Ellis Washington
Earn this... earn it: A Memorial Day Tribute
By Ellis Washington
May 27, 2015

Movie – Saving Private Ryan, Captain John Miller's last words to Pvt. Ryan: "Earn this... earn it!"

Prologue to a Hero's Life

This essay is a Memorial Day tribute to all of the heroic soldiers who gave life and limb, blood and treasure in defense of America's sacred ideas and ideals – God, Family, Country, and America's Judeo-Christian traditions.

Saving Private Ryan (1998) is an American epic war movie based on perhaps the greatest battle in the history of warfare – the Invasion of Normandy, France in World War II. The script was written by Robert Rodat and directed by Steven Spielberg. The film is distinguished for its explicit and realistic depiction of war, and particularly the ferocity of its opening battle scene which lasts about 27 minutes. This opening scene represents the Omaha Beach assault of June 6, 1944 to such a convincing degree that the audience actually feels that they are on the battlefield with the soldiers. The narrative portrays John H. Miller (Tom Hanks) U.S. Army Ranger Captain and a squad (Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Adam Goldberg, Barry Pepper, Jeremy Davies, Giovanni Bibisi, and Vin Diesel) as they search for a paratrooper, Private First Class James Francis Ryan (Matt Damon), who is the sole-surviving brother of four servicemen.

Saving Private Ryan Plot

The Normandy Invasion began on the morning of June 6, 1944, as American soldiers prepared its offensive on Omaha Beach. American causalities quickly mounted as the soldiers struggled to the treacherous seas as they departed from landing boats only to face a hail of German infantry, machine gun nests, and artillery fire. Captain John H. Miller, a company commander of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, endures the first landing and brings together his squad of Rangers to plot strategy on the beach and to determine how to breach the entrenched German defenses perched high upon the vertical cliffs.

The scene shifts to General George C. Marshall's office at the U.S. War Department in Washington, D.C., where he learns that three brothers of the Ryan family were killed and when their mother receives all three telegrams in the same day, overwhelmed, she faints. However, there is good news when Gen. Marshall discovers that there is a fourth son, a Private First Class James Francis Ryan who is a paratrooper is missing in action somewhere in Normandy. Moved to tears after reading Abraham's Lincoln's Bixby letter, Gen. Marshall immediately commands that Private James Ryan be located and returned home.

Three days after D-Day, Miller obtains new orders to locate Pvt. Ryan and safely bring him back to his bereaved mother in America. His hand-picked group of six men from his company – TSgt. Mike Horvath, Privates Adrian Caparzo, Stanley Mellish, Richard Reiben, Danny Jackson, medic Irwin Wade – and T/5 Timothy Upham, a map specialist who also speaks French and German (who seems to hold secret pacifist ideas), concludes the search party. After several skirmishes with Nazi forces and false leads, including locating another Pvt. James Ryan, they encounter a friend of Ryan's who informs Miller that Ryan is defending a key bridge over the Merderet River in the town of Ramelle, France. On the way to Ramelle, Miller resolves to neutralize a strategic German machine gun position, even though his men think it a bad idea. Wade is fatally wounded in the subsequent combat, but Miller, at Upham's advising, fails to execute a surviving Nazi soldier, but instead releases him if he promises to stay out of the war. This would be a fateful act that at the end of the movie would rise up against Captain Miller.

'Earn this... earn it!'

At long last they come to Ramelle where Miller and the squad find a small group of paratroopers commanded by Corporal Henderson, one of which is Ryan. Ryan is informed of his brothers' deaths, the assignment to return him to America, and that two men had been killed in their odyssey to locate him. Ryan is distraught at the news of his brothers, yet objects because he believes it unjust to go home while his comrades still fight. Here is the dialogue of that movie scene:
    Captain Miller: James Francis Ryan of Iowa?

    Private Ryan: Yes, sir. Paton, Iowa, that's correct. What is this about?

    Captain Miller: Your brothers were killed in combat.

    Private Ryan: Which – Which ones?

    Captain Miller: All of them.

    [Ryan pauses in shock and then begins to cry]

    [Being told he can go home]

    Private Ryan: Hell, these guys deserve to go home as much as I do. They've fought just as hard.

    Captain Miller: Is that what I'm supposed to tell your mother when she gets another folded American flag?

    Private Ryan: You can tell her that when you found me, I was with the only brothers I had left. And that there was no way I was deserting them. I think she'd understand that.
Epilogue to a Hero's Life

In the final climatic scene knowing that this act will no doubt kill him, Miller agrees to take command and protect the bridge with the remaining decimated manpower he had left. As the Nazi's 2nd SS Panzer Division reach their location with infantry and armor, the following battle exact heavy German casualties, but also many of the Americans – including Horvath, Jackson, Mellish – are killed. While struggling to blow up the bridge to keep the Nazi forces advance at bay, Miller is mortally wounded ironically by the German prisoner released earlier in the movie at Upham's urging, yet has resumed battle with the attacking SS forces. At this point in the movie just as a Tiger tank reaches the bridge, an American "tank killer" P-51 Mustang suddenly appears out of nowhere and destroys the tank, together with American reinforcements who defeat the residual Nazi forces. Upham, frantic at the arrogance of one of the German prisoner not following his orders to surrender even a gun point, finally gets the courage he lacked throughout the movie due to his cowardice and pacifism and shoots him; immediately the other Nazi soldiers flee in terror.

