Saving Private Ryan




Director:    Steven Spielberg.

Starring:    Tom Hanks (Captain Miller),  Tom Sizemore (Sergeant Horvath), Edward Burns (Private Reiben), Barry Pepper (Private Jackson), Adam Goldberg (Private Mellish), Vin Diesel (Private Caparzo), Giovanni Ribisi (T/4 Medic Wade), Jeremy Davies (Corporal Upham), Matt Damon (Private Ryan), Ted Danson (Captain Hamill), Paul Giamatti (Sergeant Hill), Dennis Farina (Lieutenant Colonel Anderson), Joerg Stadler (Steamboat Willie), Maximilian Martini (Corporal Henderson), Dylan Bruno (Toynbe), Daniel Cerqueira (Weller), Demetri Goritsas (Parker), Ian Porter (Trask), Gary Sefton (Rice), Julian Spencer (Garrity), Steve Griffin (Wilson), William Marsh (Lyle), Marc Cass (Fallon), Markus Napier (Major Hoess).

Following the struggles of D-Day, a squad is sent out to find and bring back the sole surviving son of a family which had already lost three sons in the fighting.


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

A veteran of D-Day returns to Normandy to visit the burial ground for those Allied servicemen who were killed on D-Day, the day the Allies opened up a second front in Europe.  He is looking for a particular grave.  He finally finds it and goes to his knees sobbing.  He stops crying and remembers back to June 6, 1944, Dog Green Sector, Omaha Beach, France. 

Flashback.  Captain Miller's hands shake as he handles his canteen to get a drink.  A couple of men start vomiting.  As the landing craft opens the gates to let the men out, the whole front section is wiped out by machine gun fire.  Captain Miller shouts to the men:  "Over the side!"   As the men jump into the water, some are killed by bullets traveling through the water.  Another man drowns.  The captain helps a man by steadying him in the water, just to see him killed by a bullet to the chest.  The beach becomes covered with dead and wounded soldiers.  An explosion tears off a man's leg. 

Captain Miller crawls on all fours to the beach.  He can't hear anything right now.  He notices men cowering behind the iron barriers set up by the Germans.  A flame thrower tank explodes covering three men with fire.  Another man looks around for the arm that has been shot off.  A landing craft catches on fire and soldiers exiting the craft are also on fire.  The waters of the English Channel by the beach are turning red with blood.  Captain Miller is dazed and disoriented.  One of his men asks him:  "What now, sir?" but the captain can't hear his words.  He finally recovers and starts shouting orders to his men.  He shouts to the sergeant:  "Move your men off the beach!"  The sergeant leads the way.  Some of the men stop behind some barriers and say they are not continuing.  Captain Miller tells them that ever inch of the beach has been pre-sighted by the Germans  -- "You stay here, you're dead men!"  The captain moves forward.  A man with his intestines spilled outside of his body cries for his mother. 

An explosives man from the Navy Beach Battalion tells the captain to get his men off the beach, because he has to clear the area of the barriers, so the tanks can come through.  Captain Miller drags one of his men onto the beach, but soon discovers he is saving a dead man who has lost both legs.  Now he gets up and runs as fast as he can to a semi-safe area behind a sand berm set up by the Germans.  Captain Miller tells his radioman  that no armor has made it to shore and to send the message:  "We do not hold the beach." 

Sgt. Horvath moves over next to Captain Miller.  Miller grabs his radioman only to find his face gone.  He takes the radio and tries to communicate with headquarters.  Three medics work on a badly wounded soldier and stop the bleeding, but their patient is hit by a bullet that goes through his helmet and into his head. 

The captain gives the order to gather weapons and ammunition.  The sarge tells Private Reiben to go find another B.A.R.  (Browning Automatic Rifle).  The captain yells to him to bring up some bangalores (long tubes filled with explosives that can be slipped under obstacles and ignited to clear an area).  There is a lot of screaming to be heard coming from the wounded.  One of the men is hit in the helmet, but not killed.  He takes off his helmet to look at it and is hit in the head and killed by a bullet.  The bangalores placed under the barbed wire are exploded, clearing the way for the men.  Now the men start running up closer to the small cliffs and higher ground  below the German fixed positions.  Finally, they can start shooting at the Germans. 

Captain Miller sends Private Jackson forward to a position where more effective fire can be directed at the Germans above them.  He makes it.  Jackson is a sniper.  He zeros in on a German and hits him in the chest.  An explosion occurs a short ways beneath the Germans stacked sand bags and a German soldier is blown out and down the hill.  The Americans kill him as quickly as they can. 

