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12 Small - But Accurate - Details From 'Saving Private Ryan'

Updated September 23, 2021 31.7k votes 6.4k voters 294.7k views12 items

List RulesVote up the small accuracies that heighten the experience of the film.

Praised for its accuracy and emotion-evoking realism, Saving Private Ryan offers a look at the horrors of WWII. In one of the earliest scenes of the movie, Saving Private Ryan takes its audience to the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, recreating the D-Day invasion. The movie goes on to follow a group of Army Rangers on a mission to find one man amid the Allied Forces - Private James Ryan.

Led by Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks), Privates Richard Reiben (Ed Burns), Adrian Caparzo (Vin Diesel), Stanley Mellish (Adam Goldberg), and Daniel Jackson (Barry Pepper) accompany Medic Irwin Wade (Giovanni Ribisi), Corporal Timothy Upham (Jeremy Davies), and Sergeant Mike Horvath (Tom Sizemore) to find their man. Throughout their journey, men give of themselves to the task at hand. 

As the major events of Saving Private Ryan play out, it's easy to miss some of the more subtle details included in the film to heighten its sense of authenticity and honor those who served in WWII. Seemingly minute facts make Saving Private Ryan that much more of a cinematic feat, while subtly adding to the overall movie-watching experience. Here's a list of some of what you may or may not have missed. Which one of the Saving Private Ryan details do you think is the most important?

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  • 5

    The Soldiers In The Movie Wore Unfastened Helmets

    Throughout Saving Private Ryan, soldiers are shown wearing helmets with chinstraps either hanging by the sides of their heads or fastened in the back. During WWII, it was common for men to leave their M1 helmets - made of an outer steel shell and an inner liner - unfastened due to concern among soldiers that a chinstrap would be dangerous in an explosion. The fear was that the force from the blast would blow one's helmet back, breaking the wearer's neck in the process. 

    It was reported that General George S. Patton even ordered men to leave their helmets unfastened after one of his aides perished in Tunisia in this exact manner.

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  • 6

    Soldiers Did Throw Mortar Shells During WWII

    In one scene in Saving Private Ryan, Matt Damon throws a mortar shell, an action that actually led to many individuals who watched the movie crying foul. According to naysayers, no soldier would have ever thrown such a dangerous piece of ammunition.

    There are accounts of soldiers doing just that, however. Technical Sergeant Beauford T. Anderson received a Congressional Medal of Honor for his service during WWII, with a citation that read in part:

    He seized an enemy mortar dud and threw it back among the charging [Japanese], killing several as it burst. Securing a box of mortar shells, he extracted the safety pins, banged the bases upon a rock to arm them and proceeded alternately to hurl shells and fire his piece among the fanatical foe, finally forcing them to withdraw. 

    Chuck "Commando" E. Kelly also earned a Congressional Medal of Honor, having "picked up 60-mm mortar shells, pulled the safety pins, and used the shells as grenades, killing at least five of the enemy" while serving in Italy in 1943.

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  • 7

    They Opted For Very Subtle Military Jargon

    In many war movies, the language used among soldiers is altered for the audience. For example, Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) calls "CATF" into the radio several times, which is short for "Commander, Amphibious Task Force." The audience may not know the meaning of the acronym, but it is authentic military terminology and reflects actual communication that would have taken place between men in the field and the individual in charge of an amphibious operation.

    As another example, it's common to say someone was killed in combat, a civilian expression that's found its way into movies and television. Terminology like KIA is more appropriate among soldiers, and that's what one hears in Saving Private Ryan

    According to Dale Dye, a military consultant on Saving Private Ryan, "That's how real soldiers talk... and the audience gets it." Steven Spielberg wanted to embrace straightforward military speak, really enjoying terms like "defilade," which, according to Dye, "refers to the angle of the weapon and its beaten zone." Essentially, the "defilade" position is an area within which you can't get hit by someone firing at you.

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  • 8

    Soldiers Did Get Seasick Crossing The English Channel

    For director Steven Spielberg, it was important to capture the complexities of the conditions on D-Day:

    It was a blustery day at 6:30 a.m. in the Dog Green sector of Omaha Beach, and the English Channel was a maelstrom. It was all waves and seasickness and waiting for the landing to begin. I wanted this shot to simply symbolize the calmest moment you’d get in the entire experience of watching this film.

    The fear seen in the faces of the soldiers as they are transported to the beaches of Normandy in Saving Private Ryan emphasizes the emotions felt by those men as they went into combat. Additionally, bouts of seasickness brought to life the physical reactions to both the choppy waters of the English Channel and the palpable terror in the moments before battle.

    The honest portrayal of seasickness resonated with veterans like Ted Cordery and Harold Baumgarten. Cordery recalled seeing how "bouncing" boats caused seasickness among troops as they approached the beaches of Northern France. For his part, Baumgarten staved off getting sick during his transport across the English Channel by skipping breakfast on the morning of the invasion. 

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