May 24, 1919|
Maysville, Oklahoma, U.S.
|Died||January 21, 2013
Chatham, Illinois, U.S.
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1942–1946|
|Rank||Acting First Sergeant|
|Unit||506th Parachute Infantry Regiment
101st Airborne Division
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards|| Bronze Star (4)
Purple Heart (2)
Legion of Honour
James Elbert "Jake" McNiece (May 24, 1919 – January 21, 2013) was a US Army paratrooper in World War II. Sergeant McNiece was a member of the Filthy Thirteen, an elite demolition unit whose exploits inspired the novel and movie The Dirty Dozen.
James McNiece was born on May 24, 1919 in Maysville, Oklahoma, the ninth of ten children born to Eli Hugh and Rebecca (née Ring) McNiece, and of partial Choctaw descent. The family moved to Ponca City, Oklahoma in 1931. In 1939, he graduated from Ponca City High School and went to work in road construction, and then at the Pine Bluff Arsenal, where he gained experience in the use of explosives.
McNiece enlisted for military service on September 1, 1942. He was assigned to the demolition saboteur section of what was then the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. This section would become the Filthy Thirteen, first led by Lieutenant Charles Mellen, who was killed in action on June 6, 1944 during the Invasion of Normandy. Following Mellen's death, Sergeant McNiece led the unit.
McNiece's demolitions experience with the fire department before the war made him the section sergeant, but his mission focus kept him in that rank in spite of his deliberate disobedience and disrespect during training. His first sergeant and company commanders knew he was the man the regiment could count on during combat. His escapades are documented in both his words in The Filthy Thirteen, Fighting With the Filthy Thirteen, and War Paint; The Filthy Thirteen Jump Into Normandy.
McNiece went on to make a total of four wartime combat jumps, the first as part of the Invasion of Normandy in 1944. In the same year he jumped as part of Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands, which was featured in the book (and subsequent film), A Bridge Too Far, and at the Siege of Bastogne, part of the larger Battle of the Bulge. During fighting in the Netherlands, he was promoted to demolition platoon sergeant. He volunteered for pathfinder training, anticipating he would sit out the rest of the war training in England, but his pathfinder stick was called upon to jump into Bastogne to guide in resupply drops. His last jump was in 1945, near Prüm in Germany. In recognition of his natural leadership abilities, he ended the war as the acting first sergeant for Headquarters Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He was discharged from the military in February 1946.
After World War II
In 1949, McNiece returned to live in Ponca City. He began a 28-year career with the United States Postal Service. His first wife Rosita died in 1952 and, a year later, he married Martha Beam Wonders. They had two sons and a daughter and remained married until his death.
In 1997, historian Richard E. Killblane, also from Ponca City, began recording Jake's oral history of his escapades during the war and wrote The Filthy Thirteen, which Casemate Publishers published in 2003. This made Jake an instant celebrity among WWII airborne fans and he toured the United States and Europe educating and entertaining younger generations with his accounts of the war. In 2012, McNiece was awarded the French Legion of Honour Chevalier class. He died on January 21, 2013 at the age of 93.
McNiece was an inductee in the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame, and an honorary colonel of the 95th Victory Division. He was the recipient of an honorary master's degree in Military Science from Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee. He had participated in military maneuvers there in 1943. In 2010, an action figure of McNiece, the last surviving member of the Filthy Thirteen, was released.
- "James Elbert McNiece obituary" (PDF). The Ponca City News. 23 January 2013. Retrieved February 1, 2013.
- "World War II vet is Filthy Thirteen's last man". WSBT.com. November 9, 2010. Retrieved January 31, 2013.
- Richard E. Killblane and Brian Miller, War Paint; The Filthy Thirteen Jump Into Normandy, Victory Press, 2013
- Jerome Preisler, First to Jump; How the Band of Brothers was Aided by the Brave Paratroopers of the Pathfinder Company, Berkley, 2014
- "'Dirty Dozen' hero from Oklahoma has died". Stars and Stripes. January 22, 2013. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
- "Oklahoma World War II veteran receives France's highest decoration". Stars and Stripes. September 27, 2012. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
- "WWII War Hero Jake McNiece, Last of The Filthy Thirteen Dies". Country Courier Magazine. January 25, 2012. Retrieved January 31, 2013.
- Womer, Jack N.; DeVito, Stephen C (2012). Fighting With the Filthy Thirteen, the World War II Story of Jack Womer: Ranger and Paratrooper. Casemate Publishers. ISBN 9781612001005.
- Richard Killblane; Jake McNiece (2003). The Filthy Thirteen: The True Story of the Dirty Dozen. Casemate Publishers. ISBN 9781932033120.
- Richard Killblane; Brian Miller (2013). War Paint: The Filthy Thirteen Jump into Normandy and Beyond. Victory Press. ISBN 978-0-615-67993-8.
- Richard Killblane; Jake McNiece (2006). The Filthy Thirteen: From the Dustbowl to Hitler's Eagle's Nest - The True Story of the 101st Airborne's Most Legendary Squad of Combat Paratroopers. Casemate Publishers. ISBN 978-1932033465.
- Jerome Preisler (2014). First to Jump; How the Band of Brothers was Aided by Brave Paratroopers of the Pathfinder Company. Berkley. ISBN 978-0425265970.
- E.M. Nathanson (2001). The Dirty Dozen. Cassel. ISBN 9780304359288.