Texas A&M University Press book Glider Infantryman: Behind Enemy Lines in World War II made national news in an unexpected way this week. It turns out that the family on which the movie “Saving Private Ryan” was based has been circulating the World War II memoir among family members.
“It’s perhaps the most lasting regret for the kids of this branch of the Greatest Generation. How is it possible it took books by outsiders, movies from Hollywood, old stories by others, to cut through the silence in their own homes?” said John Beilein, head basketball coach for the University of Michigan (now in the Final Four) and close relative of the Niland family, on which the 1998 Oscar-winning film “Saving Private Ryan” was based.
In 1992 Stephen Ambrose also featured the family’s story in his bestselling book Band of Brothers.
“I didn’t know a whole lot about the situation until I saw the movie,” said Beilein, who added that even among his generation the war was just rarely discussed.
Beilein’s uncle, the late Tom Niland Jr., served with his cousin Fritz June 6 when both were dropped behind enemy lines, part of the 327th glider regiment of the 101st Airborne. Niland also was Glider Infantryman coauthor Don Rich’s S2 (intelligence officer).
Niland often invited Rich to go on intelligence gathering missions with him and recruited Rich to play on the 327 basketball team that won the 101st Airborne Tournament. Niland is mentioned often in Glider Infantryman, and his family provided a great deal of information for the book.
The Niland family was the inspiration behind the movie Saving Private Ryan. Tom Niland was author Don Rich's S2 (intelligence officer). Tom often invited Don to go on intelligence gathering missions with him. Tom also recruited Don to play on the 327 basketball team that won the 101st Airborne Tournament. Tom selected Don because of his team play. Don was a bench warmer with coauthor Kevin Brook’s father at Wayland High School. Tom is mentioned often in Glider Infantryman. His family helped a lot with information for the book.
Beilein has said that Glider Infantryman is a “phenomenal” book.
Click here for the full article which discusses the impact of WW2 on the family.