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Captain John H. Miller
Played by Tom Hanks
The Captain and leader of the eight man band sent to find Private Ryan. Captain Miller leads 'Charlie' Company of the 2nd Ranger Battalion during the D-Day landings. He is a Shell-Shocked Veteran, his hand often shaking when in the presence of danger. It is revealed he is a school teacher, due to the squad's Multiple-Choice Past bets.
- A Father to His Men: The fact that he is leading a bunch of young men through an incredibly brutal and graphic war in which the world is basically tearing itself apart clearly weighs heavily on him, and remembers the exact number of men he's lost under his command. After Wade dies, he breaks down crying when he's alone.
- Badass Teacher: Given he was a schoolteacher before the war...
- The Captain: Serves as the top-ranked soldier in the squad.
- Captain Smooth and Sergeant Rough: The smooth to Horvath's rough.
- Disconnected by Death: Miller tries to get a communications tech to contact reinforcements via radio, only to find the tech has had his head blown open the third time he goes to talk to him, and then finds the telephone gear has also been shot up.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Miller asks Ryan to make something good of his life at the end of the final battle.
- Famous Last Words: "Earn it!"
- The Hero Dies: He is mortally wounded by a prisoner he had extended mercy to when the two of them meet on the battlefield a second time.
- Heroic B.S.O.D.: Occurs twice in similar fashions at the beginning and end of the film, where close explosions render him in a soundless daze.
- Manly Tears: Captain Miller sobs to himself after Wade's death.
- Multiple-Choice Past: Guessed at by his troops. Revealed that he's a schoolteacher after Wade dies and Reiben threatens to leave.
- Mysterious Past: To the point his troops are placing bets on where Miller comes from and what he did, and Reiben even jokes that he was assembled "outta spare body parts of dead GIs".
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: He can't wait to get home, and a nervous problem is even making his hand shake.
- The Strategist: As The Captain, always has to coordinate plans on the fly.
- Weapon of Choice: A Thompson submachine gun.
Sergeant Mike Horvath
Played by Tom Sizemore
Captain Miller's Lancer, Sergeant Horvath is loyal to his captain and has battled alongside him in numerous countries.
- BFG: Uses a bazooka during the final battle, using it to blow up a tank destroyer and try to slow down the last Tiger tank.
- Captain Smooth and Sergeant Rough: The rough to Miller's smooth.
- Catch Phrase: "We're in business!"
- Dies Wide Open: In an iconic and chilling example.
- Implacable Man: Seemingly appears this way when he is shot multiple times and keeps on running. He dies shortly after though.
- Improbable Weapon User: In the Battle of Ramelle, after reaching a Mexican Standoff with a German, both of their rifles jam, the German throws his helmet, causing Horvath to throw his helmet at the German.
- The Lancer: Miller's second-in-command.
- Made of Iron: He gets shot several times during the final battle, to little clear effect. The one he takes through the back as he's running over the bridge is the one that finally does him in.
- Major Injury Underreaction: The final battle has Horvath injured in a way he replies as "just got the wind knocked out of me". He dies shortly later.
- Mercy Kill: Gives Wade a fatal morphine dose so he'll die in less pain.
- Oral Fixation: Chews tobacco.
- Sergeant Rock: While Miller is a more reasonable and chilly figure, Horvath serves as a tough second-in-command, even threatening to shoot Reiben once he tries to abandon the squad.
- Undying Loyalty: To Miller. For one thing, he'll get into a standoff with Reiben when the loudmouth won't listen to Miller's orders.
- Weapon of Choice: Uses a M1A1 Carbine.
Private Richard Reiben
Played by Edward Burns
A big mouthed and opinionated soldier from Brookyln, Reiben seems quite close to his friends and openly calls out Captain Miller's orders, particularly when Wade dies and Miller allows Steamboat Willie to leave unharmed, threatening to go AWOL.
- Alliterative Name: Richard Reiben.
- All Men Are Perverts: He tells a story about selling to the well-endowed wife of his apartment's superintendent a bra two sizes too small, only to see her trying it.
