D-day: the tale of two brothers

D-Day: The Tale of Two Brothers

American reinforcements in a Coast Guard barge land on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Among the troops who landed at Utah Beach that day was Selma native Ralph “Shug” Jordan, who distinguished himself in battle and went on to became a legendary football coach at Auburn. (Photo: GNS)

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Tim McAllister holds a 75-year-old photo of himself in his Army uniform. The Geyser man served in the Philippians during World War II, with brothers fighting in the Aleutians and Europe. Two brothers crossed the English Channel with the D-Day invasion. (Photo: KRISTEN INBODY/GREAT FALLS TRIBUNE)

GEYSER — Montana brothers Vincent and Joe McAllister were on the beaches of Normandy 75 years ago as the Allies launched the largest seaborne invasion in history.

Vincent was a “rough and tumble” kinda guy who rode in rodeos and was a good hand around a ranch. He was happy-go-lucky.

Joe, who later became a contractor, was popular and took on a parental role for his younger siblings after their mother died and father was crippled.

“They got in the water. They were cold. It was terrible,” their younger brother Tim McAllister, 95, said Wednesday. 

Though Allied casualties numbered more than 10,000, with 4,414 killed, the McAllisters survived without a scratch.

The world's attention returns to the beaches of Normandy this week with the commemoration of the 75th D-Day anniversary.

The anniversary has been on Tim McAllister's mind, too. He's Geyser's last World War II veteran and the only one left of his 15 siblings.

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On June 6, 1944, the headline on the front page of the Great Falls Tribune was: “Invasion On.” The fate of the world hinged on what happened on the beaches of Normandy 75 years ago. (Photo: TRIBUNE ARCHIVE)

He recently came upon a letter taped to an old scrapbook page. It's from British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery to American Brigadier General Clare Armstrong.

Armstrong commanded the 789th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion at Antwerp, where October 1944 found Joe and Vincent McCallister. Tim McAllister figures the later came his way via one brother or the other.

Dated April 12, 1945 and now held together with tape, the letter says the attack on Antwerp is nearly, perhaps completely finished.

Montgomery praised the 789th for profoundly influencing the battle and making possible the success of the operation.

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Tim McAllister card from the Normandie Bar of Antwerp in Flanders, Belgium His brothers fought their way into northwestern Europe with the D-Day landing 75 years ago. He also has a letter from Field Marshall B.L. Montgomery to Brigadier General Clare Armstrong praising an improvement in the percentage of “kills” from 65 to over 97 percent. (Photo: KRISTEN INBODY/GREAT FALLS TRIBUNE)

American and British gunners under Armstrong's command “during the last three months raised the percentage of 'kills' from 65% to over 97%. This is considerably higher than has been achieved ever before.” 

Hard thinking. Hard fighting.

Joe and Vincent McAllister “were hunters,” McAllister said. “They knew how to take care of themselves — and luck was with them.”

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At his Geyser home, Tim McAllister sorts through photos of the horses bred on his ranch and World War II mementos. (Photo: KRISTEN INBODY/GREAT FALLS TRIBUNE)

When McAllister's grandfather, an Irish-born rancher named Simon, died at age 98 in Geyser in 1943, he had 122 descendants. Fourteen were serving in the Canadian or American armies. 

McAllister would soon be No. 15. He delayed enlisting because his father was in a wheelchair and needed help and so did Geyser-area ranches. 

McAllister's dad, Stephen, was an early arrival in Montana, arriving before the turn of the century and cowboying with Charlie Russell.

After his father died and just before Christmas 1944, McAllister enlisted, serving in the Army as a combat infantryman and helping liberate the Philippines from the Japanese. He earned a Bronze Star for saving the lives of two GIs on separate occasions.

“We were on a mission to make beachheads,” he said. “Mostly we starved them out, but we hit a few islands to test the strength of the Japanese.”

Later when McAllister was on guard duty during the occupation of Japan, he bumped into both men he'd saved. 

“I was lucky,” he said.

