver a smoke screen across the beaches to mask our men from getting picked off by German Soldiers? Where are our naval guns today? They do not have smoke shells, and at a puny 5 inches in size are unavailable to fire in support of amphibious landings because they would have to venture in too close to get within range, and would be destroyed like British ships were in the Falklands war by anti-ship cruise missiles. Todays amphibian tractors called Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs) can lay down smoke from their engines BEHIND their path, but smoke needs to be AHEAD of them on the beaches they are landing on!

So then, why didn't Hank's compadres throw Smoke grenades? Did we have these in WWII? We have them now. But are they aggressively being used as a tool to mask troops in the offense? I'd say not because we don't even provide pouches to our men so they can carry more than one smoke grenade clipped to their LBE suspenders at a time. Had Hank's men had just smoke grenades, they wouldn't have lost their medic to the MG nest, and their men assaulting the tank by hand, and Hanks himself at the end crawling towards the blasting machine to detonate the charges on the bridge. At least half of the men could have been saved by the aggressive use of smoke grenades.

3. Why wasn't D-Day done at dusk so when the troops landing they had darkness to shield themselves from enemy fire? The attack could have commenced at the middle of the day so landing craft could form up without collision and have darkness fall as they landed on the beaches.

4. Armor protection

Landing craft Bow ramp armor anyone? As noted before, the landing craft offered the men no protection from enemy fire. A shield that would come up as the ramp went down could have allowed some men to fire behind as others move ahead.

Later on in the film, you will see a German rocket launcher firing equipped with a small gunshield---had these been fitted to every shoulder weapon of Hank's men, most would have survived when hit by enemy fire. The technology may not have existed then, but it certainly does now----for a small gunshield to be attached to the M-16A4/M4 assault rifle/carbine to effect an ability to fire without being injured/killed nor be pinned down evading enemy fire.

5. Men against fire: ground-level infantry fire support?

Why were the landing craft not equipped with at least 20mm cannon to silence the MGs on the beaches?

If infantry is going to "self-help" itself it needs a combination hand/rifle grenade that can either be throw after pulling a ring or projected a distance by the service rifle/carbine. There were several points in the movie where hand/rifle grenades would have killed the enemy and saved American lives.

One extra feature H/R grenades should have as illustrated in principle by SPR would be a peel-off layer at the grenade body exposing a very sticky surface, that if thrown or projected against tanks would make it stick. If thrown into a room, by sticking to the floor, it would make the grenade difficult to throw back out, as in SPR several grenades were. Thre idea of "sticky bombs" isn't a "Hollywood" fabrication--the Germans in WWII coated their tanks with Zimmerit paste to stop magnetic and sticky bombs from being used against them.

6. Technical Flaw: where were the long-range radios?

Hanks patrol left without a radio. This is hard to imagine any U.S. patrol going behind enemy lines doing. The film should have portrayed a radio being taken but destroyed in action to be more realistic. With a radio, Hanks could have called in air support to hold the bridge sooner than it did arrive. But radioed supporting arms is no cure-all contrary to what many in today's military believe. Unlike in the film, where the abandoned towns were already in the hands of friendly Paratroopers, in the next war the enemy will likely be firmly in control of the towns/cities. To take these key areas from the enemy or breakthrough enough to reach the enemy's center of gravity/cohesion, radioed indirect artillery and aircraft air strikes will be of little use in the confines of the city where the civilian population is in close proximity. Ground troops will have to be better equipped with ground-level fire support means than even the Germans in WWII had to prevail.

7. The cowardly Soldier who doesn't straighten up

Sure to be controversial is the reluctant National Guard, 29th Infantry Division intelligence Soldier with French-German language skills Hanks chooses to have assigned to him. Hanks' character is commendable for wanting this intel asset so they could converse with the locals and captured Germans to learn where Ryan might be. However, the interpreter is clumbsy and awkward in the beginning and he doesn't fire his weapon in battle throughout the film. The men have him shuttle ammunition to them. He doesn't change his behavior even as his buddies are shot and killed after running out of ammunition he failed to deliver to them; even the Germans ignore him as he cowers in a hole 3 feet away with a clear flanking shot that a 8 shot clip of M1 Garand rifle would have wiped them out. Controversial military historian S.L.A. Marshall wrote that in battle only a small percentage of Soldiers/marines actually fire their weapons.

