The Niland brothers were four American brothers from Kenmore, New York. Their story inspired Stephen Spielberg’s film Saving Private Ryan. Soldiers during the Second World War, they were separated into four different units following the Sullivan brothers affair.
Sergeant Frederick Niland (1920-1983) belonged to the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. The Technical Sergeant Robert Niland belonged to company D, 505th paratrooper infantry regiment of the 82nd American airborne division. Lieutenant Preston Niland operated under the command of the 22nd Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division. Finally, Technical Sergeant Edward Niland is a pilot with the United States Army Air Forces.
Of the four, two survived the fighting: Robert was killed on June 6, 1944, Preston on June 7, 1944, both in Normandy.
Due to poor information following the bomber crash in which Edward was on May 16, 1944 (on the Pacific front), the American staff first thought that all but one had been killed, Frederick Then retired from the Normandy front and returned to the United States to complete his classes, in accordance with the Sole Survivor Policy, a policy to spare American families already hard-hit by the loss of several members during the war.
Persuaded of the death of his three brothers, he learned only after the war that Edward, supposedly dead, was actually interned by the Japanese in a prison camp in Burma. Today, Robert and Preston Niland are buried side by side at the American military cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer in Normandy.
Their story and Sole Survivor Policy inspired Steven Spielberg’s screenplay of Saving Private Ryan.