D-Day: The Tale of Two Brothers

A tattered American flag flown on-board LCT 530 (Landing Craft Tank) during WWII D-day is being auctioned off this week. The flag took part in Utah Beach Operations during the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. (Photo: Centurion Auctions)

With another Montana ranch kid, McAllister helped put on a rodeo in occupied Japan and he rode the Emperor Hirohito’s white horse until he was warned he risked starting another war.

McAllister barely qualified for military service. Recruits had to be 5 feet tall and weigh 100 pounds. He had them by a scant inch and 11 pounds.

Another brother, Tony, was too short at 4'8″ and instead worked in the civil service in the Aleutians and elsewhere. Brother Alphonsus was part of the retaking of Attu Island from the Japanese.

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They, too, survived.

D-Day: The Tale of Two Brothers

UTAH BEACH, FRANCE: French commandos equiped with bikes disembark from crafts during D-Day 06 June 1944 after Allied forces stormed the Normandy beaches.

D-Day, 06 June 1944 is still one of the world's most gut-wrenching and consequential battles, as the Allied landing in Normandy led to the liberation of France which marked the turning point in the Western theater of World War II. (Photo: – AFP/Getty Images)

The Army proved safer than home, where three other brothers died of meningitis. While McAllister was overseas, a mail carrier fatally struck another brother with a beer bottle in a cigar store.

Years earlier, a brother died in coal mining accident in the McAllister Mine along Otter Creek when the flame in his carbide lantern touched off an explosion that stripped all the skin from him except that which was covered by his boots.

His uncle brought him into Great Falls on a freight train. He died in agony four hours later. 

  • Nearly two years after enlisting, McAllister was back in Montana and back to ranching.
  • McAllister only had three years of high school, but about 10 years ago Geyser School, where he worked as a janitor for 18 years, presented him with an honorary high school diploma. 
  • “It was a good relief” to get that degree, he said.

D-Day: The Tale of Two Brothers

UTAH BEACH, FRANCE: US soldiers gather around trucks disembarking from landing crafts shortly after D-Day 06 June 1944 after Allied forces stormed the Normandy beaches.

D-Day, 06 June 1944 is still one of the world's most gut-wrenching and consequential battles, as the Allied landing in Normandy led to the liberation of France which marked the turning point in the Western theater of World War II. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

Besides his work in the school, McAllister was a jockey, a hunting guide and he bred horses on his Flying T Ranch. He was only four when his mother and grandmother died in rapid succession. Horses helped raise him, and the time among them healed his heart. 

His wife, Delores, has dementia and as his own mind gets fuzzier, he's considering what's next, perhaps joining his son, Tim McAllister of Tim's Beauty World in Great Falls. He also adopted and raised Delores's five daughters.

He's more worried about his country's future than his own. He doesn't think much of the president.

“We're in a tough spot now, but I have enough faith in the American people,” he said. “We'll get through this.”

D-Day: The Tale of Two Brothers

D-Day, 06 June 1944 is still one of the world's most gut-wrenching and consequential battles, as the Allied landing in Normandy led to the liberation of France which marked the turning point in the Western theater of World War II.” width=”180″>

UTAH BEACH, FRANCE: Aerial view taken from a B-26 in June 1944 showing Liberty Ships, 32 American merchant ships which were purposefully sunk off the coast of Normandy to support Allied forces.

With Army gunners onboard, ships served as both a breakwater and an offshore anti-aircraft gun platforms to protect Allied forces after Allied forces stormed the Normandy beaches on D-Day.

D-Day, 06 June 1944 is still one of the world's most gut-wrenching and consequential battles, as the Allied landing in Normandy led to the liberation of France which marked the turning point in the Western theater of World War II. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

  1. More: Choteau D-Day paratrooper beat the odds to return home from World War II combat
  2. More: Mansch: As D-Day anniversary approaches, we remember a Sand Coulee soldier
  3. More: France: ‘God bless the American GI’
  4. More: Volunteers working hard to get Miss Montana to D-Day event
  5. More: D-Day thoughts and less known facts
  6. More: Sun River, Montana's Ty Neuman named newest US Air Force brigadier general

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Worth remembering on Veterans Day – two brothers in WWII

My father loved to pass along stories to me about his unconventional childhood. He never did it seeking sympathy – he just knew a good story deserved to be remembered. A photograph of him in his Army uniform dated 1947 sits on my mantle and each time I pass it I smile and remember his story about how desperate he was to join the Army back in the late 1940s.