8. Technical/Tactical proficiency of Tom Hanks' character and his Platoon Sergeant

In SPR, Hank's Ranger Captain is a fine tactician. He quickly realizes that walking down the bow ramp of the landing craft will kill his men, so he tells them to jump over the side into the water. (actual practice) He takes the initiative on the beach and gets the men moving forward. At a place where there is some cover, he regroups and blasts open a path with a bagalore torpedo. Then, he places fire on a machine gun nest so his men can advance towards it to knock it out with grenades. He makes plans on the scene using football analogies. He reads his map and anticipates German minefields, avoids them. He confers with his Battalion Commander and relates how German 88mm AA guns are holding up the Allied advance, along with British General Montgomery's cautious investment of Caen (they didn't have the quantity of troops the U.S. had to lose so he was cautious, some say overly so). He ascertains the operational value of the bridge over the river that German General Rommel could use to bring his Panzer tanks across to hit the lightly equipped invasion forces in the flanks, since their swimming tanks failed to make it ashore. He makes expedient anti-tank weapons using TNT blocks and axle grease to stick to German tanks. He re-positions machine guns defending the bridge. He motivates and rallies the men when he forces them to do unpopular things. He leads by example, taking the same risks as the men.

Another good leader, role model is Hank's top non-commissioned officer or Non-Com, Sergeant Horvath played by Tom Sizemore. He provides good advice to Hanks in the thick of things and could easily take over if Hanks were to be killed. They are the tactical brains of the patrol.

The question here aside from being a role model is; will it take the previous battles in Africa, Sicily and Italy to get us some Captains like Hanks and his top NCO? Will it take this kind of "learning curve" in flag-draped coffins to get this kind of tactical expertise? How many men will die in the next war on the forward slopes from enemy fires that could have been avoided had their leaders known of and been proficient in reverse slope defenses?

As good as Hanks character was, if his superiors were more on the ball (and less FUBARed), we wouldn't have entered WWII without a superiorly equipped and trained Army. Even at their point in the war (1944), smoke screens and landing craft guns/armored ramps could have been provided knowing whithering German fire was expected. Why wasn't a Forward Air Controller (FAC) with a radio in a landing craft sitting offshore to direct strafing runs on the German guns? Why didn't Hanks' character ask for a radio and a M3 half-track or a 4x4 jeep with at least a .50 caliber Heavy Machine Gun to accompany him on the mission? Where were the smoke grenades during the assault on the radar station MG nest?

I especially like Tom Hanks' school-teacher turned Ranger Captain thinking tactician. He reminded me of Joshua Chamberlain, and I was very sad to see him die at the end of the film, and couldn't help but think he was betrayed by a nation that neglected military funding and military leaders wedded to obsolete ideas to refight the last war instead of the next one. I can't help but think that the ugly scenes of SPR will be replayed again, not in your local movie theatre, but with real men dying and cut to pieces in the next theater of war shown on your TV set at home by CNN because we are preparing to refight the last war and not the next one. I hope that SPR will spur us to SOLVE the problems of ground combat and not resort to the myth of air strikes alone as the way to win wars requiring a result held on the ground where the people we want to secure the peace for live.

A lesson from history from Historian/tactician Emery Nelson:

Read Steven Ambrose's books on the great WWII Generation; Citizen Soldiers, is by far my favorite. Great stories about the men and Leaders who pulled off the campaign in Europe.

I just had to relate this story of the Assistant Division Commander (ADC) of the 29th ID, Brig. Gen. Norman "Dutch" Cota of the 29th (The man who cleared Omaha Beach, depicted by Robert Mitchum in the film, The Longest Day). This is the kind of thing that never fails to amaze me. I keep shouting to everyone I know that people do well when they are trained but falter if it's not what they expect. This is another story about muscle memory and it's training affect. No story I've ever read or seen so clearly illustrates this. I will quote it in total.

