WWII Soldier who Inspired the Dirty Dozen?

Jake McNiece, a sergeant in the U.S. 101st Airborne Division during the Second World War, died this year at the age of 93.  McNiece led a squad of paratroops who became known as the “Filthy Thirteen,” which may have become a model for the war film The Dirty Dozen (1967).


Photo: Stars and Stripes.

McNiece famously had his paratroopers shave their heads into mohawks and don warpaint before jumping into France during the D-Day landings. Stars and Stripes photographed his unit’s preparations for battle. McNiece went on to fight at the battle of the Bulge and in numerous other combats during the Second World War.

Several books on D-Day and U.S. paratroopers in the Second World War have featured the exploits of Jake McNiece, including:

Bando, Mark. 101st Airborne: The Screaming Eagles in World War II. St. Paul, MN: Zenith Press, 2007.

Killblane, Richard, and John McNiece. The Filthy Thirteen: The True Story of the Dirty Dozen. Havertown, Pa: Casemate, 2003.

Note that these books are popular works of military history, not academic studies.

Nonetheless, students in HIST 390 War in Film may be interested in finding out more about Jake McNiece and his unit as a potential source for the film The Dirty Dozen.

E.M. Nathanson’s novel The Dirty Dozen, on which the film was based, drew on the stories and photographs of war photographer Russ Meyer, who served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during the Second World War. Roger Ebert wrote a tribute to Meyer, who went on to direct X-rated films in the 1960s and 1970s. [I thank Darren Sapp for bringing this connection to my attention.]

NPR offers this remembrance of McNiece. PRI’s The World presents an earlier interview with McNiece from 2002.

This entry was posted in European History, Historical Film, History of Violence, War in Film, War, Culture, and Society. Bookmark the permalink.

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