Mario | January 24, 2013
World War II hero James “Jake” McNiece and a respected member of the Ponca City community died Monday morning at the age of 93 in Chatham, Ill., where he and his wife Martha had moved in November to be near their son. McNiece, a platoon leader and demolition sabotage expert with the 101st Airborne Screaming Eagles, received numerous medals for his bravery during the war. Most recently, he was accompanied by Martha last September to Oklahoma City where he was awarded the National Order of French Legion of Honour Chevalier degree. The award was presented at the rotunda at the Capitol by the Counsel General of France in Houston. McNiece was named a knight of the French Order of the Legion of Honor.
McNiece’s colorful and heroic career began when he volunteered for U.S. Paratrooper duty in 1942. He was assigned to the 506th Infantry Paratroop Infantry regiment. Among his many exploits was when McNiece led 18 paratroopers behind enemy lines to destroy two bridges and control a third in the hours leading up to the June 1944 invasion of Normandy.
The work of the paratroopers would prevent German reinforcements from invading Normandy, and to cut off retreating German troops. This was one of four combat jumps McNiece made into enemy territory during World War II.
The French Legion of Honor is just one of many medals and honors presented to McNiece over the years. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame in 2002. Other honors included the World War II Victory Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal, American Theatre Ribbon, EAME Theatre Ribbon with four Bronze Stars and two Bronze Arrowheads, Presidential Unit Citation for Normandy for Holland and two for Bastogne (one for being a Pathfinder and one because he was a part of 101st Airborne), and the Bronze Star Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters. He also received the Combat Infantry Badge, Jump wings with four Bronze Stars, Army of Occupation Medal and a Cold War Victor Medal. McNiece was also entitled to wear the Airborne Pathfinder Insignia and the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster.
“The Dirty Dozen” movie was loosely based on McNiece’s paratroopers known as “The Filthy Thirteen.”
Lee Marvin played McNiece in the film. McNiece, with the assistance of Richard Killblane, was the author of “The Filthy Thirteen: From the Dust Bowl to Hitler’s Eagle Nest — The True Story of the 101st Airborne’s Most Legendary Squadron of Combat Paratroopers.”
After military duty McNiece returned to his home state and lived quietly in Ponca City as a part of the U.S. Postal Service and a valued member of the community. Arrangements are pending at Trout Funeral Home and Crematory.
Source: Ponca City News
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