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One of the most disturbing and powerful films I have seen over the

last couple of years is Steven Spielberg’s movie, Saving Private

Ryan. The movie tells the story of an Army captain named John

Miller who having survived the carnage of the D-Day invasion at

Normandy Beach, portrayed in 28 minutes of intense, graphic and

gory detail, is ordered to find a solitary private among thousands of

displaced soldiers. He must return Private James F. Ryan home to

his mother, whose other three sons have just been killed in action.

However, due to some confusion in the invasion, it is not certain

where he is to be found; Private Ryan is a “needle in a stack of

needles”. The soldiers reluctantly set out on their daunting

mission. Almost immediately, they begin questioning the worth of

risking eight men’s lives in order to save one.

Captain Miller rationalises that each life lost in combat is supposed

to save 10 lives. Within that paradigm, how can their current

mission make any sense? The soldiers begin to detest their

mission to save Private Ryan, even hoping to find his name on one

of the dog tags taken from some dead soldiers.

Captain Miller and the small group of men assigned to him

successfully locate Ryan, but then are forced to defend a strategic

bridge against enemy tanks and troops. Captain Miller is fatally

wounded. In his dying moments, he reaches out to Private Ryan,

and with great emotion says, “Earn this! Earn this!”

Many years later as an old man, James Ryan stands in a military

cemetery tearfully looking at the small white cross that stands

where the man who saved his life is buried. He wonders aloud if he

has indeed earned the great gift he received.

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