[O]n June 6, 1944, Captain Miller and his men had landed at Omaha Beach, ahorror James Ryan had been spared as part of the 101st Airborne. His unit had been dropped into Normandy the night before the sea assault. He later learned from the tales of his buddies and from seeing newsreel footage what D-day had been like. Although Germany had not been expecting the assault at the place Eisenhower chose, the air assault hadn’t softened their positions one whit,and when the armored front of the Higgins boats opened onto the beach, the men were ducks on a pond to the enemy’s machine guns. Many of those sitting forward in the landing craft never had a chance to move from their seats as the Germans opened fire. Those who jumped over the craft’s sides to swim and crawl ashore could only cling to the Belgian gates and iron hedgehogs—the jack-shaped defensive works strewn in rows all along the shingle that prevented tanks frommaking the initial assault.
The army rangers humped forward in waves, men falling to the right and left every few feet. They were getting hit not only by machine-gun fire but by artillery as well. Bodies flew with the explosions. The wounded picked up their severed arms and stumbled a few more feet to their deaths. The waves washing onto the beaches ran red with blood, lapping at the dead, who lay scattered and senseless. Captain Miller and a few of his company made it to the seawall. Although 50 percent of the men in the first waves to hit Omaha Beach were killed in action, the others broke the first line of German defenses.
Soon after the hell of D-Day, Captain Miller and a squad of seven men wereassigned to find paratrooper James Ryan and bring him home—alive. The army’s chief of staff, General George C. Marshall, had personally issued the order for Private James Ryan to be taken out of the war. Ryan’s two older brothers had died in the great assault, and a third brother had been killed in action in New Guinea. Marshall thought that three sons were enough for any mother to contribute to the war.