"Steamboat Willie"

"Steamboat Willie"

Sometime before June 13th, 1944, this German soldier (Joerg Stadler) was manning a machine gun nest located beneath a bombed-out radar station somewhere in the Normandy region of France. The emplacement was attacked by a small squad of Rangers, and only one of the Germans survived. Having lost their medic in the assault, the Rangers treated their prisoner harshly. Forced to dig graves for the medic, as well as paratroopers who had earlier been killed by the machine gun, the German struck up friendly conversation with Corporal Upham, who had been assigned to the Rangers to translate.

When the Rangers returned with weapons in hand and blank stares on their faces, the German expected the worst and frantically began pleading for his life in German and in what little English words and phrases he knew. Drug off and blindfolded, the German was told to walk towards a nearby field and turn himself over to the nearest Allied unit he encountered. Most of the Rangers had wanted to execute the German, but their commanding officer, Captain John Miller, had prevented them from murdering a prisoner of war.

Fortunately for the German, he was found by his own forces and integrated into a Waffen-SS unit. This unit later participated in an attack on the French village of Ramelle, at which time the German soldier encountered the Rangers once again. As Rangers and 101st Airborne Division paratroopers retreated across the Merderet River, the soldier took aim and killed a Ranger. The man he shot was Captain Miller, the officer who had spared his life earlier. A short time later the German and his comrades were surprised when an American solider, Corporal Upham, appeared from behind their position with a rifle trained on them. Silencing the Germans attempt to make conversation, Upham fired his first shot of the war and killed the former prisoner.


This character is unnamed in the movie, but is referred to as "Steamboat Willie" in the credits. One very common mistake that many viewers make in watching Saving Private Ryan is assuming that the German soldier set free by Miller is the same one that kills Private Mellish. The soldier that kills Mellish is from the Waffen-SS, while Steamboat Willie is a regular soldier in the Heer (Army). The two characters do bear a superficial resemblance to each other, largely due to their shaven heads. In reality German soldiers did not have such closely-cropped hair, but for reasons unknown the production crew made sure that the German extras all received the same haircut.


Click numbers below for large screenshots