Steven Spielberg’s 1998 blockbuster Saving Private Ryan was all about the search for the last surviving brother of four siblings who fought in Europe during WWII. But while the Ryan brothers were a fictional invention, their story was actually loosely based on the fate of four real siblings: the Nilands. What the movie didn’t show, though, was the extraordinary true-life story of one of the Niland brothers.
1. Four Niland brothers
Let’s get to know these four Niland brothers, the sons of Michael and Augusta Niland of Tonawanda, New York. The oldest was Edward, born in 1912 and the second son was Preston who arrived in 1915. Robert came along in 1919 followed the next year by the youngest, Frederick, often known as “Fritz.” And all of the brothers would see active service during WWII.
2. Ready to fight for their country
It was the two middle brothers, Robert and Preston, who signed up for service first, even before America had joined the fighting. Edward and Frederick then enlisted late in 1942, a year after the surprise attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor. So the Niland boys were all ready to fight for their country. But the four never served together in the same unit.
3. Joining up
Preston enlisted with the infantry, serving with Company C of the 4th Infantry Division’s 22nd Infantry Regiment. Robert, commonly known as Bob, joined the paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Frederick also chose to be a paratrooper, but he served with the 101st Airborne Division’s 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. Edward joined the U.S. Army Airforce as a flyer with the rank of technical sergeant.
4. USS Juneau
So all four brothers were serving in various branches of the military. And this meant that a tragic event in November 1942 had a particular relevance to the Niland boys. That month saw the ferocious Battle of Guadalcanal in the Pacific. During the naval fighting, USS Juneau survived a torpedo strike from the Japanese battleship Murasame and though badly damaged managed to stay afloat.