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Robert J. Niland

505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division

Sergeant, U.S. Army

Entered the Service from:

New York



Grave Location:

Plot F, Row 15, Grave 11

The Niland brothers-TSgt. Edward, 2ndLt. Preston, Sgt. Robert, and Sgt. Frederick-were raised by their parents Michael and August Niland in Tonawanda, NY. The brothers, who were of Irish-German decent, all attended Canisius College except for Preston who went to the University of Buffalo.

All four Niland Brothers. From L to R, Top Row: Edward and Robert ; Bottom Row: Preston and Frederick

Before the United States entered the war in Europe, Preston and Robert (Bob) enlisted in the service. Edward and Frederick followed suit after volunteering in November 1942. Around this time, the U.S. War Department had adopted a new “Sole Survivor” policy to protect members of a single family from combat duty if they had already lost family members in military service. This policy was created after the sinking of the USS Juneau in November 1942, in which five brothers lost their lives. 

The five Sullivan brothers on the USS Juneau.

Bob, the second youngest, was a member of D Company, 505thParachute Infantry Regiment, 82ndAirborne Division. After seeing combat in Italy during Operation Avalanche, Bob and the 505thwere one of the first units to parachute into Normandy on D-Day. On the first morning, Bob stayed behind with two other men in his unit, including his friend Lt. Col. Jim Kelly, to hold off a German advance while his company retreated from Neuville-au-Plain. Kelly remembers deciding to stay with the wounded soldiers and Bob said, “If you’re staying, I’m staying.” After they ran out of ammunition, they decided to leave and have the German medics take care of the wounded. Bob and Kelly tried to make it across a hedgerow, but Bob was shot dead. He was 25 years old.

lonel James M Gavin, Commanding Officer of the 505th PIR, gives his men last minute instructions before Operation Husky. July 1943.

Bob’s older brother Preston served in the 22ndInfantry Regiment, 4thInfantry Division. After completing his officers’ training Preston and his unit came onshore at Utah Beach on D-Day. The following day, Preston was killed northwest of Utah Beach. He was 29 years old. Preston and Bob are buried next to each other at the Normandy American Cemetery.

A third brother, Edward, was missing in action and presumed dead. Serving in the Pacific Theater, he had actually parachuted from his crippled B-25 Mitchell and wandered the jungles of Burma before being captured by the Japanese. He was held as a prisoner for a year before being liberated in May 1945. But for a long time, it was thought that only the youngest brother,  Fritz, had survived. After the reported deaths of his three brothers, Fritz was sent back to the United States to complete his service and only later learned that his oldest brother, was actually captive in a Japanese POW camp in Burma. 

Fritz Niland, on the left, survived the war.

Steven Spielberg’s famed film Saving Private Ryanwas inspired by the brothers’ story.

An extract from The Buffalo Evening News from July 8, 1944, covering the tragedy of the Niland brothers.

Awards: Purple Heart

Robert J. Niland is buried in Normandy American Cemetery Plot F, Row 15, Grave 11.