Now that the machine gun nest is gone, the men can really start moving forward.  The men get up onto the high ground.  Just yards away from the Germans, the Americans trade shots with them.  A group of German soldiers runs to another position, but are shot dead before they can get there.  Sgt. Horvath throws a grenade into an opening in a huge bunker complex.  Three German soldiers rush out of the exit door and are killed.  A flame thrower is used to burn out the rest of the Germans.   A small group of Germans stand up with their hands in the air.  One of the soldiers is killed, but the rest are taken prisoner.   Two other Germans try to surrender but the Americans kill them. 

Some of the men can relax a bit.  One man, Caparzo, finds a Hitler Youth knife and gives it to a Jewish soldier called Fish.  Fish starts sobbing thinking of the many Jewish men, women and children killed by the Nazis.  Captain Miller takes a drink of water, his right hand shaking badly.  He and the sergeant look back to the beach saying that it's quite a view.  One soldier dead on the beach is S. Ryan. 

Headquarters in Washington, D. C.  Women typists are typing forms and letters notifying relatives of the death of their loved one or ones.  One of the women discovers that three of the four Ryan brothers have been killed in action.  She checks her facts, but then rushes in to speak to an officer about it.  The two of them go into the captain's office.  Other women typists notice the commotion and stand up to see what's going on.  Now the three of them go to see the colonel.  The captain hands Sean Ryan's death notice to the colonel, followed by the form for Peter Ryan. Both men died on D-Day.  Then comes the form for Daniel Ryan, killed on New Guinea. All three Ryans were brothers.  Their mother will be getting a telegram this afternoon notifying her of her loss.  Then there's the matter of the fourth Ryan brother, James, who parachuted into France and is somewhere in Normandy.  They don't know whether this Private Ryan is dead or alive.  Now the three officers together go to General George C. Marshall's office. 

A car heads to an isolated farm surrounded by fields.  Mrs. Ryan looks up and sees the car coming.  She sees that it is an army vehicle and is very apprehensive.  She opens the door  slowly and steps out onto the porch.  A clergyman gets out together with an officer to speak to her.  Mother plops down on the porch floor.   

Gen. Marshall, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, is told of the story of the four Ryan brothers.  Another officer says there is no way to know where this James Ryan is.  The 101st Airborne outfit is scattered all over Normandy.  And there were plenty of missdrops.  In fact, the man is probably KIA (killed in action) already.  Marshall gets a copy of a letter out of a book.  He says it was written a long time ago to a Mrs. Bixby in Boston. 

"Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the war department a statement of the adjutant general of Massachusetts that you are the mother of 5 sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.  I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine that would attempt to beguile you  from the grief of a loss so overwhelming.  But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the republic they died to save.  I pray that Our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom. 

Yours very sincerely and respectful,

Abraham Lincoln. "

Marshall says:  "The boy is alive.  We are gonna' send somebody to find him and are going to get him the hell out of there."

Omaha Beach.  D-Day plus three.  Captain Miller reports to the major that his company helped secure sector 4.  In addition, they took 23 prisoners.  His casualties are 35 dead and 70 wounded.  The major says he has another assignment for Miller.  He adds:  "And this one's straight from the top."

Miller tells Horvath that they are taking a squad and going to Neuville on a public relations mission.  He says that Private Ryan has lost three brothers and therefore, as the sole surviving son,  has a ticket home.  They will take Reiben, Jackson, Wade, Caparzo and Mellish.  Miller goes looking for a Corporal Timothy E. Upham.  He finds him with the other clerks and confirms that Upham speaks a bit of French and German with a Bavarian accent.  Neuville is nervous and repeats a couple of times that there are a lot of Germans in Neuville.  Miller knows that, of course.  Upham says he hasn't fired a weapon since basic training.  Miller dismisses that as a barrier. 

So off the unit goes walking.  Reiben leads the way because he has the B.A.R., but he doesn't like the mission saying they are risking the lives of eight of them just to save one life. Gunfire and explosions are heard.  The men rush to the village of Neuville.  It is raining hard.   The Americans are happy to see reinforcements, but the captain has to tell them they are only here to find a Private James Ryan. He and his men go with Sgt. Hill and his men to get to the other side of the village to see if Private Ryan is there.  They move from building to building and gate to gate.

