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Ponca City man recalls D-Day invasion

World War II veteran from Ponca City remembers jumping behind enemy lines on D-Day.
by Jim Beckel Published: June 5, 2012

— The lure of 50 extra dollars in his monthly paycheck changed Jake McNiece's life.

Like thousands of young men, McNiece joined the military when the United States entered World War II in 1941.

McNiece soon learned he could receive extra pay if he volunteered to be a paratrooper in the Army's airborne units. The additional income was all the incentive he needed.

McNiece was 23 and recruiters expressed concern about his age, telling him he might be too old. He explained the Army prefers candidates for jump school to be 18 or 19 because “they're not old enough to be scared yet.”

Eventually, he became a member of the 101st Airborne Division.

Now 93, McNiece sat in his living room in Ponca City recently and talked about his work in a demolition saboteur team during the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944.

He was among the many paratroopers who parachuted onto the fields of Normandy in support of the invasion. It was his first combat jump and his only night combat jump.

McNiece and his team landed behind enemy lines with orders to destroy two bridges on the Douve River and to secure a third bridge that could be used later by Allied invading forces. Destroying the bridges would prevent the German army from resupplying their troops who were in fortified positions along Utah Beach.

The assignment, McNiece said, was a “suicide mission.” More than 60 percent of the men who began the mission were killed, captured or listed as missing, he said.

He remembers the troops being told by commanders before boarding their planes to “shake the hand of the soldier next to you.” Then they were given this somber prediction, “There's a good chance one of you won't be coming back.”

McNiece's team had a well-deserved reputation — but not a good one. His men were known for their lack of respect for officers and their unwillingness to adhere to military rules and procedures. McNiece said his team was composed of “some of the finest soldiers in Europe, but they were misfits.” He admits he was the lead misfit.

Men in his unit were recognized by their Mohawk-style haircuts and for the war paint they put on each other's faces before a jump. These were inspired by McNiece, who is Cherokee.

Inspired ‘Dirty Dozen'

Other paratroopers nicknamed his group the “Filthy 13.” The unit is credited with inspiring the movie “The Dirty Dozen.”

The moniker was given them because they didn't keep their uniforms clean or pressed, and didn't keep their shoes and boots shined. He remembered sleeping often in his uniform because it allowed him “to sleep five minutes longer.” He acknowledged that his group's reputation became famous among the troops because “we didn't use any military courtesy.

“We didn't follow all the rules.”

McNiece is certain superiors sometimes overlooked the nonconformist attitudes of the Filthy 13. The brass “knew we were real good soldiers in combat situations,” he said.

Nearly 70 years after the historic invasion, McNiece speaks with pride about the successful efforts of his team on D-Day and the role it played in pushing the Germans back and ultimately winning the war in Europe. He explains he joined the Army with one goal: “I went in to fight a war and get it over with! I didn't join to satisfy the ego of some stupid officer.”

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by Jim Beckel
Jim Beckel been a member of The Oklahoman's photo staff for 25 years. During that time, he and his cameras have covered virtually every type of news and feature story imaginable, traveling to all regions of Oklahoma to document events and provide...
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