- Armor-Piercing Response: Ryan argues with Miller about being sent home and abandoning the other paratroopers. What Reiben says while he tries to defend his position stops Ryan cold, as for him it is a Wham Line.Reiben: "Hey asshole, two of our guys already died trying to find you, alright?"
- The Big Guy: One of the tougher members of the squad and carries the heaviest weapon: a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle), which is basically a light machine gun.
- Big Guy Fatality Syndrome: Resoundingly subverted.
- Brooklyn Rage: He is Hot-Blooded and even has "Brooklyn NY" on the back of his jacket.
- Heroic B.S.O.D.: Has one after Miller's death. His entire squad has been wiped out and only he, Ryan, and Upham have survived the battle.
- Deadpan Snarker: Of the Grumpy Bear variety given he frequently snarks on what annoys him.
- Everybody's Dead, Dave: By the end, he's the only original squad member left.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Reiben is of course correct when he points out that he and everyone else on the squad going on a high-risk mission to find Private Ryan has a mother also. He's also Properly Paranoid about the German prisoner they let go, as he does show back up and fatally wounds Miller.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Quite easily the most surly and temperamental member of Miller's Badass Crew, but when all is said and done and he and Upham (who was a new arrival to their squad and whom he barely knows) are all that remains of their squad, he is visibly quite pained and is especially distraught over Captain Miller's death, even though he was (not too long before) quite seriously considering deserting because he no longer felt confident in Miller's leadership. He also takes Caparzo's letter to his dad, which had been passed from him after his death, to Wade, to Miller, intending to make sure it got to it's final destination.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Comes close to pulling this off.
- Sole Survivor: Is the only member from Miller's original squad to survive.
- To Absent Friends: Reiben takes the deaths of his teammates very hard, threatening to go AWOL at one point.
- Weapon of Choice: a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle).
- What the Hell, Hero?: Lays into Miller after he orders the squad to take down a machine gun nest, which results in Wade's death.Horvath: "You heard him, gear up. Your captain just gave you an order."Reiben: "Yeah, like the one he gave to take this machine gun. That was a real dozy, wasn't it, sarge?"Horvath: "Soldier, you are way out of line!"Reiben: "Yes sir, that was one hell of a call coming to take this nest, but hell, we only lost one of our guys going for it. I swear, I hope mama Ryan's real fuckin' happy knowing that little Jimmy's life is just a little bit more important than two of our guys! But then again we haven't found him yet, have we?! Have we?!"
Private Daniel Jackson
Played by Barry Pepper
A religious Cold Sniper and the best marksman in the team. At times, he seems to have Bottomless Magazines.
- As the Good Book Says: His pre-shot murmurs are taken out of the Psalms.
- Badass Boast: Probably the most egregious example in the whole film.Jackson: It seems to me, sir, that God gave me a special gift, made me a fine instrument of warfare.
Captain Miller: Reiben, pay attention. Now this is how you gripe. Continue Jackson.
Jackson: Well, what I mean by that is, sir, is if you put me and this here sniper rifle anywhere up to and including one mile of Adolf Hitler with a clear line sight, sir: pack your bags, fellas, war's over. Amen.
- Bottomless Magazines: Seemingly at times, although this is minor since the gun he uses in the final battle has a limited number of rounds.
- Cold Sniper: Only when on duty, Jackson is coldly emotionless and murmurs Bible verses to himself. He is friendly when in casual talk with his friends.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: Blown to pieces by a shell from a Marder. There's a shot of Jackson's skull caving in as the shell hits.
- Famous Last Words: Parker, get down!
- Friendly Sniper: Mostly. Put him in a battle, though, and he changes...
- Instant Death Bullet: Everyone who Jackson shoots dies instantly. (though many are Boom, Headshot)
- Real Men Love Jesus
- Religious Bruiser: Always says prayers before taking the shots.
- Oh, Crap!: Upon realizing that a tank has spotted him, and is turning the turret on him...
- Scope Snipe: Jackson scores a bullseye on a German sniper.
- The Scourge of God: Considers himself this, but every man he kills is in the name of good.