They come upon a French family stranded by all the fighting in the area.  The couple wants the Americans to take their children first.  The captain says absolutely no, but Caparzo goes up and gets one of the children.  Captain Miller really yells at him for this.  Caparzo is going to go back for another child, when he is hit by a German sniper.  He tries to continue, but falls onto the street.  The men tell Caparzo to stay still so he doesn't get shot again, but he just can't keep still.  Wade the medic wants to go out to him, but the captain says no.  Jackson gets into position to shoot the sniper.  The German sniper goes back and forth with his lens trying to find out the positions of the other Americans.  He comes across the head and helmet of Jackson, but just as he is about to fire, Jackson fires and the bullet goes through the lens and into the sniper's right eye.  Blood spurts out from the back of the head of the German. 

The medic is going to cover the dead body of Caparzo with a blanket.  The men advance a little.  Sgt. Hill tells the men to rest here.  He sits down and knocks some lumber backwards that pushes down a wall exposing a room full of German soldiers.  The two sides shout at each other to drop their weapons.  As they are shouting, overhead Capt. Hamill and his squad opens up on the Germans, killing or badly wounding all of them.  Capt. Miller asks Capt. Hamill about finding James Ryan.  Hamill has a James Ryan in his outfit.  Ryan comes up and Miller tells him that his brothers are dead.  Ryan starts crying.  He asks how they died and Miller says they died in action.  Ryan says that can't be because his brothers are still in grammar school.  The young soldier is the wrong James Ryan and he's from Minnesota, not Iowa.  Miller is a bit embarrassed by the big foul-up and apologizes to Ryan and Capt. Hamill. 

Miller, however, does find a man who was with Ryan and he shows the captain where they were when they were missdropped.  The captain and his men stay in the local church to get some rest before pulling out again.  Captain Miller's right hand is still shaking.  He tells Horvath that he has 94 men under his command so far.  He says:  "This Ryan better be worth it."   

The corporal speaks with the captain.  He learns that the captain knows Emerson.  (No wonder since the captain teaches English.)

The next day the guys are on the march again.  They come to a glider landing zone.  One of the gliders crashed and 22 men have been lost.   They check through the dog tags of the dead and ask some paratroopers about John Francis Ryan.  They find a man who knows James Francis Ryan.  The fellow may be at Ramelle baby-sitting a bridge --  a very important bridge as it's one of the few left over the river in the area.  The squad heads out for Ramelle.  They find some dead Americans along the way.  They also find a German communications outpost.  Miller says they'll take the outpost.  His men want to go around the station instead, but Miller says he's not going to leave the station behind so these Germans can  destroy the next squad coming along. 

The men attack the station.  They get close enough and start throwing grenades into the German positions.  A very scared Upham stays behind.  The medic is hit and hit badly. The men start patching him up, but he is wounded too badly.  He calls out for his Mama and dies.  The men take out their anger on a German soldier who survived by beating him.  The man begs for his life.  The captain has the prisoner dig the graves for the American dead in the area.  Miller goes someplace by himself and cries.   

The captain decides to let the prisoner go against the will of most of the men, except Upham who says it's against the rules to kill a prisoner.  Reiben says he's done with the mission and starts walking off.  Sgt. Horvath stops him and tells him to get back in line.  When Reiben doesn't obey, Horvath takes out his pistol and threatens to shoot him.  The captain distracts the men by asking about the betting pool trying to guess where Miller is from.  The pool is up to $300 dollars. It turns out Miller's from a small town in Pennsylvania and teaches English composition. 

The squad starts to move on.  They don't get far before a German troop transport comes rattling through the area.  The captain has his men hide in the huge open field.  They are just going to let the transport pass them by, but all of a sudden there is a big explosion and no one knows where it came from.  Then there's still another explosion, completely destroying the vehicle.  The Germans start climbing out of the vehicle and the squad starts shooting them as they make an appearance.  It doesn't take long before they finish off the enemy troops. 

All of a sudden a group of three soldiers shout that they are 101st, don't shoot!   Corporal Henderson tells the captain that those Germans were a reconnaissance element, Second S.S.  They have a bazooka with them, the obvious source of the explosions.  The men introduce themselves.  The captain takes immediate note when the middle man of the three says his names is Ryan.  James Francis Ryan? asks the captain.  Ryan answers:  "Yes, sir.  How'd you guess that?"  The captain's squad just stares at Ryan. 

