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D-Day came early for Ponca City paratrooper, Filthy 13 leader

BY MICHAEL McNUTT Modified: April 12, 2010 at 9:46 am •  Published: April 12, 2010

McNiece, with the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, got on the plane about 11 p.m. on June 5, and they were able to see the Allied ships gathered in the English Channel. "The ships were so close together that it looked like a bridge all the way from Southampton clear to the Normandy beaches," McNiece said.

Before the mission, he shaved most of his head, leaving a scalp lock that ran down the middle of his head. He joked to his squadron it was an Indian custom to do that before battle, but he really shaved his head for sanitary reasons, realizing he could spend days without bathing.

Most of the rest of the squadron shaved their heads also, McNiece said.

The realization of how closely he came to death during that mission did not occur to him until two years ago when he saw some old film footage showing him shaving some of his paratroopers' heads, McNiece said.

"This hit me harder than anything that has since the war ended because I'm looking at these guys ... making preparations to jump and before the sun came up 16 of them were dead," he said.

By dawn on June 6, McNiece and his squad had destroyed their two assigned bridges and had a third wired for detonation. Their orders were to hold the bridge and save it if possible so that advancing Allied troops and tanks could use it.

McNiece said his men held the bridge for three days until American warplanes swooped down and bombed the structure.

"The Army decided that we had been totally wiped out so they sent four P-51 fighter-bombers to destroy the bridge that we were holding," he said.

"After they blew the bridge up, they would be so low that they could see us in the foxholes. We were on one side and the Germans were on the other, and of course they (the pilots) assumed that we were all Germans, so they divided up and two planes took the Germans and two planes took us and dropped the rest of the bombs in on us and strafed us. " Because they were behind enemy lines, McNiece and his two remaining paratroopers did not know how the Allied invasion of Normandy was progressing.

The average life of a paratrooper was one and a half jumps, he said. He attributes luck and his aggressiveness to surviving four jumps.

"I was real lucky a lot of times. But here's something else that figures into it - the most aggressive people are the ones who live the longest. If you hesitate, sometimes it was the difference between life and death. "

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