Big. Gen. Norman Cota, came on a group of infantry pinned down by some Germans in a farmhouse. He asked the Captain in command why his men were making no effort to take the building.

"Sir, the Germans are in there, shooting at us," the captain replied.

"Well, I'll tell you what, Captain," said Cota, unbuckling two grenades from his jacket. "You and your men start shooting at them. I'll take a squad of men and you and your men watch carefully. I'll show you how to take a house with Germans in it."

Cota led his squad around a hedge to get as close as possible to the house. Suddenly, he gave a whoop and raced forward, the squad following, yelling like wild men. As they tossed grenades into the windows, Cota and another man kicked in the front door, tossed a couple of grenades inside, waited for the explosions, them dashed into the house. The surviving Germans inside were streaming out of the back door, running for their lives.

Cota returned to the captain. "You've seen how to take a house," said the general, still out of breath. "Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, I won't be around to do it for you again," Cota said. "I can't do it for everybody."

A little later on Ambrose points this interesting detail out about the training of Soldiers for Normandy.

"Where had that Captain been for the last six months? He had been in training to fight the German Army. He had been committed to offensive action, trained to it, inspired to it. But no one had thought to show him how to take an occupied house. He knew all about getting ashore from an LCVP, about beach obstacles, about paths up the bluffs, about ravines, about amphibious assault techniques. But no one had shown him how to take a house, because there were no standing houses on Omaha Beach, so that wasn't one of his problems."

To me that showed excellent leadership on Cota's part but some serious problems with overall training. It's probably not possible to cover all aspects of Infantry training in a short time but this should be covered in an advanced (infantry branch) officer course. It also occurs to me that your idea of a master infantry tactician would help solve some of these kinds of problems. The only way to compensate for lack of training is with leadership. Gen. Cota had it. Problem solved, lesson learned.

9. The certainty of death

One final thing about SPR, was the realization that death was imminent and only a matter of time as you participated in a war with fire criss-crossing all around. The WWII generation to its eternal credit kept going forward despite the FUBARs. The people back home within the Army bureaucracy cared and were on the ball enough to realize the Ryan family had lost too many sons. Each man had a farewell letter written and in his uniform if killed. There was no IVs if hit, only a pressure dressing and sulfa powder disinfectant. Today, we have petroleum jelly pads that could be used to seal bleeding bullet holes, but their usage is not widespread enough. You could feel the sadness of the men when their medic was killed and they were asking him what they could do to save him. Hours before he had related how he wished that he hadn't ignored his mother by pretending to be asleep when she was lonely after returning from the night shift. When Hanks dies at the end, there wasn't a single person who wasn't crying or choked up. Death is a terrible thing. War is a terrible thing.

When faced with the loss of the last surviving Ryan, the top leader of the Army, General Marshall ordered against the advice of his advisors to rescue him even if it cost the lives of other men to do so. This symbolizes the values of the WWII generation which realized some things were worth fighting and dying for. If we can get a glimmer of this spirit in today's cynical and self-defeating America, we might be able to Save the next war's "Private Ryan" by being better prepared.

10. The National Guard as weenies

One shameful part of the movie was the cowardly translator who wore the 29th Infantry division patch, a National Guard unit. Its a shame when it was the 116th Regiment of the 29th that did most of the fighting/dying on Omaha Beach, not the Rangers. This is a shame on all the National Guard units who in the early, dark days of WWII were READY and went into battle and ended up on things like the "Bataan Death March" or in unmarked graves. The other shameful thing is he is in the story as a "symbol" of the liberal mind and how it thinks it would behave etc, and the ending where he kills the asshole German who was let free out of the kindness of our hearts, implies he got some "balls" at the end or brutality, whatever. He sat by and let all his buddies get killed before gaining/losing this outlook. As a symbol, he should have been a translator from SHAEF Headquarters etc, if you want to demonize someone for being a weenie.

