Toccoa remembers Jake McNiece.
The World War II and Camp Toccoa veteran passed away earlier this week at the home of his son.
Stephens County Historical Society Executive Director Brenda Carlan says that McNiece was a paratrooper who trained for the war in Toccoa and became the leader of a group of men known as the “Filthy Thirteen.”
“He was part of the 506th and he was a Pathfinder,” said Carlan. “He was one of the guys that went in earlier. He became so popular or well-known in the 1960s, when the movie “The Dirty Dozen” was done.”
The “Filthy 13” inspired that movie.
According to McNiece’s obituary, “The Filthy 13”, sporting Mohawks and war paint, participated in the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France in June 1944. They jumped behind German Beach fortifications shortly after midnight and before the main invasion force hit the beaches the next morning. He also made combat jumps during the invasion of Holland, at the Battle of the Bulge, and at Prum, Germany.
Last year, McNiece was awarded the French Legion of Honor, Knight Chevalier medal, for his wartime service. That is the highest honor the French President can give to an enlisted soldier.
Following the war, he went home to Ponca City, Oklahoma, where he worked as a postal worker.
In later years, McNiece became a fixture in Toccoa during the annual Currahee Military Weekend, which is held every October.
Carlan said McNiece came to be an icon in Toccoa and Stephens County.
“Most people, if they have come to the museum or (Currahee) Military Weekend, they have met Jake,” said Carlan. “Jake was just a warm-hearted soul. He never met a stranger. It was just a warm feeling to know Jake and he will really be missed.”
Meanwhile, as the United States continues to lose its World War II veterans, Carlan went on to say that it is important that their stories be heard and passed on to future generations.
“For many years after the war, it was pretty much here, as it was in Europe, they wanted to forget about it (the war) and that is what these men did,” said Carlan. “It has only been in the last 15 or 20 years that these men have started talking and telling their stories. It is 50 years too late because so many of these men have passed on and were never recognized for their service, but there are people, probably my generation and younger, that realize exactly how critical World War II was.”
Jake McNiece is survived by his wife, Martha, children, and grandchildren.
McNiece was 93 years old.