The first picture above shows that climatic scene at the end of the movie where Pvt. Ryan's protector, a now dying Captain John H. Miller having protected his charge for most of the movie, has essentially sacrificed his life that Ryan may live. Mustering his last breath he motions Ryan to come closer to him and the heroic Captain Miller utters his final words:
After a close up of the young Pvt. Ryan, the scene morphs into the Old James Ryan with his wife, children and grandchildren at the solemn and iconic graveyard in Normandy, France in the midst of a seemingly endless sea of headstones and kneels before the gravestone of the man who saved his life at Normandy, Captain John H. Miller. Here is the dialogue from that poignant scene with General George C. Marshall:

Old James Ryan: [addressing Capt. Miller's grave] My family is with me today. They wanted to come with me. To be honest with you, I wasn't sure how I'd feel coming back here. Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I tried to live my life the best that I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that, at least in your eyes, I've earned what all of you have done for me.
Next is the expressive scene hinted at the beginning of the movie where General George C. Marshall reads a letter of condolence he sent to Mrs. Ryan regarding the deaths of her three sons, yet the good news that her youngest son, James Ryan was saved and will soon be returned home to his mother. Gen. Marshall's letter reads as follows:
    My dear Mrs. Ryan: It's with the most profound sense of joy that I write to inform you your son, Private James Ryan, is well and, at this very moment, on his way home from European battlefields. Reports from the front indicate James did his duty in combat with great courage and steadfast dedication, even after he was informed of the tragic loss your family has suffered in this great campaign to rid the world of tyranny and oppression.

    I take great pleasure in joining the Secretary of War, the men and women of the U.S. Army, and the citizens of a grateful nation in wishing you good health and many years of happiness with James at your side. Nothing, not even the safe return of a beloved son, can compensate you, or the thousands of other American families, who have suffered great loss in this tragic war.

    I might share with you some words which have sustained me through long, dark nights of peril, loss, and heartache. And I quote: "I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the alter of freedom." -Abraham Lincoln. Yours very sincerely and respectfully, George C. Marshall, General, Chief of Staff.
America, on this Memorial Day how great would this country actually be toward fulfilling the transcendent ideas, the sublime ideals of our Founding Fathers? On this Memorial Day how great would this country actually be fulfilling the untold sacrifices of the millions of soldiers; the agony of their friends, family, children who in a corollary, de facto sense also paid the ultimate sacrifice for defending America through the Ages? On this Memorial Day how great would this country actually be to defeat ignorance (I don't know), apathy (I don't care) and denial (it doesn't concern me), if people would remember, read, understand history and live by the succinct sacred credo that Captain John H. Miller charged Private James Ryan with? ... Earn this... earn it!

Semper Fidelis (always faithful) and Blessed Memorial Day America.

Book Notice

Please purchase my latest opus dedicated to that Conservative Colossus, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Here are the latest two new volumes from my ongoing historical series – THE PROGRESSIVE REVOLUTION: History of Liberal Fascism through the Ages (University Press of America, 2015):
However, before the book is officially released to the public, I have to place 100 pre-publication orders (50 orders per each volume). I need your help to make this happen ASAP. Please place your order today for Volume 3 & Volume 4. Of course, if you can order all 100 copies today, the book will become official tomorrow.

Please circulate this flyer to all your email contacts & Facebook/Twitter followers who may be interested in purchasing this opus which will serve as a ready apologetic against the rampant Marxist-Progressive propaganda taught in America's public schools, colleges, universities, graduate schools, and law schools. Thanks in advance to all my friends, associates and colleagues for your invaluable support! Law and History Blog: www.EllisWashingtonReport.com

Invitation for manuscripts

I am starting a new a program on my blog dedicated to giving young conservatives (ages 14-35) a regular place to display and publish their ideas called Socrates Corner. If you know of any young person who wants to publish their ideas on any subject, have them send their essay manuscripts to my email at ewashington@wnd.com.

© Ellis Washington


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

Click to enlarge

Ellis Washington

Ellis Washington is a former staff editor of the Michigan Law Review (1989) and law clerk at the Rutherford Institute (1992). Currently he is an adjunct professor of law at the National Paralegal College and the graduate school, National Jurisprudence University, where he teaches Constitutional Law, Legal Ethics, American History, Administrative Law, Criminal Procedure, Contracts, Real Property, and Advanced Legal Writing, among many other subjects... (more)


Receive future articles by Ellis Washington: Click here

More by this author


Stephen Stone
HAPPY EASTER: A message to all who love our country and want to help save it!

Stephen Stone
The most egregious lies Evan McMullin and the media have told about Sen. Mike Lee

Siena Hoefling
Protect the Children: Update with VIDEO

Stephen Stone
Flashback: Dems' fake claim that Trump and Utah congressional hopeful Burgess Owens want 'renewed nuclear testing' blows up when examined

Linda Goudsmit
CHAPTER 14: Changing Hearts and Minds

Rev. Mark H. Creech
Scriptural sobriety: Challenging assumptions about Jesus’ wine miracle

Jerry Newcombe
The Key to our national motto

Cliff Kincaid
Heaven help us: Trump bails on protecting the right to life

Pete Riehm
It’s not Israel; it’s us!

Bruce Deitrick Price
Rita Kramer's book 'Ed School Follies' exposes how teachers are trained to dumb down America

Paul Cameron
U.S. LGBTs and their harms growing

Linda Goudsmit
CHAPTER 13: Fomenting Race Wars Begins in Kindergarten

Jim Terry
Chaos and complexity: That’s how politicians control us

Rev. Mark H. Creech
The dwindling flame: Exploring the decline of church attendance in America

Cliff Kincaid
The Keystone Cops are running America

Jerry Newcombe
$1 million dollar challenge to replicate the Shroud
  More columns


Click for full cartoon
More cartoons


Matt C. Abbott
Chris Adamo
Russ J. Alan
Bonnie Alba
Chuck Baldwin
Kevin J. Banet
J. Matt Barber
Fr. Tom Bartolomeo
. . .
[See more]

Sister sites