But the next point is for the National Guard. Where was the technotactical professionalism to have demanded smokescreens on Omaha beach? Why didn't BG Norm Cota think of this? Or were the NG so eager to "go-along-to-get-along" with the Regular Army that they didn't question the idiotic plan for Omaha beach? This has implications for today, too. The NG could do some things by innovating and buying equipment the Regular Army is too pig-headed to obtain like Wiesel ultra-light AFVs to create AIRmechanized capabilities, but doesn't. The NG could have been the first Airborne Division in 1940 but chickened out. The NG whines that it isn't in joint war plans yet insists it needs 3 months to "train up" for a war. Too late, war over, dude.

My point?

The National Guard needs to get some "balls" and stop being in a brown-nose-lock-step with the rest of the Regular Army and take some damn risks and get READY FOR WAR NOW, be ready to go for war NOW, like the NG Divisions were in the outbreak of WWII, or else the 29th Division patch on the coward-weenie in SPR will be appropriate. Tough words, huh?


11. "Earn this"

I have only seen SPR twice.

#10 and #11 were written after I saw it on video this week.

When Tom Hanks dies at the bridge, he tells young Private Ryan to "Earn this". I get choked up even now as I write this, the image is so painful and sad. After I dry my eyes, I GET REAL ANGRY.

CERTAINLY, the WWII Generation that survived the war DID JUST THAT. They built the inter-state highways, they fought and won in Korea (that's right they won there), lead us as best they could in Vietnam, won the Cold War, raised families, went to colleges, built the suburbs, put men on the moon.

I'd say they "earned" their survival from WWII.

What is their Baby Boomer generation doing?

The Personal Computer?

And their "generation-x"?

"No fear" t-shirts and MTV?

And their out-of-wedlock Generation-y offspring?

The message of Saving Private Ryan is to EARN THIS---earn your life. The WWII Generation did this. Today's generation isn't doing shit. (Sorry, only word that fits here). The world we live in is FREE only because of men symbolized by Tom Hanks and his squad in SPR. They took risks, paid for them but got the job done. We are NOT getting the job done today, we are making excuses/rationalizations. This entire web site goes into great detail of all the things we need to do to fix ourselves and our military. GO OUT THERE AND DO IT! Take risks for the common good, stand up to evil, offer alternative Courses Of Action, GIVE A DAMN! Put your ass on the line for what is right, what is good.



