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WWII hero James 'Jake' McNiece dies

Jan. 22, 2013 at 6:56 PM   |   Comments

SPRINGFIELD, Ill., Jan. 22 (UPI) -- World War II hero James "Jake" McNiece, whose behind-the-lines exploits helped inspire the film "The Dirty Dozen," has died, family members said. He was 93.

McNiece, a retired postal worker who spent most of his adult life in Ponca City, Okla., but lived his last years near family in Springfield, Ill., passed away Monday, The (Oklahoma City) Oklahoman reported.

McNiece led a group of soldiers nicknamed "The Filthy 13" on a paratroop mission behind German lines in the hours before the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion by Allied forces. Their mission was to destroy bridges and prevent German reinforcements from moving into Normandy and retreating forces from leaving.

His efforts earned him France's most prestigious decoration, the Legion of Honor.

"War is hell," McNiece told The Oklahoman after receiving the French medal. "We do not brag about winning the war, and we do not apologize. It was a thing that needed to be done, and we did it and we're glad."

McNiece, who was portrayed by Lee Marvin in the 1967 movie "The Dirty Dozen," made a point of noting Hollywood's departure from the facts, including that members of his band were all convicts. He said his comrades had been in military stockades breaking rules, earning the "Filthy 13" moniker, but hadn't committed serious crimes as the movie suggested.

McNiece reached the rank of first sergeant but was demoted multiple times for such infractions as extending his leaves without permission.

McNiece's survivors include his wife of 59 years, Martha, and a son, Hugh.

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