Private Ryan was a fictional character, but there was a historical basis to his story. Following the deaths of the five Sullivan brothers from Waterloo, Iowa, on the USS Juneau in November 1942, the . War Department established the Sole Survivor Policy to protect remaining family members from combat duty. Saving Private Ryan was partially inspired by the real-life story of the Niland brothers. During World War II, Sergeant Frederick “Fritz” Niland, a member of the 101st Airborne, was accidentally dropped behind enemy lines. He eventually made it back to his unit, where he was informed that two of his brothers had died at Normandy and the third had gone missing in Burma. Niland was sent home to Tonawanda, New York. His family’s tragedy had a somewhat happier ending, however, when the brother who was believed to have died in the Far East was liberated from a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.
Known by the Allies as "Hitler's Buzzsaw", the German MG42 was perhaps the deadliest machine gun of WWII. Its extreme high rate of fire is accurately portrayed in the film. Its most notable appearance is during the Omaha Beach sequence, being fired from large pillboxes and sandbag positions overlooking the beach. The 2 pillboxes housing the MG42's are called 'Schnabelstande' and they were only used for observation and target spotting, not MG emplacement. However, there were none of these bunkers on the real Omaha Beach. The MG42 is later seen mounted on a lafette tripod, when Miller and his squad encounter a German radar station.