Mike Sparks

Cate Niland (, the daughter of Fritz Niland,

January 13, 2000,

The Niland Brothers

Dear Steven Spielberg,

'God blesses you Mr. Spielberg and my family thanks you for making a movie that will honor the incredible heart and bravado of these veterans. This story I tell you is my family's legacy. I hope you will understand the love and pride we feel when their names are mentioned. The Paratroopers themselves compared their endeavor to St. Crispian Day. It is taken from Shakespeare's Henry V Act IV, a play my father read to me as a child. ...This story shall the good man teach his son; And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by, From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remembered; We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;... I personally wish you great success with Saving Private Ryan. I trust that your movie will help these men to rest in peace. My father and my uncles did their duty before God and man. Today I say a prayer for all the warriors who gave their lives, expecting that our generation might live our dreams. I hope God has a special place in heaven for each and every one of them...' Steven Spielberg personally invited the direct descendents of the Niland clan from around the country as his guests to come to Hollywood and tell our family history. The story was told in the HBO special Saving Private Ryan, which aired nationally on cable July 21rst, 1998. The HBO filming was held up for over an hour as the Niland family met with Mr. Spielberg. He read every letter and looked at every picture. At one point, my cousin Pete Niland, my Uncle Eddie's only son and the last Niland to carry on the family name shared a copy of a letter written from the battlefield by our Uncle Bobbie to our grandmother Gussie Niland. The letter promising her that after the war he and all the brothers would return safely home. The reading of the letter brought tears to everyone's eyes. The family was invited to return a second time to Hollywood for the premiere of the movie. At a private reception held before the film premiered, the family, including the Niland granddaughters met with Steven Ambrose and the stars of the movie Saving Private Ryan.. The experience was deeply moving as the family proudly recalled the bravery and sacrifice of the four Niland boys of Tonawanda, New York. In the 55 years that have since passed, the impact of the Niland story as first told has not lessened one single bit. On June 6th, 1944 my father, Sgt. Frederick (Fritz) Niland made history in the great D-Day invasion as a 101rst combat Paratrooper in the 501rst PIRA Co. H. Fritz's plane was hit buy enemy fire and his group was dropped miles away from their jump target. Slowly over nine days the group reassembled and fought their way back to Carrentan with the help of the French Underground and their leader Jean Kapiton. After Fritz reunited with his comrades in arms he received news that his brother Mortar Sgt. Robert Niland with the 82nd Airborne 505th PIRA Co. D had been killed on D-Day protecting the wounded after they had run out of ammo around Neville au Plain. My dad sought out the company chaplain Father Francis Sampson who took Fritz to search in the make- shift cemeteries around St. Mere Eglise to find Bob. They searched several cemeteries and were unable to find him. Father Sampson told Fritz there was one more place to check and when the chaplain emerged from the last cemetery he was happy to tell my father there was no Robert Niland there, only a Preston Niland a platoon leader with the 22nd Infantry Regiment 4th Division. Father Sampson assumed there must have been a mistake in names. 'Father Sampson, Preston is my brother too, replied Fritz.' In this sad way my father discovered that his other brother Preston had been killed as well. He was killed D+1 Day defending the wounded at Utah Beach. It was a terrible moment for my Dad. Within this tight timeframe his oldest brother T/ Sgt. Edward Niland had been reported shot down in Burma on May 20th 1944. Uncle Eddie a radio operator and gunner with the 25th bomber group was presumed dead. At that moment my father's life changed forever. Finally, back in England after several attempts to have Fritz return willingly and fed up with my Dad's resistance to return home, in August of 1944 President Roosevelt ordered Fritz home. Father Sampson told him, 'Fritz you can take it up with General Eisenhower or the President, but your going home.' I will never forget the haunted look in his eyes when he would recount the story to my sister Mary and I as children. He told us, ' Girls never forget it took a presidential congressional order to get me out of France.' My father told us that there would come a time in our lives that we would not be able to deny the fighting genes of the 101rst Airborne that flows through our veins. Fritz's prediction has come to pass. We are truly the Children of 501 Wonders. My grandfather and grandmother, Michael and Augusta Niland received the first telegram about Edward on June 6, 1944. The other telegrams kept coming over the next week informing my grandparents of the tragic extent of their loss. Over and over again they read, 'The secretary of war desires me to express his deep regret...' In one week, three sons killed and the fourth, my dad, who was the youngest, had been reported missing in action since June 6th, behind enemy lines. The family was later told that after several telegram deliveries the bicycle courier refused to go back to my grandparent's home. 