- Southern-Fried Private: Southern, Bible-quoting killing machine, though he does not come off as any less refined than the other soldiers and is perhaps the most respectful.
- The Southpaw: Jackson is left-handed, unlike the other members of the squad. This makes his rifle a little hard to operate, since he has to move his hands to cycle the gun.
- Tank Goodness: Jackson is killed by a tank firing on his hiding place in a church tower.
- Weapon of Choice: a Springfield M1903A4 rifle fitted with a scope.
Private Stanley Mellish
Played by Adam Goldberg
A Jewish soldier who is good friend with Caparzo. He is nicknamed "Fish" by his friends.
- Ain't Too Proud to Beg: "Stop! Listen to me, listen to me! Stop! Stop! No, no! Stop, sto-". They turn out to be his last words, although considering the circumstances, fair enough. Being stabbed hurts.
- Badass Mustache: Asides from Upham's goatee, he is the only one not clean shaven or with Perma-Stubble.
- Chekhov's Gun: Mellish is stabbed with the Hitler Youth knife he collected during the Omaha Landings of D-Day.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: Of all the squad members who die during the last battle, poor Mellish probably gets it worst...
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: ...being stabbed down to the handle with a knife.
- Knife Fight: Gets into a tense one with a German. It doesn't end well.
- Nice Jewish Boy: Who makes sure to flaunt his Judaism to the Nazis every now and then.
- Oral Fixation: Chews gum.
- Those Two Guys: Mellish and Caparzo.
- Weapon of Choice: A M1 Garand rifle.
- Who's Laughing Now?: A somewhat downplayed and heroic example. After seeing numerous German prisoners walk by, Mellish cannot help but show his Star of David to the prisoners and rubs it in their faces that he is Jewish, in German no less.Mellish: Juden! Juden! I'm Juden, right? Juuuuuuuuudeeeeeeen!
Private Adrian Caparzo
Played by Vin Diesel
A soldier in Captain Miller's group. He is killed by a sniper and dies a slow death, leaving a letter to his father in the hands of his friends.
- Badass and Child Duo: Averted since the badass is shot and dies.
- Bald of Awesome: It's Vin Diesel. And the only bald member of the squad.
- Blood-Stained Letter: Caparzo tries to give Mellish a letter to his father after he's shot, but he wants it recopied so his family won't see the bloodstains on the original.
- Bruiser with a Soft Center: Seeing a girl in a destroyed home ("she reminds me of my niece!") makes him try to get her out of that hellhole.
- Genre Blind: And it costs him dearly.
- Instant Death Bullet: Painfully averted.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Miller even says "We're not here to do the decent thing, we're here to follow fucking orders!" right before Caparzo's attempt of a good deed leads him to be shot by a sniper.
- Real Men Love Jesus: Subtle, but he gives his crucifix to a little girl to calm her from her crying.
- Sacrificial Lion The first of the squad to die.
- Tempting Fate: Ironically his Image quote. He didn't pay attention to details.
- Those Two Guys: Carparzo and Mellish.
- Weapon of Choice: A M1 Garand rifle.
Technician Irwin Wade
Played by Giovanni Ribisi
The Medic of the team. Wade has a hard time saving the lives of fellow soldiers, but is willing to help anybody out, even wounded Nazis.
- Bulletproof Human Shield: Forced to use a dead soldier's body as a shield for another patient.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Given with good reason. After Wade and other medics seemingly stop a fellow soldier from bleeding to death, a bullet puts a hole through his helmet. This ticks Wade right off.
- Driven to Suicide: Wade is fatally wounded when the squad attack a Nazi guard house, and asks his friends to give him an overdose of morphine, which they do.
- Heroic B.S.O.D./Despair Event Horizon: After realizing just how badly he'd been shot. But then "Oh God, I can feel my liver!" would have that effect on most people.
- The Medic: Assigned as this for the squad.
- Mercy Kill: He was shot repeatedly, so he asks for an extra dose of morphine before expiring for real.
- Nerves of Steel: Was completely calm and deadpan doing surgery on Omaha Beach... up until the Germans shoot a patient that it looked like he was going to be able to save. Then he just snaps.
