Soldiers don't die

"A man dies only when he is forgotten"

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

An Interesting Story

This story is not something directly related to Mel, but rather one of his relatives. As you read on, you will begin to see why I'm interested (and part of the reason why I became a World War II reenactor and historian)

It concerns a man named Fritz Niland. Never heard of him? Here's his story, as written by my own father in his genealogy research from 2010.

Frederick Niland (known as "Fritz") was born in Tonawanda, NY on April 23, 1920, the youngest of six children of Michael C. Niland, who worked as a steel plant superintendant, and his wife Augusta Witzke. He grew up at 62 Longs Avenue with three brothers and two sisters. He was attending Canisius College in Buffalo, but when the United States entered World War II he joined the 101st Airborne Division, attaining the rank of Sergeant, and took part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy as a member of H Company, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment.  The wartime story of Frederick and his family was the inspiration for the 1998 Academy Award-winning motion picture "Saving Private Ryan." His brothers, Sgt. Robert J. and Lt. Preston T. Niland, were both killed during the first two days of the Normandy invasion, and his oldest brother, Tech Sgt. Edward Niland, was shot down while on a bombing mission over Burma. Although Edward survived and spent a year as a Japanese prisoner of war, he was presumed dead, so Frederick was returned to the United States to prevent the loss of all four of the brothers to the war. (The rescue mission depicted in the movie was, however, fictional. In reality, the chaplain of the 501st heard about the brothers, and had Frederick returned home, where he served out the rest of the war as an MP in New York.*)

*This (Niland's) story is told in the book Band of Brothers, but was not included in the television mini-series based on the book. Frederick was not pulled from the front line as indicated in the movie, but returned with his unit to London, and was sent home instead of returning to action as stated in the book. In early 2010, a newspaper article reported plans for a war memorial in Tonawanda which would feature Frederick and another Tonawanda native, Warren "Skip" Muck, who served with Frederick and was killed later, in the Battle of The Bulge. (Mel was also involved in the Ardennes campaign and he was said by other relatives to have been wounded in the arm during the Battle of the Bulge, though he never spoke about it) Fritz and Skip were, in fact, friends before the war.

After the war, Frederick was studying dentistry at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. when he married Marilyn J. Batt.

Marilyn Jane Batt was the youngest of the four daughters of Raymond Batt and Mary Hartnett. She was born April 20, 1923, in Tonawanda. She was not quite three years old when her father died, and she grew up on Payne Avenue in North Tonawanda with her mother and three older sisters....

When Marilyn was 25 years old, she married Frederick William Niland on June 5, 1948.

...In the mid-1960s, they moved to Maryland, and then to Guam in 1968. A year later, they relocated again to San Francisco. Marilyn and Frederick separated in the early 1980s, and Marilyn moved to Anchorage, Alaska, where her daughters lived. Frederick remained in San Francisco, where he died at age 63, on December 1, 1983. He was buried in the veteran's cemetery at Fr. Richardson in Anchorage. Marilyn died six years later in Anchorage at age 66, on January 20, 1990, and was also buried at Fr Richardson.


"Two of Four Sons Killed, Third is Missing in 2 Days" Oswego-Palladium Times, Oswego, NY. 5 Aug 1944, p.1; online

Ambrose, Stephen E. Band of Brothers (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001, p. 102-103.

Bando, Mark A. 101st Airborne: The Screaming Eagles at Normandy (Osceola, WI: Zenith Imprint, 2001), p. 153-155.

Batt, Douglas G. The Descendants of John Batt (1825-1880) and Catherine Eckhart (1828-1890) of Alsace and Western New York.  From the library of Douglas G. and son Jeffrey D. Batt.  2010.

Charles, Nick. "Home Truths - A Real-Life Private Ryan, Fritz Niland Came Back to a Devastated Family," People magazine, volume 50 No. 8 (7 Sept 1998)

Frederick "Fritz" Niland on Saving Private Ryan Online Encyclopedia, <>

"Saving Sgt Niland" on Mark Bando's Website, <>, March 2008.

"Plans Call for Memorial to Local Heroes, Film Legends" Tonawanda News, 8 Jan 2010
 How does this relate to my family, and to me?

Marilyn J. Batt was Melville Batt's second cousin. Therefore, my grandfather's second cousin-in-law was the man who inspired the movie Saving Private Ryan. And my family is thus indirectly connected to both Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers. Which makes this guy a distant relative of mine.


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