'Please don't send me back to that house.' He could not bear to give Mrs. Niland yet another telegram. My father's cousin Joe Niland remembers how my Grandma Gussie cried as each telegram was delivered. 'She felt ashamed she didn't instinctively know in her heart which of her sons was lying dead on a foreign battlefield. She told us years later that she had prayed for each of her boys, but felt from start she would loss them all.' After the war my grandmother refused to touch the bedrooms of my uncles, and my father himself would never enter them. As 5-year-old child I can remember my Uncles beds being perfectly made and all their clothes still in their closets. Everything as they had left it. We were not allowed to play in that room. My Aunt Claire, the oldest Niland sister, told us it was a matter of respect. Our uncles had died as heroes and Grandma Gussie could not let them go. After my father returned home he was assigned as an MP at the Buffalo train station. The position embarrassed him, and he was unhappy with the treatment. He had been a member of the elite. He told me years later that he had signed on as a paratrooper not an MP. He felt that the Army had broken their contract. Fritz suffered much indignity in that first year home. Most notable is a story that my Aunt Diana (Edward's wife) told us. As an MP Fritz was allowed to wear civilian clothes on the weekends. He took my aunt and some friends out to dinner. While in that restaurant a stranger came up to the table and asked, 'What's a healthy young man like you doing out of uniform?' My father's sense of humor still alive, His reply and the stranger's comeuppance: ' I guess lady that's my reward for minding my own damned business.' Fritz later told me he could have had both his legs shot off under that table for all she knew. Around that time my Grandmother being of German decent had her dog, a dachshund, hung in the backyard by a Nazi hater. I can tell you my grandmother was devastated to think that after the sacrifice of her four sons, that someone would think she was sympathetic with the German Nazis. Even after this incident my father never disclaimed the German Soldiers as evil. He pointed out the enemy's admirable qualities. They were brave men and good fighters. To my father it was Hitler that was evil. Hitler destroyed Germany. My grandfather had a dynamic dream about my Uncle Eddie. Cousin Pete remembers the story that my grandfather had a dream that Ed was alive. Grandpa Mike dreamed that the plane crashed, and Ed stepped out of the smoldering plane. My grandfather asked, 'Son are you all right?' 'Yeah, I'm all right Dad, I'm coming home.' The dream was so intense that Mike awakened my grandmother and said, 'Gussie, Eddie is o-kay, he's coming home.' For a year after that there was always a chair held for my uncle at the dinner table. Cousin Billyanna Niland recalls that family thought my grandmother had succumbed to the stress, but true to the dream, a year later Uncle Eddie escaped from a Japanese prison camp and returned home. He was only 75lbs. when he returned home. My Dad said that they were moving Ed and the other prisoners to another camp and they were striffted by enemy fire from planes. They all scattered into a field and when the Japanese gathered them back into formation, Eddie just stayed in the field. He wandered for days through the jungle hiding. Later he heard troops coming through the area. They were the British Gurkas and Eddie jumped up to make himself known. In that moment my Uncle Eddie heard his brother Preston's voice calling out to him, 'What the hell kind of soldier are you? Get your head down!' Eddie dropped down and seconds later machine gun fire came over his head. They thought he was Japanese. He jumped up again and cried out, 'Don't shoot, I'm an American!' At that time there is no way my Uncle Eddie could have known of Preston's death. There is no doubt in my mind there was a spiritual intervention by my Uncle Preston to save my Uncle Eddie's life. I have known since childhood that I came from a family of warriors. My grandfather Michael Niland was a Rough Rider with Teddy Roosevelt on San Juan Hill. The family remembers affectionately my grandfather's boast in typical Niland bravado. Grandpa said, 'He wouldn't have made it up that hill without a Niland, I carried Teddy up that hill.' My dad, Fritz Niland, was the bravest man I ever knew. He taught me honor, integrity and real courage. He faced many demons after the war, and he won. His jump buddies will always remember Fritz as a great guy and a good Soldier, as his friend John Bacon says, 'Fritz was all Man.' He has passed on to me, and Mary Augusta, my sister, the truest sense of what means to be a decendent 101rst Airborne. Mr. Ambrose on behalf of my family and myself, thank you for BAND OF BROTHERS, which has brought to the attention of all Americans, one of the most dynamic and tragic stories of WWII. Geronimo!!!!