- Oh, Crap!: Gets a particularly horrific one after realizing how bad his wound is.Oh God, I can feel my liver!
- Parental Issues: Had some as a kid, due to having two working parents he spent relatively little time with.
- Shoot the Medic First: Horribly Exploited.
- The Smart Guy: Shares the role with Upham, particularly in deleted scenes and the novelization.
Corporal Timothy E. Upham
Played by Jeremy Davies
A translator who speaks French and German, Upham is brought into the squad after Captain Miller's translator was killed.
- Cunning Linguist: The only one who can surpass the Language Barrier.
- Death Glare: Develops one when witnessing Steamboat Willie fatally shoot Captain Miller.
- Desk Jockey: Before Miller brings him into his squad. He even tries to bring his typewriter!
- Dirty Coward: Justified, as his lack of combat experience makes him avoid fights for a good portion of the movie.
- Heroic B.S.O.D.: When his fear prevents him from rescuing Mellish.
- Jade-Colored Glasses: Upham initially supported Miller's decision to release "Steamboat Willie" rather than execute him. Later, Upham kills "Steamboat Willie" to avenge Captain Miller.
- Kick the Son of a Bitch: He coldly shoots a unarmed prisoner dead. Said prisoner was 'Steamboat Willie,' so naturally your sympathies are entirely with Upham.
- My Friends... and Zoidberg: Gets some of this treatment from Miller's squad, although he slowly begins earning more acceptance toward the end of the film.
- Na´ve Newcomer: To the point he even averts the firefights prior to the Ramelle battle.
- Not Worth Killing: The German soldier who kills Mellish thinks so little of Upham when he finds the latter cowering on the stairs that he just walks past him.
- Sinkthe Lifeboats: Subverted early in the movie, when they capture Steamboat Willie. He and Captain Miller are the only ones who don't want to murder him. later played straight near the end of the movie, when Upham sees Steamboat Willie try to surrender and guns down the unarmed POW in cold blood. While the movie (arguably) treats this as a good thing, in real life it would make Upham a war criminal.
- The film even addresses this, as Upham lets the other German soldiers he had captured go, seeing as how they just watched him kill an unarmed prisoner in cold-blood. (Not that the guy didn't deserve it and then some)
- Sixth Ranger: Originally from the 29th Infantry Division, recruited into the squad by Miller because the squad's translator was killed on Omaha Beach.
- The Smart Guy: Shares the role with Wade.
- Weapon of Choice: A M1 Garand rifle.
Private James Francis Ryan
Played by Matt DamonThe Private Ryan in question which Captain Miller's squad go to find. After three of his brothers died, Ryan is demanded to be found and brought home to his grieving mother. The squad find him, but Ryan refuses to leave his duty.
- Death Notification: Ryan's mother receives all three death letters of her dead son's on the same day.
- Decoy Protagonist: You're led to believe that the old man at the grave at the start of the film is Miller. It's not. Miller died in the final battle. The old man is Ryan.
- Dramatically Missing the Point:Miller: "Your brothers are dead."Ryan: [A few moments pass] "... which ones?"Miller: "... all of them."
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Miller's Famous Last Words are "Earn this" on Ryan's ear. And given he knows how many died for his safety, he does his best to do this after returning home.
- Heroic B.S.O.D.: During the final battle, he curls up into a ball at the end and freaks out screaming as the bullets whiz by him. Largely understandable given the battle's absolutely brutal combat and the fact it's just him, Reiben, Miller, and Upham left and they're being rapidly overrun.
- I Choose to Stay: Refused to be rescued so he can continue fighting along with his squad.
- Improvised Weapon: He has the idea to use mortar rounds as grenades.
- Last of His Kind: Smaller focus than other uses of this trope, as he's the only survivor of four brothers, but some of the associated characteristics are there.
- Secondary Character Title: As the tagline goes, "The mission is a man". Thus he only appears once Miller's squad stumbles upon him.
- Sole Survivor: Of the paratroopers stationed at Ramelle.
