The Omaha Beach Landing In ‘Saving Private Ryan’ Changed How We Look At WWII

“I wasn’t there in 1944 in June on Omaha Beach, but seeing that, I somehow felt I was,” Marine veteran Dale Dye, the military advisor on "Saving Private Ryan" told Task & Purpose.
Task & Purpose photo illustration by Aaron Provost/Saving Private Ryan

Welcome to That One Scene, a semi-regular series in which Marine veteran and pop culture omnivore James Clark waxes nostalgic about that one scene from a beloved movie.

On July 24, 1998, Steven Spielberg gave American audiences one of the greatest World War II films of all time when Saving Private Ryan premiered.

The war drama, set just after the landing on Normandy, follows a squad of Army Rangers tasked with rescuing a paratrooper whose three brothers have all been killed in combat. Led by Tom Hanks’ Capt. John Miller, the Rangers set out in search of one soldier among tens of thousands, lost in a hellscape of death. Day after day, they’re forced to wonder whether saving one grunt to minimize a family’s grief is worth all the risk.

Spielberg dwells on the costs of war, nowhere more poignantly — and influentially — than in one of the movie’s first scenes, a 20-minute gut-punch as U.S. soldiers land at Omaha Beach on D-Day:

As soon as the ramp lowers on the Higgins Boats, German machine-gun fire rakes the bow. Of those lucky enough to make it over the side, many die in the water. The ones who make it to the beach are torn apart by small arms, artillery fire, and shrapnel.

That’s just the first minute.

“One of the things that really got me about this [scene] was the randomness of death, and the randomness of wounding,” Marine veteran Dale Dye, who worked as the film’s military advisor, told Task & Purpose. “That’s there because we 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.”

Related:  ‘Independence Day’ Gave Us The Greatest Presidential Address In Recent History »

In this filmic world, failure is always an option. There’s no glorious charge across the field. The in-the-mud, grounds-eye view of combat viewers got in that scene, what Dye calls “asses and elbows,” places the viewer directly in the action, but not as an idle spectator. Instead, you’re there on the beach, terrified, unsure if you’ll make it out.

“That’s how you tend to see firefights if you’re involved in it,” Dye said. “You see the other guy’s butt and his elbows, and everybody’s down as far as they can get,” adding that it’s precisely that point of view that Spielberg wanted to convey in the scene.

To make that happen, Dye was tasked with corralling roughly 1,000 extras — reserve members of the Irish Defense Forces — and in the span of a week, teaching them how to wear World War II era U.S. infantry uniforms, which “were a nightmare,” Dye said. “We had to go from the helmet on downward to the leggings.”

Courtesy of Dale Dye

"I knew whatever else we did with that film, that sequence was going to live on.”

Next came weapons training on Browning Automatic Rifles, M1 Garands, M1 Carbines, and Thompson submachine guns, which included courses in combat reloads, “so when [actors] fired and ran out of ammo, they wouldn’t just stand there and look like deer in the headlights,” he said. “Instead, they’d reload and get back into action.”

The idea was that once the cameras were rolling — about four or five cameras to capture the wide shots, and a number of handhelds for cameramen running through across the beach — there’d be no stopping the action.

“I told Steven Spielberg ‘Listen, boss, this is an attack in progress. When they go, we’re just going to have to let it go,’ and he said ‘OK, OK, I love it,’” Dye told T&P.; Shooting from in the middle of all that action is in many ways what set the Omaha Beach scene apart from other combat scenes that came before it: It captured the chaos because it was chaotic.

Related: Pfc Hudson Was The Belligerent Marine We All Wanted To Be In ‘Aliens’ »

But making that “attack in progress” entails many small and often overlooked details, drawn from firsthand accounts of survivors: dead fish wash onto the beach, killed by thousands of rounds of HE exploding across the coast; a grievously wounded soldier picks up his severed arm; and troops flounder in the water as the sound of artillery dies off, then surges back as they resurface.

“When they get underwater it’s absolute dead silence, then they surface and the roaring noise comes back,” said Dye, a combat-decorated Vietnam veteran and three-time Purple Heart who’s forged a second career as a military advisor for Hollywood hits. “I thought that was absolutely brilliant. And I’ve heard that, I’ve seen that happen. It’s shocking when things go silent and there’s no reason for them to go silent.”

The effect is that this depiction of combat — which left an estimated 10,000 Allied soldiers dead, wounded, or missing, during the beach landings 74 years ago — is somehow relatable to those of us who never witnessed it first hand.

“I had seen a video replay of several sequences, but when it was cut together, my jaw dropped open,” Dye said. “I think I’ve seen every war movie there is, but I had never seen anything like that. It just put me right there.

“I wasn’t there in 1944 in June on Omaha Beach, but seeing that, I somehow felt I was,” he added. “It was that transporting. I knew whatever else we did with that film, that sequence was going to live on.”


President Donald Trump speaks during an event with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison at Pratt Industries, Sunday, Sept 22, 2019, in Wapakoneta, Ohio. (Associated Press/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump said on Sunday that he discussed Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden and his son in a call with Ukraine's president.

Trump's statement to reporters about his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky came as the Democratic leader of a key congressional panel said the pursuit of Trump's impeachment may be the "only remedy" to the situation.

Read More Show Less
"It's kind of like the equivalent of dropping a soda can into canyon and putting on a blindfold and going and finding it, because you can't just look down and see it," diver Jeff Goodreau said of finding the wreck.

The USS Eagle 56 was only five miles off the coast of Maine when it exploded.

The World War I-era patrol boat split in half, then slipped beneath the surface of the North Atlantic. The Eagle 56 had been carrying a crew of 62. Rescuers pulled 13 survivors from the water that day. It was April 23, 1945, just two weeks before the surrender of Nazi Germany.

The U.S. Navy classified the disaster as an accident, attributing the sinking to a blast in the boiler room. In 2001, that ruling was changed to reflect the sinking as a deliberate act of war, perpetuated by German submarine U-853, a u-boat belonging to Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine.

Still, despite the Navy's effort to clarify the circumstances surrounding the sinking, the Eagle 56 lingered as a mystery. The ship had sunk relatively close to shore, but efforts to locate the wreck were futile for decades. No one could find the Eagle 56, a small patrol ship that had come so close to making it back home.

Then, a group of friends and amateur divers decided to try to find the wreck in 2014. After years of fruitless dives and intensive research, New England-based Nomad Exploration Team successfully located the Eagle 56 in June 2018.

Business Insider spoke to two crew members — meat truck driver Jeff Goodreau and Massachusetts Department of Corrections officer Donald Ferrara — about their discovery.

Read More Show Less
(CIA photo)

Before the 5th Special Forces Group's Operational Detachment Alpha 595, before 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment's MH-47E Chinooks, and before the Air Force combat controllers, there were a handful of CIA officers and a buttload of cash.

Read More Show Less

The last time the world saw Marine veteran Austin Tice, he had been taken prisoner by armed men. It was unclear whether his captors were jihadists or allies of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad who were disguised as Islamic radicals.

Blindfolded and nearly out of breath, Tice spoke in Arabic before breaking into English:"Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus."

That was from a video posted on YouTube on Sept. 26, 2012, several weeks after Tice went missing near Damascus, Syria, while working as a freelance journalist for McClatchy and the Washington Post.

Now that Tice has been held in captivity for more than seven years, reporters who have regular access to President Donald Trump need to start asking him how he is going to bring Tice home.

Read More Show Less

"Shoots like a carbine, holsters like a pistol." That's the pitch behind the new Flux Defense system designed to transform the Army's brand new sidearm into a personal defense weapon.

Read More Show Less