Cate Niland


"Hi Mike,

Excellent writing. As a 30-year Air Force guy, I was impressed with your clarity and insight. Saw the movie and your writing made all of it even more meaningful. Thanks very much.

I hope there are many more like you who are pressing our force planners and the weapon developers to prepare for our next conflict.

Keep up the good work and keep writing.

Take care.

Cheers - - - Charlie ;-)

"Some good comments, Mike, however, there are some areas in which you might not be totally familiar with the situation. First, bear in mind that the events depicted in the movie took place in the first week after the Allies landed on Omaha Beach, the point at which U.S. forces took the heaviest casualties. The reason US troops were not able to counter the Germans with machinegun fire was because they were in pillboxes on a bluff over the beach, and there wasn't much machinegunfire could do against them. At the same they had survivied shelling and aerial attack.

As for radios, I don't think communications technology had advanced to that point in 1944. At that time infantry communications were by wire. The troops in the movie were a lightly armed Ranger team and Airborne forces who were dropped with only what they could carry. Additional supplies were to come in by glider, but most of the gliders crashed into the hedgerows during the landings, causing hundreds of casualties and destroying much of the equipment.

Bear in mind that it took the Allies more than six weeks to break out of the beachheads.

The real point that modern Soldiers should learn from this movie is that US forces have not fought as well-armed and equipped of an opposing military force as they did in Europe in World War II. For the past 50 years U.S. ground forces have gotten off pretty luck in comparison to what our grandfathers endured more than fifty years ago. Think what the outcome of the war might have been if the German infantrymen had been equipped with semiautomatic rifles!"


My reply: the landing craft should have had, and still should have 120mm mortars to reach targets on terrain rises. Especially today's AFVs could have 120mm turreted mortars for both direct and indirect fire capability like the Russian 2S9 Nona BMD variant.

An Army Armor expert, Emery Nelson writes:


I was just looking at the SPR page. I believe this is the third time I've looked at it and it gets better and better. One thing a web page has over a book is the ability to rewrite and add knew info.

One thing I wanted to comment on is the contention that the British didn't advance because of the fear of casualties. I suspect this was intentional on the part of Montgomery and Churchill. I have know personnel knowledge that this is true, but Montgomery was fairly aggressive in North Africa compared to Normandy and Churchill was always calling for offensive action before Normandy. He suddenly grew quiet when the British landed. It became largely our war from that point on.

The British were also very offensive minded in Italy even though it was a backwater theater with a defensive stance. Although Monty is to be commended for his trying to keep casualties low, after reading Pegasus Bridge, it's clear that they suffered heavy casualties from just trying to maintain a defensive posture. The problem was if the British weren't advancing the Germans would counter attack. I am very suspicious of Monty's regrouping on D+2. It looks to me like he intended to do that all along. Don't know this for a fact, just telling you my suspicions.

On another front you should read Pegasus Bridge if you haven't already. It's description of the preparation and execution of a mission is superb. Maj. Howard trained his men to perfection. I could not criticize his methods in any way. The Glider pilots were also trained extremely well, the result being they landed perfectly with five out of six gliders. It really showed how effective gliders can be with the right pilot training".

A very concerned father writes:


I have watched that movie three times now and my reaction isn't tears, it's nausea. My sons are so full of themselves and understand so little that it's all I can think about when I watch it. My oldest son will be eighteen in five months, and is probably going into the Army after he graduates. That is the context I see this movie in and it's in the back of my mind every time I watch it. I'm usually a wreck by the end of the movie. I can't eat or anything else. I look at our present unpreparedness and worry so much that I can't watch that movie again.

You are a Soldier, I am not. I can tell that you are desperate to fight any where, anytime (as it should be). I want people like you in a well equipped and well trained Army. But my intentions are that if we are good enough, we will never have to fight. If we are unprepared, then my son will fight in a mess like VN or Korea with no support or military advantage. That's what I think about when I see that movie. I'm afraid my tears will come down the road."

An Army CAS 3 officer writes:

"SPR is a superb film, I show it to all my staff school classes - ALL should see in basic, but that would shock Recruiting command and Tradoc.

I'm sending four names of my family members to the WWII Memorial fund and their names will go on the monument for $20. that Tom Hanks endorses in public service commercials. Spielberg was awarded Distinguished Civilian Award for his work. It's almost the BEST war film in terms of reality, accuracy (nothing's perfect) and the sense of duty that our forebears had. I've seen it three times in the theater and not one word was said at the END -not one.


SPR is coming out 2 Nov 99 in a two videotape set, one of the film and another about how it was made, for about $17. I'm buying it.

I'm also planning on submitting a recommendation to CGSC to have SPR as part of leadership/ethics. I can't wait to hear their excuses on that one. We used to watch Glory, another great film."