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WWII War Hero Jake McNiece, Last of The Filthy Thirteen Dies

January 25, 2013

Jake served our country in WWII. Jake’s 101st Airborne regiment became known as The Filthy Thirteen. The movie “The Dirty Dozen” , was loosely based on Jake and his unit. The following is his obit. I was very fortunate to have met Jake and his lovely wife Martha in 2010 when he visited friend and author Brian Miller in Ulster County.  He has a special place in my heart. Thank you, Jake, for your service.

James Elbert “Jake” McNiece, son of Eli Hugh and Rebecca Ring McNiece, was born in Maysville, Okla., on May 24, 1919. He was next to the youngest of 10 children, with four older brothers and four older sisters. He died at the home of his son, Hugh McNiece in Chatham, Ill., on Monday morning Jan. 21, 2013, at the age of 93. He spent his early childhood and elementary school education in Maysville, Okla. In 1931, when Jake was 12, he moved with his family to Ponca City.

He completed Junior High and was captain of the Junior High football team for two years under Coach Baker, who later became the coach at Ponca City High School and later coached at Oklahoma A&M (now OSU). By the time Jake completed Junior High, the nation was in the midst of the depression. Jake’s Dad could not find full-time employment to take care of the family, and Jake dropped out of High School to work in order to help support his parents and younger sister. When Coach Baker became the Po-Hi football coach, he encouraged Jake to return to school to play football. Coach Baker informed him they could find employment for Jake or his father. Jake took a position at the fire department and worked the night shift while going to school and playing football by day. In Jake’s senior year, he was captain of the football team and president of the senior class. He graduated in 1939. During his work with the fire department, he learned to use explosives demolishing fire damaged structures. Following high school he worked in road construction and at the Pine Bluff Arsenal continuing his experience with explosives.

After completing the job at Pine Bluff Arsenal, he enlisted for military service and volunteered for the U.S. Army Paratroop duty on Sept. 1, 1942. He was assigned to the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Headquarters Company. Basic training took place at Camp Toccoa, Ga. With his prior experience using explosives, he was immediately assigned to the demolition saboteur section to train other troops in the use of high tech explosives. The nucleus of the group that became known as “The Filthy 13”, was formed at that time. Following completion of basic training they went to jump school at Fort Benning, Ga. The 506th was then assigned for further training at Camp Mackall, S.C., at which time they were officially attached to the 101st Airborne Division. From there they were involved in the first Tennessee maneuvers in early 1943. The 101st Airborne embarked for England in September 1943, for further training and to prepare for the invasion of Northern Europe.

With Jake as their Sergeant, The Filthy 13, sporting Mohawks and war paint, participated in the invasion of Normandy, France, June 5, 1944. They jumped behind German Beach fortifications shortly after midnight before the main invasion force hit the beaches the next morning. Jake and the others successfully accomplished their assigned mission (thought to be a suicide mission); however, most of the core of The Filthy 13 were lost in battle or taken prisoner. Following this, he made three more combat jumps, the invasion of Holland, at Bastogne (The Battle of the Bulge), and at Prum Germany.

The Holland jump was made famous by the book and movie “A Bridge Too Far.”

After the Holland jump, Jake volunteered for Pathfinder Duty. He led the pathfinder team that jumped into Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge to set up the resupply of the trapped 101st Airborne, helping turn the tide of the battle.

His fourth jump at Prum Germany (Siegfried Line), was to guide resupply of a section of Patton’s tank forces that had been isolated and cut off from Allied supply lines.

After Jake’s discharge from the military in February 1946, he travelled the U.S. with his father for about six months (his mother had died while Jake was overseas).

He settled in California for a time, doing railroad and construction work, and returned to Ponca City in 1949. Jake went to work for the U.S. Post Office in Ponca City and settled down for a 28 1/2 year career serving the public. Jake served in local and state offices for the Postal Clerks Union.

In Ponca City, Jake married his first wife Rosita Vitale, who died after 3 1/2 years of marriage in August 1952.

His second wife, Martha Beam Wonders, moved to Ponca City in September 1952, following the death of her first husband. Jake and Martha began dating the following spring and were married Sept. 4, 1953. They stayed happily married for 59 1/2 years. They were active members of the Hartford Avenue Church of Christ where Jake was instrumental in beginning a food program and leading a home Bible study group among other areas of service, and later the Tonkawa Church of Christ. Jake loved fishing, hunting and gardening, friendships — and service opportunities that revolved around them.

Jake and Martha took several trips to Europe where Jake was honored for his service in WWII.

Jake has been honored over the years for his service to the Country. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame, made an Honorary Colonel of the 95th Victory Division. He was awarded an Honorary master’s degree in Military Science, by Cumberland University, Lebanon, Tenn. for his participation in the military maneuvers there in 1943. In 2012, Jake was awarded the French Legion of Honor, Knight Chevalier Medal, the highest honor the French President can give to an enlisted soldier.

His story can be read in the book, “The Filthy Thirteen; the true story of the Dirty Dozen” by Richard Killblane and Jake McNiece.

Jake is survived by his wife Martha McNiece; his two sons, Alan Wonders and wife Billie Ruth of Richardson, Texas, and Hugh McNiece and wife Mary Ellen of Chatham, Ill.; his daughter, Rebecca Sue Brewer and husband Joel of Katy, Texas; and grandchildren, Lucy Wonders Hahn, her husband Micah, and their children Luke, Titus, and Elle, Cara Wonders, Michelle Brewer Withrow, her husband Matt, and their children Mason and Madison, Caleb McNiece and his wife Kristi, Silas McNiece, and Hannah McNiece.

Please consider making a memorial contribution, in honor of Jake, to a Veteran’s Organization, a food bank or any other charity.

This obit appeared in The Ponca City News in Oklahoma.