This is the incredible real life story behind one of the most iconic war films of all time
Saving Private Ryan is commonly regarded as one of the best war movies ever made, praised for its unflinching, and historically accurate, depiction of conflict in the midst of World War II. At the time of its release, the brutal film earned almost universal praise from critics and audiences, and ultimately became the highest-grossing domestic film of 1998. It even went on to receive eleven nominations in the subsequent Academy Awards, and managed to win a total of five. The film won so many accolades that it has now been preserved in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as a 'culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant' work of art.
The story's premise is this: during the Normandy Landing, three brothers with the surname "Ryan" perish in combat, while the fourth Ryan brother's whereabouts are unknown. The army fears that the death of all four brothers would be a massive blow to national morale. Thus, a crack team of US commandos is assembled to scour war-torn France in search of Private Ryan, to bring him back home before he too is killed.
It sounds like typical Hollywood stuff right? After all, in Tinsel Town the facts rarely get in the way of a good story. But what you might not know is that the movie's plot actually has some basis in history. So now, on Saving Private Ryan's 20th anniversary, we've decided to reveal who it was actually based on.
The Niland brothers were four Irish-American men from New York, who all joined up for military service after the attack on Pearl Harbour brought the United States into conflict with Japan and Germany. Edward, Bob and Preston were all either missing in action or dead: Preston Niland was killed leading a platoon on Utah Beach, Robert Niland was killed during a skirmish at the village of Neuville-au-Plain, and Edward Niland's plane was shot down over Burmese jungles, and he was presumed to have lost his life.
Only Fritz, the brother on whom Matt Damon's private Ryan is based on, was thought to be alive, lost behind enemy lines. However, the brave soldier made it back to safety, where high command sent him back to his mother for propaganda purposes. Amazingly enough, after the war ended in 1945, it turned out that Edward had also survived, and had been incarcerated in a Japanese POW camp in Burma. He too eventually returned home to his family.
Of course, the movie is not 100 per cent accurate. But as director Steven Spielberg himself stated in his keynote address on the 149th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address: "It's not the job, and in fact it's a betrayal of the job, of a historian to promise perfect and complete recall of the past, to promise memory that abolishes loss. One of the jobs of art is to go to the impossible places that other disciplines, like history, must avoid."
Well I don't know about you guys, but I think the movie's due for another watch. I wonder if I can make it to the end without sobbing this time around.