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. 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. "