Finding the paratroopers and meeting Steamboat Willie
When they encountered a radio site being holed up by four Germans, he stayed back outside of the battle for his own safety being inexperienced in combat. He watched the battle occur through Jacksons scope on his rifle, seeing his fellow soldiers push forward to the small bunker and tops several grenades within. After a series of explosions and shakily putting the scope away, he was called forward by Miller to bring canteens and provide the medical kit. He raced through the smoke, finding the soldiers around a mortally wounded Wade. As the others tried to save them, he stood back and asked what Wade needed, the medic indirectly stating he wanted to die. He watched Wade die, noticing the others suddenly becoming still and dismal.
The silence was broken by the grunts of Reiben, who had pushed on to assault the remaining German. As the others raced forward to join the assault, Upham stayed back with Miller, who marched forward and order the others to stop and make the German dig graves for Wade and the paratroopers in the burrow. Upham was quickly dragged forward by Mellish, demanding he ask if the German shot Wade. Upham heeded the order but the German began speaking Latin instead, much to Jacksons anger. As Miller walked away, he tried to plea with him that killing one of the soldiers wasnt right, but Miller coldly ordered him to help the man carry the bodies.
As time passed, Upham bonded with the German, dubbing him Steamboat Willie. They shared cigarettes and talked about life back home. When Miller came with the other soldiers, Upham again pleaded for the mans life. To his surprise, Miller did let the soldier go. However, this caused Reiben and Horvath to start fighting due to it bring a conflicting decision. As the situation escalated further, Upham tried to convince the captain to stop the soldiers from fighting with each other but got an unexpected response with Miller revealing where he was from. He watched as Miller spoke of his profession before the war and how he was tired of killing, convincing Reiben to stay with the group. They then buried the bodies and proceeded to Ramelle.
Finding Ryan and the Battle of Ramelle
During the Battle at Ramelle, he became shell shocked and was unable to save a .30 cal team from a German soldier because he was too frozen with fear to do anything about it. He carried all the .30 calibre ammo at the battle of Ramelle, but was unable to do his job because he was always either pinned down or too afraid to move.
He signified the loss of innocence in war and thought that soldiers could be civil, but he later succumbed to the evils of war and made up for his cowardice when he shot Steamboat Willie for killing Miller even after the latter had shown Willie mercy earlier.
Not only did Upham represent the loss of innocence of war but he also symbolised the “Everyman”; the moment when he almost picks up the souvenir German helmet symbolises how he could have fought on either side, he was a neutral soldier.
His compassion was what resulted in him causing the deaths of Miller (from convincing him to free Willie) and Mellish when the German stabbed him. The latter in particular metaphorically displays Upham represented how the Americans knew what the Germans were doing to the Jews (Mellish) during WW2 but failed to intervene and make the Germans pay until much later.
His illusion of neutrality faded when he finally had to pick and side and kill Steamboat Willie, his character revelation being how he finally understood the horrors of war. It became clear that Upham had turned into a hardened and true soldier because of the whole experience.
There was also a running gag within the film in how he was the only soldier to not understand what the word “Fubar” meant. When he finally learns what it means when indirectly told by Mellish, it once against highlights his innocence. He also didnt smoke before the battle of Ramelle, a minor example of his innocence as he is only just understanding the stress war can impose on a man.
To clarify what Upham said to the Germans here is a short passage of what he said in English. The words he says in German at the end of the film when conversing with the group of German soldiers are as followed:
Upham: “Drop your weapons – hands up, drop your weapons!….. And shut your mouths!”
Steamboat Willie: “I know this soldier! I know this man!”
Upham: “Shut up!”
Upham: [After shooting him, to the others] “Get lost… Disappear!”
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The soldier had just fought for his life, brutally killing another man. He walks down the stairs and he sees an impotent combatant. He sees a man who just let his fellow soldier die. This guy is no threat to the soldier and, whats more, hes actually a potential danger to his fellow men.
Additionally, theres no reason to kill him – if Upham was going to kill the German, he would have done it to save his fellow soldier. The German knew that and was probably already traumatized by running a knife through someone.
It was not uncommon for peaceful one on one encounters like these in WW2 and wars before. The more human instincts often took over when it was one solitary soldier encountering a solitary enemy. This was at least the case with soldiers in Europe. I have heard the Pacific was an entirely different scenario. The Japanese were so aggressive and killing oriented that they would never spare an enemy soldier in such an encounter. It could have something to do with the ethnic divide although Ive heard the Japanese were similarly ruthless towards the Chinese. There is something to be said of the mentality and culture of Imperial Japan in those years that made its soldiers and citizens behave in ways contrary to other nations at war.
I thought maybe when Upham was in the building without anyone else, he was confronted by the Germans. They quickly subdued him and threatened to kill him right then and there. They wanted info about his fellow soldiers. And even then, he almost changed his mind and wanted to go up there and kill him but he was still petrified with fear. The last soldier survived, and walked downstairs without even so much as a thought. So yeah, I think he was scared to death and helped set them up a bit.
The German soldier is the one who was captured and released blindfolded. He does not kill Upham because he simply remembers him, and Upham was the soldier who fought the most among them so they would not kill the German because he had given up.
Why does Upham not help Mellish?
Why was Corporal Upham a coward?
Why did the German let Upham go?
What did Upham do?