This year marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day. On the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, American, British, and Canadian forces stormed five beaches in Normandy, in northern France, in what was the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany’s domination of Europe.
To commemorate the anniversary, 600 movie theaters around the country will be screening Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece “Saving Private Ryan” for only two days (June 2 and June 5). The movie, starring Tom Hanks and Matt Damon, debuted in 1998 to wide critical acclaim. The film was added to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won five (Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing).
On D-Day, U.S. forces were assigned two beaches (Omaha and Utah), British forces also had two beaches to secure (Sword and Gold), and the Canadians were given the task of storming one beach (Juno). Overall, approximately 160,000 Allied soldiers landed on the first day supported by close to 5,000 warships and 13,000 aircraft. Most of the landing forces encountered light to medium resistance. The American forces who landed on Omaha beach, however, experienced hell. And the film is famous for the realistic depiction of what transpired in that landing zone.
Spielberg’s father, Arnold Spielberg, served in the Army’s Signal Corps during the Second World War and fought in Burma as a communications non-commissioned officer in a B-25 bomber squadron. He was partly the reason for his son’s desire to direct “Saving Private Ryan.”
Captain Dale Dye, a United States Marine Corps veteran and military adviser for the film, told Task & Purpose that the production and filming crew “wanted people to get the feeling that despite what you see in movies and what you read in books, death in hellacious combat like there was on Omaha Beach can sometimes be very random, and it can be shocking because it’s so close.”
A veteran of the Vietnam War, where he was awarded the Bronze Star for valor, Captain Dye has also worked as a military adviser for Oliver Stone’s film “Platoon” as well as for the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers” and “Pacific.” He also had acting roles in both “Saving Private Ryan” and “Band of Brothers.”
An interesting side note, a great number of events and obstacles found in Ranger School and the annual Best Ranger Competition are inspired by real-world events that took place during World War II. The 2nd Ranger Regiment’s scaling of the Point-du-Hoc, a formidable cliff between the Omaha and Utah beachheads, is one such event.