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.”


Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher will retire as a chief petty officer now that President Donald Trump has restored his rank.

"Before the prosecution of Special Warfare Operator First Class Edward Gallagher, he had been selected for promotion to Senior Chief, awarded a Bronze Star with a "V" for valor, and assigned to an important position in the Navy as an instructor," a White House statement said.

"Though ultimately acquitted on all of the most serious charges, he was stripped of these honors as he awaited his trial and its outcome. Given his service to our Nation, a promotion back to the rank and pay grade of Chief Petty Officer is justified."

The announcement that Gallagher is once again an E-7 effectively nullifies the Navy's entire effort to prosecute Gallagher for allegedly committing war crimes. It is also the culmination of Trump's support for the SEAL throughout the legal process.

On July 2, military jurors found Gallagher not guilty of premeditated murder and attempted murder for allegedly stabbing a wounded ISIS fighter to death and opening fire at an old man and a young girl on separate occasions during his 2017 deployment to Iraq.

Read More Show Less
Maj. Matthew Golsteyn in Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of Philip Stackhouse.)

President Donald Trump has ended the decade-long saga of Maj. Matthew Golsteyn by ordering a murder charge against the former Green Beret dismissed with a full pardon.

The Army charged Golsteyn with murder in December 2018 after he repeatedly acknowledged that he killed an unarmed Afghan man in 2010. Golsteyn's charge sheet identifies the man as "Rasoul."

Read More Show Less
(Screenshot from 'Leavenworth')

President Donald Trump has signed a full pardon for former 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who had been convicted of murder for ordering his soldiers to open fire on three unarmed Afghan men, two of whom were killed.

Lorance will now be released from the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he had been serving a 19-year sentence.

"He has served more than six years of a 19-year sentence he received. Many Americans have sought executive clemency for Lorance, including 124,000 people who have signed a petition to the White House, as well as several members of Congress," said a White House statement released Friday.

"The President, as Commander-in-Chief, is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and when appropriate, that mercy is granted. For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country. These actions are in keeping with this long history. As the President has stated, 'when our soldiers have to fight for our country, I want to give them the confidence to fight.'"

Additionally, Trump pardoned Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, who was to go on trial for murder charges next year, and restored the rank of Navy SEAL Chief Edward Gallagher, who was found not guilty of murdering a wounded ISIS prisoner but convicted of taking an unauthorized photo with the corpse.

Fox News contributor Pete Hegseth first announced on Nov. 4 that the president was expected to intervene in the Lorance case was well as exonerate Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, who has been charged with murder after he admitted to killing an unarmed Afghan man whom he believed was a Taliban bomb maker, and restore Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher's rank to E-7.

For the past week, members of Lorance's family and his legal team have been holding a constant vigil in Kansas anticipating his release, said Lorance's attorney Don Brown.

Now that he has been exonerated of committing a war crime, Lorance wants to return to active duty, Brown told Task & Purpose on Wednesday.

"He loves the Army," Brown said prior to the president's announcement. "He doesn't have any animosity. He's hoping that his case – and even his time at Leavenworth – can be used for good to deal with some issues regarding rules of engagement on a permanent basis so that our warfighters are better protected, so that we have stronger presumptions favoring warfighters and they aren't treated like criminals on the South Side of Chicago."

In the Starz documentary "Leavenworth," Lorance's platoon members discuss the series of events that took place on July 2, 2012, when the two Afghan men were killed during a patrol in Kandahar province.They claim that Lorance ordered one of his soldiers to fire at three Afghan men riding a motorcycle. The three men got off their motorcycle and started walking toward Afghan troops, who ordered them to return to their motorcycle.

At that point, Lorance ordered the turret gunner on a nearby Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle to shoot the three men, according to the documentary. That order was initially ignored, but the turret gunner eventually opened fire with his M-240, killing two of the men.

But Lorance told the documentary makers that his former soldiers' account of what happened was "ill-informed."

"From my experience of what actually went down, when my guy fired at it, and it kept coming, that signified hostile intent, because he didn't stop immediately," Lorance said in the documentary's second episode.

Brown argues that not only is Lorance innocent of murder, he should never have been prosecuted in the first case.

"He made a call and when you look at the evidence itself, the call was made within a matter of seconds," Brown said "He would make that call again."

The new Call of Duty Modern Warfare takes gaming to a new level. In fact, it's the best damn video game of 2019 (in my humble opinion).

You can watch video of the awesome gameplay for CoD above, and make sure to follow the Task & Purpose team on Twitch here.

This post was sponsored by GoatGuns.Com. Use the code TP15 for 15% off your next order.

A new trailer just dropped for the upcoming World War I action flick The Great War.

Read More Show Less