Ponca City World War II vet honored

Monday, August 5th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

A Ponca City resident and World War II veteran was honored this past weekend for his amazing service during that war.

In fact, his story captured the attention of even Hollywood. News on Six anchor Craig Day introduces us to Jake McNiece.

Jake McNiece's home in Ponca City is a world away from where his past has taken him. “I was 21, 22 years old." Far away from the prairie of northern Oklahoma, to the battlefields of Europe. "And I thought I should make a contribution to the war effort."

It was June of 1944, on the eve of D-Day. Jake McNiece and a group of paratroopers under his command are sent behind enemy lines ahead of the invasion force. "My first combat jump was in Normandy, France." A demolition and saboteur unit with a mission to blow up two bridges, and protect a third. "There were three of us that made it. We fought them for 36 days at Normandy."

McNiece's men, known as the filthy 13, were the inspiration of the movie the Dirty Dozen. Where soldiers facing jail time agreed to a dangerous mission in exchange for their freedom. McNiece says his men weren't hardened criminals, just free spirits. "Collectively between the 13 of us, we'd been in every jail from Rome to Nome and Maine to Spain."

Because of his rowdy exploits, McNiece says he stayed a buck private for most of his military service. But he was courageous under fire, decorated more than 20 times. Now nearly 60 years later, that buck private took his place among Generals and Admirals in the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame. "It's kind of embarrassing because I realize there were so many Oklahoma men and women who made a finer contribution to the Army than I did."

Like many veterans, Mr. McNiece will tell you he's no hero, just a survivor, but to people here in Ponca City, the rest of Oklahoma and the nation, they say he is a hero, and is very deserving of the recognition he's gotten. After Normandy, McNiece made three more jumps. Then at wars end, he came home to Ponca City to eventually raise children, to enjoy his grandchildren, to live a quiet life. His missions and his men, never far from his mind and heart.

A book and maybe even a documentary on Jake McNiece's exploits are in the works.