- Spoiler Opening: The old man at the beginning of the film is wearing a pin for the 101st Airborne. Ryan is the only main cast member who is a member of the 101st. Miller and his squad are from the 2nd Battalion, US Army Rangers and Upham is from the 29th Infantry Division.
- Weapon of Choice: A M1 Garand rifle.
Played by: Joerg StadlerA German soldier who is taken prisoner by Captain Miller's squad after Wade is killed. He is eventually allowed to walk free by Miller. Unfortunately, he reappears with disastrous consequences.
- Asshole Victim: Upham straight up fucking executes him. He had it coming.
- Bald of Evil: Though German soldiers at the time had a "high and tight" crew cut instead of no hair.
- Chekhov's Gunman: He comes back to find Miller's squad again. Doesn't go well for the squad or himself.
- Dirty Coward: He shamefully grovels when the Americans have him prisoner, but isn't so forthcoming of mercy when the situation is reversed.
- Hate Sink: It's made very obvious very quickly that we aren't supposed to like this guy. Admit it, you didn't feel so sad about him getting shot dead by Upham.
- Hero Killer: Responsible for the deaths of Wade and Miller.
- Kick the Dog: Gunning down Miller at Ramelle, after the captain let him go after Wade was killed.
- Laser-Guided Karma: He's killed by Upham, who asked Miller to let him go before... right after Miller is shot by the German.
- Manipulative Bastard: Plays on Upham's and Miller's sympathies to worm his way out of Miller's squad killing him. He tries this again with Upham at the end, only this time it doesn't work.
- No Name Given: His credited screen name comes from one of the references to American culture he does to try to save his life ("Steamboat Willie, choo-choo!").
- Ungrateful Bastard: He rejoins the Nazis after the troop spares his life. However, he wouldn't have had a choice if found by a German unit. Saying he promised to no longer fight against the Allies would likely get him shot. He still qualifies on account of his ferocity in combat to his erstwhile captors, though.
A group of soldiers from the 101st Airbourne defending the town of Ramelle, including Private James Francis Ryan. This group consists of:
- Corporal Henderson
- Private James Francis Ryan
- Private Parker
- Private Toynbe
- Private Rice
- Private Trask
- Private Lyle
- Private Weller
- Private Fallon
- Private Garity
- Private Wilson
- Private Gary
- Sticky Bomb Runner
- Badass Beard: Corporal Henderson has one.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: Several paratroopers are blasted to pieces by a German 20mm team. Those who were shot by the 20mm but not killed were forced to crawl until taken out by other German soldiers.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: The Sticky Bomb Runner is killed when the sticky bomb he tries to use on one of the tanks goes off, blasting him to pieces.
- Impromptu Tracheotomy: Corporal Henderson is killed by a gunshot to the neck just before the death of Private Mellish.
- In the Back: Private Wilson is shot in the back by Steamboat Willie, just before Willie kills Miller.
- Kill 'em All: All but Private Ryan are killed in the Battle of Ramelle.
- Last Stand: Trask fails to outrun the Germans and decides to fight, killing a few with his helmet before another German soldier beats him to death.
- Molotov Cocktail: Weller and Wilson use these on one of the Marder tank destroyers.
- No Range Like Point-Blank Range: Private Lyle shoots the last remaining German in the first Tiger tank in the face with the muzzle about six inches away.
- Off with His Head!: Private Lyle is decapitated by a 20mm round.
- Posthumous Character: Captain Jennings.
- Redshirt Army: Only Ryan gets a first name and the rest are killed at Ramelle.
- Sticky Bomb: Rice and Garrity use these on the first Tiger tank, disabling it.
- Stuff Blowing Up: Two cases; Toynbe starts off the battle of Ramelle with a pair of land mines and the aforementioned Sticky bombs.
- Tank Goodness: Private Parker is blown up in Ramelle's bell tower alongside Private Jackson.
- Weapon of Choice: Henderson and Parker have M1919A4 machine guns, the rest have M1 Garands. Henderson also has a Thompson submachine gun.
- You Are in Command Now: Corporal Henderson took command after Captain Jennings was killed when the town was bombed some time ago.