Greater Love Has No One than This

Published 2:15 pm Sunday, June 2, 2024

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After the title of this column, the John 15:13 verse finishes in this manner: “that he lay down his life for his friends.” This is the most familiar verse of scripture to emphasize the purpose of the federal holiday that our nation celebrated this past Monday, Memorial Day.

            Fritz Niland was a member of the famous E Company of the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army. Sometimes, E Company is referred to as Easy Company, as “Easy” is the word that is phonetically used to emphasize the Letter “E.”

            There probably is no more inappropriate word used for a Parachute Infantry Regiment than the word, “Easy.” The work this famous battalion performed in the D-Day actions is highlighted in one of my favorite books about World War II, Band of Brothers. It was written by Steven Ambrose.

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            Fritz Niland’s family was just one that experienced pain and loss during that world-wide conflict from September 1, 1939 until the end on September 2, 1945.

            The 101st Airborne, the “Screaming Eagles,” were charged with parachuting behind the German lines in France as the Allied invasion of the continent of Europe began on June 6, 1944. This year will be the 80th anniversary of that most ambitious military assault.

            As mentioned, Fritz Niland was a member of Easy Company. For a Georgia connection, the start of Company E occurred just a few hundred miles from here in Toccoa, Georgia. Young boys from all across our great land, boys who became men, trained there. Fritz was one of four Niland brothers that hailed from Tonawanda, New York.

            The world had its back to the wall, with tyrants like Adolph Hitler, Mussolini, and the Japanese, all seeking to use power and violence to grab people and nations. The resolve to fight back was the only thing that kept the bullies from winning. We could use a lot of that resolve today. Oh, how I would love to see such unity and resolve in these perilous times in which we live!

            Back to the Niland family story. E Company had fought non-stop from their time behind enemy lines for at least a week. They had been pulled back to a defensive position near the village of Carentan, near Normandy.

            Fritz was going up the line trying to find his friends Don Malarkey and Skip Muck. Despite the need for every man, Niland was being flown home. Why?

            After D-Day and the break, he had searched for his brother Bob, who also had landed on the shores of Normandy on D-Day, but was killed in action by the Germans. After that, he searched for another brother, who was a platoon leader with the 82nd Airborne Division. He, too, had been killed on Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion.

            Fritz Niland returned to his post with E Company, but the Company chaplain was looking for him to tell him that another brother, Edward, had been killed as he flew his plane in the China-Burma-India theatre. Of the four Niland brothers, Fritz was the only survivor and the army was sending him home.

            Fritz Niland’s mother had received all three telegrams from the War Department, informing her of her three son’s deaths all on the same day! As it turned out, Edward had not been killed, but was Missing in Action and in a POW camp in Japan.

            In all of the wars our nation has fought for the freedoms we all enjoy, over 1,344, 000 have paid the ultimate price. It was Winston Churchill, the wartime Prime Minister of the British Empire who said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” No one has ever said it better!