Photo courtesy of Andrew L. Bouwhuis Library

Meet the real-life brothers who inspired 'Saving Private Ryan'

May 28, 2019
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In recognition of the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Fathom Events is hosting showings of "Saving Private Ryan" at 600 theaters across the nation -- but do you know the true story that inspired Steven Spielberg's 1998 film?

See 'Saving Private Ryan' in theaters 75 years after D-Day

Brothers Edward, Preston, Robert, and Frederick Niland from Tonawanda, New York all stepped up to serve in 1942. The four brothers were assigned to four different units -- after five brothers from another family were all killed in one ship attack, the military enacted an unwritten policy to separate brothers in service.

On May 16, 1944, Edward was captured by Japanese forces in the jungles of Burma and his team determined he had been killed in action. Bob was killed in Normandy on D-Day, performing his duties as part of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. And Preston was killed storming Utah Beach with the 22nd Infantry.

When the Army learned that three of the four Niland brothers had presumably been killed in action, they ordered the retrieval of the fourth.

Here, the film diverges somewhat from the true story of the Niland brothers. Father Francis Sampson, a chaplain of the 501st Regiment, was sent to retrieve Frederick, who went by Fritz, and successfully did so without much difficulty. Fritz, served as an MP in New York until the end of the war.

The true story of the Niland brothers also concludes with a happier ending than Spielberg's film -- a year after disappearing in the Burmese jungle, Edward was found alive and returned home to New York.

While half of the Niland brothers paid the ultimate sacrifice during World War II, the family's legacy has been carried on for 75 years thanks to "Saving Private Ryan."

The film will show on June 2nd and 5th at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. local times. Click here to find a D-Day anniversary showing near you.

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