My father spent his childhood in an orphanage in New York after his parents died a year apart in 1933. He never complained, in fact, he considered himself lucky that he was cared for and fed. And, he loved the nuns who were always kind and loving to him.

His brother's name was Walter, but everyone called him Connie. Connie was six years older than my father and when their parents died he was sent to Lincolndale Agricultural School for Boys, in Lincolndale, New York.

The school, which was a Catholic charity and once run by Barnabas McDonald, opened in 1912 for orphans to be trained for agricultural and industrial work. Because they were in different locations the brothers had little contact for many years.

My father had heard Connie joined the Army.

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D-Day: The Tale of Two Brothers3

Uncle Connie.

D-Day: The Tale of Two Brothers

Posted on September 16, 2019

Who were Charles and Elliot Dalton?

D-Day: The Tale of Two Brothers

Welcome to Season 3 of Unknown History: D-Day Stories. I’m your host, Giles Milton, and today we’re talking about an extraordinary true story that took place on Juno Beach.

For those Unknown History listeners who’ve seen Steven Spielberg’s film, Saving Private Ryan, you’ll know that the plot turns on the story of three brothers killed in action while serving in the US army, with a fourth about to head to Normandy for the D-Day landings.

Spielberg’s story is fiction, but it could have been fact. There were many brothers serving on D-Day, creating huge anxiety for the worried families at home.

Among the more remarkable stories is that of Charles and Elliot Dalton, two Canadian brothers, who shared the misfortune of having to land in the first wave on Juno Beach. They were due to land together, shortly before 8 a.m. on the morning of D-Day. And as with everything on D-Day, their landings would not go as planned.

Charles and Elliot were extremely close.

Charles was 33-years-old and more than half a decade older than his sibling, but the age gap had done nothing to dampen the deep affection they had for one another—two grinning brothers with rugged faces and swept-back hair. Charles had flashing teeth and a winning smile. “The archetypal dashing young officer,” said one under his command. “He really had a lot of style.”

Elliot was more earnest and more youthful. He had followed in his brother’s footsteps by joining the same regiment in 1931. They were known by their men as Mark I and Mark II: each was held in equal regard.

The brothers were so close to each other, as they were to their mother, that Charles had begged his commanding officer to spare Elliot the initial assault. “Don’t send Elliot on the first wave,” he said.

“You know what it will do to our mother if we both die.” But there was nothing the commanding officer could do. It had already been decided that both brothers would be among the first to storm the beach.

To learn more about Charles and Elliot Dalton, and to read all the episodes about the morning of D-Day, check out the Unknown History channel on Quick and Dirty Tips. You can listen to this entire episode with the player below.

Saving Private Ryan: The Real-Life D-Day Back Story

Steven Spielberg’s 1998 film Saving Private Ryan may include some of the most horrific fighting scenes ever produced on film. But that isn’t its only element of realism. The film draws on the story of an actual soldier named Fritz Niland and a U.S. War Department directive designed to keep families from losing every one of their sons.

The film tells the story of Captain John H. Miller (played by Tom Hanks), who leads a platoon of GIs during the D-Day invasion of Normandy near the end of World War II.

Their initial mission, along with nearly 175,000 other Allied service men, is to liberate France and defeat the Nazis.

After getting themselves off Omaha Beach (yes, those horrific fighting scenes), Miller is able to push his platoon up over the ridge and into the French countryside.

Just a few days into the invasion, Captain Miller receives revised orders from high command. His new mission: locate and rescue Private First Class James F. Ryan (played by Matt Damon), whose three brothers had been killed in the war within a few months of each other.

Private Ryan was what was known as a “sole-surviving son” and the War Department wanted him back with his mother. The problem was, the U.S. Army didn’t know exactly where he was. In the film, Captain Miller and his platoon search for the wayward soldier in house-to-house fighting.

Eventually, they find Private Ryan and send him back home—but at great cost to Captain Miller and his men.

