Editor's note: This story originally was published June 5, 1994, in The Oklahoman.
PONCA CITY -- For Jake McNiece, D-Day was June 5. By the time the first invading American forces touched the beaches of Normandy, McNiece's squad was almost wiped out. McNiece led 18 paratroopers on a mission behind enemy lines to destroy two bridges and control a third to prevent German reinforcements from moving into Normandy and to cut off retreating German troops.
"I lost 16 of them, and only three of us came out," he said.
"The rest of them were killed before daylight. " McNiece, now 75 and a retired postal worker in Ponca City, still remembers supreme Allied commander Lt. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and the British field commander, Gen. Bernard Montgomery, speaking to the two American and one British airborne divisions on the night of June 5 wishing them good luck and telling them only half of them would survive.
"To me, it's ridiculous how war unfolds," McNiece said. "I've had men walk right along beside me and just one shot fired and he'd be killed right there. " McNiece recalls there were two large services for the paratroopers on that night, one for Protestants and one for Catholics. McNiece skipped both; at the time he was a carousing soldier who was a good commando but a lousy one for following regulations.
He was a sergeant during each of the missions he took part in during the more than two years he fought in World War II but was busted to private in between those missions when he would leave his base without permission for nights of drinking and fun. "I was a goof-off soldier, but I was a combat soldier. I never missed a minute of combat. The rest of the time I spent in the stockade. " The 12 paratroopers in his squadron often showed a reluctance to follow military regulations and procedures, and his outfit became known as the "Filthy 13. " Decades later, Hollywood would become interested in their story, change some facts and figures and chronicle one of the squadron's missions in the film "The Dirty Dozen. " Lee Marvin was cast to portray McNiece's character in the film, which falsely stated that the paratroopers were charged with violent crimes.
"That wasn't true," McNiece said. "We were all goof-offs. We were all stockade people for different things - stealing jeeps, picking up a train in town and bringing it back to camp - but none of them were really criminal. " The film also changed the group's mission, changing it from the D-Day jump to a fictitious assault on a German headquarters.
The D-Day jump was the first of four jumps behind German lines for McNiece, who says he was one of only three paratroopers to survive four such missions.
McNiece, who two months later would be jumping behind enemy lines in Holland, said he was not scared as he and his squadron crossed the English Channel for their mission.
Oklahoma World War II Stories