By Oliver O’Hanlon
The film Saving Private Ryan was inspired by real-life stories. Readers will remember how Tom Hanks’ character was sent to the front lines in Normandy to rescue the eponymous Private Ryan, who was played by Matt Damon.
The story went that Ryan was the last remaining of his four siblings who were serving in the U.S. army and as such, he should be excused from active service and brought back from the front lines to the safety of his family in America.
This is known as the ‘Sole Survivor Policy’ and it was created following the awful experience of real American families who lost loved ones in similar circumstances.
One of the stories that inspired the film was that of a family called Sullivan. This Irish American family from Waterloo, Iowa in the Midwestern United States, tragically lost five adult children during the Second World War. They all perished in the same sea battle and their tragic tale would go on to have profound consequences for the U.S. military and lawmakers.
Following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the United States declared war on the Empire of Japan. Five brothers, Albert, Francis, Joseph, Madison, and George Sullivan enlisted in the U.S. Navy when they heard a friend of theirs was killed in the attack.