By Darwin Lam
Officer Training Command Newport Public Affairs
Ensign James Niland III, from Grand Island, a recent graduate of the Navy’s Officer Candidate School (OCS), at Officer Training Command Newport (OTCN), is a descendant of the famous Niland brothers: Edward, Preston, Robert “Bob” and Frederick “Fritz” from Tonawanda, New York.
James’s grandfather, James “Mike” Niland Sr., a cousin of the four brothers, also served in the Army and is from Tonawanda.
The Niland brothers’ story inspired Steven Spielberg’s movie “Saving Private Ryan” and historian Steven Ambrose’s book “Band of Brothers – E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne, from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest.”
Niland Sr.’s brother, then Army 1st Lt. Thomas Niland Jr., jumped on D-Day with the 101st Airborne Division. Another of Niland Sr.’s brothers, Joseph Niland, served in the Army’s 20th Armored Division, who liberated more than 32,000 prisoners at Dachau.
Like Edward, Bob, Fritz and several other family members, James attended Canisius College in Buffalo. In 2020, he graduated with Bachelor of Arts degrees in mathematics and economics.
Edward’s perseverance with the will to survive helped him make it home.
James started the OCS application process in August 2019 but did not officially report until September 2021 because of an injury, he said.
“While I was waiting to be cleared, I shattered my collarbone playing flag football, which further delayed my training date,” James said. “I was so excited to be a part of something bigger during my senior year of college.”
During his recovery, James recalled periods of time where he didn’t hear from his recruiter and began to question military service, he said.
“Looking back that entire time at home until I arrived for training, it helped me be successful at OCS,” James added. “Understanding how I got here in the first place, I consider it to be a gift to be where I am, I can make it through tough times during the 13 weeks here.”
James began OCS training on Sept. 26 and graduated Dec. 17.
“Being part of a military family requires you to not only sacrifice your comfortable civilian lifestyle but also the individualistic mindset for the wellbeing of your team,” James said. “I could have made a lot of money being an actuary, but I consider it an honor to be a naval officer first and aviator second.”
James added how he wanted to serve in the military to be part of something bigger than himself.
“I was captain of my high school football team and enjoyed the brotherhood of being part of a team,” he said. “The sense of belonging and camaraderie at OCS is second to none.”
After graduating OCS, James is scheduled to complete a six-week air indoctrination course at Naval Aviation Schools Command, in Pensacola, Florida.
OTCN morally, mentally and physically develops future leaders of character and competence – imbuing them with the highest ideals of honor, courage and commitment in order to serve as professional naval officers worthy of special trust and confidence.
For more information about OTCN, visit https://www.netc.navy.mil/NSTC/OTCN.