Is an unlocatable US “Private Ryan” possible now? Then? / MIA trends

Query means: the plot of Saving Private Ryan is predicated on finding what is portrayed as a needle in a haystack. Granted, we are told his parachute drop was scattered to hell. He’s eventually located in a tiny besieged garrison.

  1. Even in WW II, without troop databases and advanced comm, wouldn’t the troop status—their names—be reported upstairs, for a not- locally define upstairs, but somewhere?

Of course, the definition of “besieged and isolated” might contain the answer, but the topic is still there.

  1. And today—in Afghanistan eg, some terrible standoff. I don’t even know how such regroupings of scattered troops even plays out, if at all, in recent US military history.

2a. Does it/did it?

2b. If so, how likely is it an accounting of troop IDs would not be done after 24/48 hours?

  1. Has the rate of MIA decreased (as a result of our new tech, or reporting procedures allowed by the tech)?

How are the names and status of troops who are out of communication with HQ going to be reported to HQ? I mean it’s really that simple; you’ve got a huge invasion facing heavy opposition, with units improvising tactics as they group up, which is confusing enough, but then you have paratroopers scattered across the countryside and lacking heavy equipment like radios. Units in a relatively safe area, like the base where Hanks’ character gets his mission, have lots of typewriters to file reports and send them up the chain, plus radios and the like (though you wouldn’t send a name-by-name accounting of a unit over radio). The guys out in the field are trying to survive, they don’t have typewriters and even if they typed their names and location up don’t have anyone to hand that to, and they don’t have any long-range radios. Knowing where large units generally are is common, but name-by-name accounting on a daily basis and communicated to higher ups was just beyond anything they tried to do in battle.

I don’t know about modern troop tracking, but I would not be surprised if it’s completely different now that we have much better comms, a much smaller military, and much more limited operations - the initial D-day landings involved getting 875,000 men ashore by the end of June, while the second Iraq War had just under 300,000 over the course of operations (in both cases just talking about the US and Allies). But you can still end up losing track of a particular small unit during actual operations.

How did units stay in communication in WWII?

Radios, primarily. But radios were bigger, a a small platoon of paratroopers might not have one, or theirs might be broken. That wasn’t the plan, of course, but Allied paradrops did not go well. The 101st Airborne in particular (Private Ryan’s division) was absolutely scattered and suffered heavy losses right off the bat. If you read up[ on the 101st’s exploits in Normandy, the intiative and courage they showed was actually kind of amazing. A lot of formations would have fallen apart in the same circumstances; the 101st gathered themselves together in whatever numbers the highest-ranking local guy could scrounge up, be in 20 or 100 or 5 or 150, and went charging off to kill Germans and take objectives in whatever direction seemed to make sense.

A small, isolated group might also not want to use a radio even if they had one. It’s clear that Ryan’s group is isolated in in a tough spot they’re only holding onto because it’s important. Using a radio could allow for German intelligence to use direction finders to pinpoint them, or even listen in and ascertain the strength of the group. “Radio discipline” - using radios very judiciously to prevent electronic warfare measures from compromising you - is something troops are trained in, even back in 1944.

Of course it’s possible. You write the OP like it was a plot device instead of what really happened. Thousands of troops were out of communication. Even Private Ryan was based on a real guy but Private Nyland was found by a chaplain not a Ranger Captain. In modern day conflict it would be less likely but not impossible. Think about small Special Operations teams in places like Africa with little support. Or if there is another big conflict like NK invading the south. Technology helps but Nurphy is always at work.

Nurphy? I guess that law is recursive.

Outstanding, Sir!

Bowe Bergdahl disappeared from his base on June 30, 2009. On July 18 the Taliban released a video of him. He was released in a hostage deal in 2014. If the Taliban hadn’t announced they’d captured him and made a deal for him, he’d probably still be MIA.

Murphy convinced me to post on my phone without putting on my glasses.

In an example with less desertion SSG Keith Maupin was captured and later executed but his fate wasn’t known for sure until his remains were found 4 years later. The remains were found only because of a tip from an Iraqi otherwise he would probably still be MIA.

The plot hole in Saving Private Ryan is not that Private Ryan was out of communication, it’s that Rangers would be sent to try to find him on the orders of General Marshall. ‘Scattered to hell’ doesn’t do justice to how badly dispersed the drops of the 82nd and 101st Airborne were at Normandy. The average distance that paratroopers missed their designated drop zones by was in the order of 2 or 2 1/2 miles. To get an idea of what this looked like, these are maps of the drop patterns of the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions, with the ovals marked A,C,D and N,O,T each being the designated drop zone for roughly a parachute infantry regiment. Each dot on the map represents where a stick (planeload of troops) actually dropped. Note the arrows on the edges of the map showing where drops were too far to be shown on the map, the furthest being 25 miles from the drop zone. Also notice that nobody actually landed in drop zone A (intended for 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment and 377th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion), not even a stick intended for a different drop zone.

How many guys does a dot represent?
How many outside their drop zone survived compared to those who landed in their drop zone?

My Wife’s uncle ran a 101 jump camp. I’d like to talk to him about this, but he is pretty pissed off about my being a Jew and Mrs. Plant inviting his sister but not he to the small wedding.

I wonder if, back in WW2, with millions of troops from dozens of countries, engaged in world wide actions, largely under the strictest of secrecy, would the military really gave a fuck about the welfare of private X at a specific time and place? This was a freaking WOLD WAR, not a limited shellacking given to a middle eastern despot, that, if not won, would likely seriously inconvenience private x’s family more than not knowing his status or whereabouts ever second of the day.

MIA is the official recognition of “he’s missing, nobody knows where he is, and HQ knows about it”. Before that third item, he’s simply missing.

What has changed since 1943 is HQ knows sooner. The time delay between missing: and :MIA: is shorter. Folks still get lost. 4 airplanes leave base, 3 come back. There’s a firefight amongst foot soldiers and after you disengage and have time to count noses, Jones is not here.

Nowadays we can get the report back to the part of DoD that’s always connected a lot sooner. But the going missing still happens about like it always did.

Yes and no. It was expected to be a bit of a meat grinder but some cases were different than others. The military is not immune to bad press now and it wasn’t then. The Sullivan Brothers tragedy was used as propaganda as best they could but it horrified the nation. They did not want a repeat of that. So as I mentioned above when the story of the Niland Brothers came to light Fritz Niland was quickly sent to England then back home.