Ponca City World War II Vet, Leader Of Filthy 13, Receives Legion Of Honor
Ponca City, Oklahoma - An Oklahoma war hero has accomplished something few people in our state have accomplished.
Jake McNiece, of Ponca City, was awarded France's highest military honor.
He's one of Oklahoma's Own and he helped to win the war, inspired a movie, and is now getting the grateful thanks of leaders across international borders.
We first met McNiece ten years ago, as he was about to be inducted into Oklahoma's Military Hall of Fame.
"My first combat jump was in Normandy, France," McNiece said.
Becoming a Hall of Fame member was quite an honor.
Now, at 93, McNiece has been honored again for his heroic acts during World War II.
"I jumped in with 20 men and at three o'clock that morning, I only had three men left," McNiece said.
McNiece and a group of paratroopers, under his command, were sent behind enemy lines ahead of the D-Day invasion force.
"We were in there fighting hours before they ever touched the beaches," McNiece said.
The men were assigned to blow up two bridges ahead of the invasion.
McNiece said he's lucky to have survived four combat jumps, and years of fighting.
"It's an honor and a pleasure to serve this great nation," he said.
McNiece's men, known as the Filthy 13, were the inspiration of the movie The Dirty Dozen, in which soldiers facing jail time agreed to a dangerous mission in exchange for their freedom.
McNiece said his men weren't hardened criminals—just free spirits.
When other Sergeants would get a man they couldn't control, they'd put him under McNiece.
"Of course, that's the kind of man I wanted, was men who were there to fight a war, to Hell with all the stupid regulations," McNiece said. "We didn't salute officers."
But now, all these years later, the soldier who wouldn't salute officers is being honored for his leadership and heroism.
McNiece has been awarded the Legion of Honor, France's most prestigious medal.
McNiece is humbled—very humbled.
"[It's] embarrassing for the simple reason that I know that there were dozens of men who probably made as big a contribution as I did, that aren't getting any of these honors," he said.
He's very appreciative for the award, but said others are far more deserving.
"They're lying over there in unmarked graves, known only to God," McNiece said.
God has been good to McNiece, blessing him with a loving wife and family, grand kids and great-grandchildren.
He said he hopes any attention given to him prompts younger people to learn more about World War II.
"War is Hell. It's a game of killing and destruction," McNiece said.
He also said he hopes current and future generations remember freedom isn't free and liberty often comes with a great cost.
"It's an honor and a pleasure to pour out the last drop of blood that you've got to keep us that way for coming generations," McNiece said.