Unit: 101st Airborne Division, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment,
3rd Battalion, Company H, 1st Platoon
Parents: Michael and Augusta
Brothers: 3 – Robert, Preston and Edward
Home Town: Tonawanda, New York
The story of the Niland family still inspires and even influenced the writing of Stephen Spielberg’s 1998 movie “Saving Private Ryan.”
Sergeant Frederick “Fritz” Niland was a member of the 101st Airborne’s 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, and was one of those that made the drop into Normandy on June 6, 1944. He landed southwest of Carentan in Raffoville, and he was eventually able to make it back to his unit on his own.
Niland’s three brothers served in other units, Technical Sergeant Robert Niland with the 82nd.AD(505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Company D), Lieutenant Preston Niland with the 4th Infantry Division (22nd Infantry Regiment), and Technical Sergeant Edward Niland as a pilot in the Army Air Force.
Edward had been reported missing over Burma in the Pacific Theater on May 16, 1944. His B-25 had been shot down and he was reported as MIA and presumed killed. Robert was killed on D-Day at Neuville-au-Plain.Preston was killed on June 7th in the vicinity of Utah Beach.
Unlike the fictional Ryan, however, there was no need to send out a rescue mission to find Sergeant Niland. When Father Francis L. Sampson, chaplain of the 501st, learned that two of Niland’s brothers were dead, and that a third was presumed dead, he began the paperwork necessary to send Niland home.
Niland remained with his unit for some time, but once the paperwork cleared he was forced to return to the States, where he served in New York as an MP for the rest of the war.
Fortunately for the Niland family, Edward Niland had not been killed, but had spent almost an entire year in a Japanese prisoner of war camp before being rescued by British forces.
Fritz Niland went on to earn a degree in dentistry at Georgetown University and worked for a year at a government dental program on Guam. Afterwards, he returned to Tonawanda and set up his own dental practice in Niagara Falls. Fritz was awarded a Bronze Star for his service. He died in 1983 in San Francisco at the age of 63.