Remelle.  The captain tells the 101st Airborne corporal that they have come for Ryan.  He takes Ryan to the side and tells him quickly that his brothers are dead.  Ryan asks which ones?  All of them is the answer.  Captain Miller explains that Ryan is going home.  Ryan says he's not leaving the squad.  Miller says the orders came directly from the Army Chief of Staff.  Ryan still fights verbally with Miller.  Reiben butts in saying to Ryan:  "Hey, asshole.  Two of our guys already died trying to find you, all right?"  Ryan goes over to him and asks who were the two men who died?  Wade and Caparzo.  And yet still Ryan says he's not going home.  The other men have fought just as hard as he has and should also deserve to go home.  The captain asks him:  "Is that what they're supposed to tell your mother when they send her another folded American flag?"  Ryan answers that they can say that her son died fighting alongside his brothers here in the unit. 

So the captain decides to stay and fight alongside Ryan.  The men start preparing for the upcoming fight for the bridge.  They want to draw the Germans in between the remaining buildings still standing in order to catch them in a kind of ambush.  They put a machinegun up in the church tower.  Upham will be the runner supplying ammunition to the men. 

The men are ready for the Germans.  They relax on the stoops of the buildings.  Capt. Miller has Ryan stick really close to him.  They talk for awhile, that is until they hear some rumbling.  The Germans are coming.  Capt. Miller orders the men to their assigned positions.  One panzer tank goes by, but the second one comes right down the middle of the road.  They attach some sticky bombs with lit fuses and blow the tracks off the panzer tank.  Molotov cocktails are dropped right on top of a half-track which catches fire followed by a big explosion.  Another tank shoots at the tower and hits it. 

A call for ammo goes out and Upham starts running.  But he runs into a great number of German soldiers coming his way and stops.  Sgt. Horvath hits a smaller tank with a round from a bazooka.  Upham can hear the screams of two enemies fighting with each other, but only slows walks up the steps to where the commotion is coming from.  He is so slow that the German is able to kill Fish with Fish's own bayonet.  The German comes down the steps past Upham who is crying and so afraid that he can't do anything.  Sgt. Horvath is shot, but still is able to run.  He goes and retrieves Upham with his ammunition supplies.  In the streets Upham hides in a huge open pit. 

The Americans have to keep retreating.  Sgt. Horvath is hit several times by bullets. Captain Miller decides that they will blow the bridge.  A tiger tank hits the building near Capt. Miller and again the captain can't hear anything.  He sees Sgt. Horvath dead.  The German soldiers are right next to the pit in which Upham is hiding.  Captain Miller is hit in the right shoulder area by the prisoner he let go and Miller goes down. He takes out his pistol and fires at the tiger tank coming his way.   As he fires again and again, the tank suddenly explode.  The Allied planes, tank killers, have arrived and are now bombing the German tanks.  Reiben comes over to take care of the captain's shoulder wound. 

Upham gets up some courage and gets the drop on a number of German soldiers.  The man who was let go is among them and he reminds Upham that he is the soldier that Upham tried so hard to help.  Upham shoots the man in the chest.   

Ryan comes over to Miller and Miller says to him:  "James, earn this.  Earn it."  Miller dies. 

General Marshall writes to Ryan's mother. 

"My Dear Mrs. Ryan,

It's with the most profound sense of joy that I write to inform you, your son, Private James Ryan, is well and, at this very moment, on his way home from European battlefields.  Reports from the front indicate James did his duty in combat with great courage and steadfast dedication even after he was informed of the tragic loss your family has suffered in this great campaign to rid the world of tyranny and oppression.  I take great pleasure in joining the secretary of war, the men and women of the United States Army, and the citizens of a grateful nation in wishing you good health and many years of happiness with James at your side.  Nothing, not even the safe return of a beloved son, can compensate you or the thousands of other American families who have suffered great loss in this tragic war.  . . ."    He goes on to quote from Lincoln's letter to Mrs. Bixby. 

Back to the present.  The man at the gravesite turns out to be James Francis Ryan.  His family gives him plenty of room to grieve.  He speaks to the grave of Captain Miller saying that he has tried to "earn" being saved by the captain and his men.  He adds:  "And I've tried to live my life the best I could.  I hope that was enough.  I hope that, at least in your eyes, I've earned what all of you have done for me."   His wife comes up to him and he asks her to tell him that he is a good man.  She says:  "You are."  Ryan salutes the captain. 


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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