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Thursday, August 12, 1999 Published at 09:56 GMT 10:56 UK


Spielberg's top military honour

Spielberg with Defence Secretary William Cohen and his wife Janet Langhart

American film director Steven Spielberg has received the US military's highest civilian honour for his film Saving Private Ryan.

He was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Public Service for his graphic depiction of the Normandy landings during World War II.

At a ceremony in the Pentagon, the US Defence Secretary, William Cohen, said the film had had a profound impact in raising awareness about the American veterans who fought during the war.

Mr Spielberg said his aim in making the Oscar-winning film was to help remind people of the sacrifices made by his father's generation.

[ image: William Cohen: Impressed by Spielberg's work]
William Cohen: Impressed by Spielberg's work
Saving Private Ryan told the story of a company of US servicemen who have to find a fellow soldier behind enemy lines in occupied France after the Normandy landings.

The film won five Academy Awards, including the second Best Director Oscar of Spielberg's career. He said the inspiration for the film came from his father Arnold, a aircraft radio operator during the war.

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said Cohen was impressed with Spielberg's work towards creating "a national dialogue about World War II and the impact that movie had on improving conversations in families about the contributions that veterans made".

[ image: Tom Hanks starring in Saving Private Ryan]
Tom Hanks starring in Saving Private Ryan
He added the film and recent books about the US effort in World War II "have had a major impact on increasing understanding that the military has made to our nation's security and character".

However, the film led to controversy among UK veterans, who claimed it played down their contribution to the Normandy landings.

They said the unit featured in the film, C Company of the US Rangers 2nd Battalion, was brought in by the Royal Navy on distinctive British landing boats. But in the film, the soldiers were landed by US craft, crewed by the US Coastguard.

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