American soldiers amid the rubble of a heavily damaged town in the wake of the D-Day invasion by Allied forces during World War II, 1944. (Credit: Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

The real-life story that inspired Spielberg’s film began more than two years before the rescue depicted in Saving Private Ryan.

On the morning of November 13, 1942, Japanese torpedoes sank the American cruiser USS Juneau during the battle of Guadalcanal in the South Pacific. Onboard were five brothers: George, Francis, Joseph, Madison and Albert Sullivan, who had all enlisted into the U.S. Navy after the death of a friend at Pearl Harbor.

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The Navy agreed to their request that all five would serve together on the same ship. It wasn’t a common practice by the U.S. military to place siblings together, but it wasn’t discouraged either. Some officials saw it as a way to keep family morale high.

In fact, at least 30 sets of brothers were serving on the Juneau when it sank.

In response to the deaths of the Sullivan brothers—and several other sets of brothers who had perished up to this point in the war—the U.S. War Department realized it had to act. The result: its 1942 “sole-survivor policy,” later known as Directive 1315.15 Special Separation Policies for Survivorship.

Portrait of the five Sullivan brothers, (L-R) Joseph, Francis, Albert, Madison and George Sullivan, who all served, and perished, on the USS Juneau in 1942. (Credit: Office of War Information/Interim Archives/Getty Images)

Sometimes referred to as the “Only Son” or “Sole-Surviving Son” policy, the directive was designed to protect lone remaining family members from military duty.

It was this directive that prompted the rescue of Sargent Frederick “Fritz” Niland in 1944, one of four brothers who served in the U.S. military during World War II.

Frederick Niland’s story provided direct inspiration for Saving Private Ryan and its title character of James Francis Ryan.

Before the U.S. entered World War II, brothers Preston and Robert Niland enlisted in the service. Edward and Fritz volunteered in November, 1942. Because of the War Department’s sole-survivor policy prohibiting siblings from serving together, the four brothers served in separate units.

Edward served as a pilot in the U.S. Army Force in the Pacific; Robert landed in the 82nd Airborne Division: Preston served with the 4th Infantry Division; and Frederick was a member of the 101st Airborne Division, 501st Regiment.

The three brothers were stationed in England awaiting the invasion of Europe.

Tragedy came in waves for the boys’ parents, Michael and Augusta Niland.

In May 1944, they received the news that their son Edward had been shot down over Burma and was missing. On June 6, 1944, Robert died on D-Day, and Preston succumbed the next day near Omaha Beach. Frederick had parachuted into Normandy and was temporarily separated from his unit.

When the Army heard of the deaths of the three boys, it determined to spare the Niland family the loss of their last child. A chaplain on the 501st Regiment, Fr. Francis Sampson, found Fritz and put in the paperwork to send him home.

Fritz was shipped back to England and eventually the United States to serve as a MP for the rest of the war.

Happily, the Niland family later learned that their son Edward had survived his capture in a Burmese POW camp and was sent home before the war ended.

Gravestone of Frederick ‘Fritz’ Niland, who was sent home from WWII after three of his brothers were reported killed in battle. (Credit: Acey Harper/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

Since it was enacted during World War II, the sole-survivor policy has evolved.

Passed by Congress in 1948 into law, the directive exempted the lone remaining son where one or more sons or daughters had died as a result of military service.

However, the policy didn’t exempt surviving sons from registering for military duty. If there was a draft, these men could be called up, but would receive a deferment.

In 1964, Congress changed the law to exempt the sole-surviving son of a family where the father, or one or more sons or daughters died as a result of military service.

The provision was changed to apply only during peace time and not during times of war or national emergency declared by Congress. The provision was also made voluntary. A soldier wishing to be sent home had to request the policy be applied.

In 1971, the exemption—not necessarily the sole-surviving son, of a family where the father, brother or sister died as a result of military service.

Saving Private Ryan represents the military “sole-survivor” policy in simple terms: When a family experiences the loss of its sons due to a war, the lone remaining member will not have to serve.

The individual that inspired the Private James Francis Ryan character, Frederick Niland, wasn’t ever lost and no search party was sent out to find him.

But Spielberg powerfully portrayed how the death of siblings in war—and the trauma their families experience—had become a burden the nation decided was too cruel to bear.

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