'Dirty Dozen' hero from Oklahoma has died

James “Jake” McNiece led a World War II group hours before the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion to destroy bridges to prevent German reinforcements from moving into Normandy.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Modified: January 21, 2013 at 7:11 pm •  Published: January 22, 2013

James “Jake” McNiece, the leader of a World War II group that came to be known as the “Dirty Dozen,” died Monday, family members said. He was 93.

Funeral arrangements are pending and are under the direction of Trout Funeral Home in Ponca City. Survivors include his wife, Martha, whom he married 59 years ago.

McNiece, a retired Ponca City postal worker, commanded a group of rough men nicknamed “The Filthy 13,” who served as the inspiration for the 1967 movie “The Dirty Dozen.” Hours before the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion, McNiece led 18 paratroopers 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. Sixteen of his men were killed during the 36-day mission, in which they also cut enemy communications and supply lines.

In September, he was presented France's most prestigious decoration, the Legion of Honor, during a ceremony at the state Capitol. In 2002, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame.

“War is hell,” McNiece said in September after receiving the French medal. “We do not brag about winning the war, and we do not apologize. It was a thing that needed to be done, and we did it and we're glad.”

McNiece had lived most of his life after World War II in Ponca City, but recently moved to the Springfield, Ill., area to be closer to a son.

“He's had a very full life,” Hugh McNiece, the son, said Monday, “and had been enjoying the last many years sharing the stories of what he saw and what he did related to helping make the world being a free place and what that cost he and some of his buddies along the way.”

McNiece was portrayed in “The Dirty Dozen” by Lee Marvin. In interviews, he said he was disappointed the movie had several discrepancies, especially the plot in which the soldiers in the raid were all convicts. He said his soldiers were in military stockades, but were there for violating regulations. None had committed heinous crimes as the film suggested.

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