Frederick ‘Fritz’ Niland of Tonawanda, NY was a Sgt in H/501 PIR who was misdropped below Carentan on D-Day, but with his buddy Jack Breier, fought his way back to the 501. Although virtually every writer who tells the Niland story mucks up some details, the basic facts are these: All three of Fritz’s brothers, who were on active duty with the US Military, became casualties in less than three weeks of one another. Fritz oldest brother Eddie was on an USAAF bomber which was shot down in May 1944. His mother, Augusta, received the MIA telegram on June 8th, 1944 when her other three sons were all participating in the Army’s Normandy invasion.
Robert “Bob the Beast” Niland jumped near St. Mere Eglise with D/505 PIR, 82nd Airborne and was killed in heavy fighting at Neuville au Plain on June 6th. Brother Preston was a lieutenant in the 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Division and landed on Utah Beach. On June 7th, 1944, he was also killed in the area NW of Utah Beach. When Fritz returned from his misdrop circa June 11, he rejoined H/501 and was decorated for grenading a German M.G. nest at Hill 30 on June 12th. After learning that Fritz was probably the sole surviving son of his family, Father Francis Sampson, the 501’s Catholic Chaplain started paperwork to have Fritz sent back to safer duty in the US. The paperwork took quite awhile to go through, and didn’t come back approved until the end of the summer.
Unlike Ambrose asserts in his books, Fritz was not pulled off the front lines. He remained in Normandy with the 501 until they sailed back to England, which is where this photograph was taken, and Fritz Niland is the trooper standing on the left. Fritz remained with H/501 throughout the summer of ‘44, suiting up for two missions which were canceled, before the orders came through for him to return to zone of Interior. Fritz of course, protested the order. He wanted to return to front lines and avenge his three lost brothers. Against his objections, he was overruled and sent back for MP duty in New York state until the war ended. Against all odds, one of his brothers did survive - Eddie returned from his MIA status many months later, having been liberated from a Japanese POW camp.
This may all sound familiar to you: Niland’s story, having been told in two of Stephen Ambrose’s books (Band of Brothers, and Citizen Soldiers) and Don Malarkey’s memoir (Easy Company Soldier) also inspired the movie Saving Private Ryan after being read by Tom Hanks.
/ April 23, 2012 / 50