Book Review: The Filthy Thirteen: From the Dustbowl to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest—The True Story of the 101st Airborne’s Most Legendary Squad of Combat Paratroopers by Richard Killblane and Jake Mcniece

Posted September 20, 2021 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

Book Review: The Filthy Thirteen: From the Dustbowl to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest—The True Story of the 101st Airborne’s Most Legendary Squad of Combat Paratroopers by Richard Killblane and Jake McnieceThe Filthy Thirteen: From the Dustbowl to Hitler's Eagle's Nest—The True Story of the 101st Airborne's Most Legendary Squad of Combat Paratroopers by Richard Killblane, Jake Mcniece
Genres: History, Military
Published by Casemate Publishing on November 7, 2012
Pages: 227
Format: eBook
Source: my own shelves

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A standalone biographical historical military story revolving around Jake Mcniece. It is the story that inspired The Dirty Dozen which bears little resemblance to the truth.

Others who contributed included Jack Agnew, Herb Pierce, and Virgil Smith with a long list of other contributors at the back. There’s also a great list of military books.

You may also want to read Jack Womer’s Fighting with the Filthy Thirteen: The World War II Story of Jack Womer — Ranger and Paratrooper.

My Take

They were a small group compared to the entire army, and yet they played such a huge part in the war in this legend about the “smallest unit of reputation shaped around the personality of its founder to come out of the war”. It’s that same personality that kept Jake a private throughout the war, despite the occasional acting sergeant roles. (Jake keeps saying he never made it above private, but he sure did play acting sergeant frequently and he was separated from the service as a staff sergeant.)

Why haven’t we heard more about them? Men of whom we should be so very proud, who should be recognized by all Americans.

Well, quite a bit of this non-recognition probably comes from the military always hushing up their antics. Jake’s section was where they all sent the men no one else could handle — they all knew there was no discipline with Jake. Yep, Jake hadn’t joined to play “military discipline”; he joined to fight. And these boys were such good fighters that the army couldn’t afford to lose them.

The story is primarily told with the writer as a third person objective who switches off into first person plural point-of-view from a number of perspectives with Jake as the primary perspective.

There’s an interesting prologue giving background on Jake’s childhood which helped enhance and hone his abilities. Some of which included plenty of pranking. That joke later on involving the pinups for family pictures was a crack-up.

We go through training, some of their English hijinks, and then straight into Normandy where we live through an abbreviated version of lost troops, siege, and snipers. The same occurs in Holland and Bastogne, next to the Battle of the Bulge, where Jake’s Pathfinders save the 101st.

It’s Jake’s voice we hear, as though he were telling us these stories just as he and the other survivors told their remembrances at their annual reunions. Jake notes that the Depression had left a lot of men without jobs and the military offered opportunity.

Top Kick sounds like a really decent person, standing up for what’s right. One of the very few who earned a soldier’s respect.

Oh, yuck. Why wouldn’t the tents have some sort of floor? Although, that dirt is what led to the start with the “Dirty Five”. As for the food. Hoo, boy. The powers-that-be were aware that strong men, who’ve been fed decent food, perform better, right? I sure can’t blame Jake for setting up Jake’s Bar and Grill, lol. I do find it hard to believe Jake had never had a chicken soup made up from the carcass.

“That barracks of yours smells like a damn hamburger and barbecue joint twenty-four hours a day.”

It does pay to get in on the ground floor of something. It lets you get away with anything! That “payback” at Fort Bragg for putting the boys on restriction was so dang funny!

Being paratroopers also gave the boys the joys of landing in houses, knocking down chimneys, beehives, snakes, mules, rivers, ditches, trees, and so much more. The sad part of this was how many men didn’t make it on a jump. Part of that reality that appears throughout The Filthy Thirteen.

Jake was a very practical thinker, and I particularly enjoyed how this “Dirty” group timed their showers so well, lol. It does seem rather hypocritical to limit showers for the men while Sir Ernest had his six or seven cars washed every day. Hullo. Oh, boy, lol, Browny’s comment after the war about Jake’s being platoon lawyer was yet another crack-up.

Hmm, a scalp lock to prevent lice from digging in??

Wow, there was a big difference between jumping into Normandy versus Holland. At least all the Dutch were welcoming!

I love that Jake understood the importance of writing to the families of those who died, of connecting to the survivors and/or their families. That these men got together for reunions and talked. Had more reunions as their own group and finally talked about their war experiences, letting the wives in on what they had gone through.

It wasn’t a matter of consciously joining the Filthy 13; it was more a matter of “They just came in. I was always the financial advisor. I handled the money and bought the booze. We spent the rest of our time getting ready for the next jump.”

And as the men constantly defended themselves from how they were depicted in The Dirty Dozen, they nearly all “returned home to lead productive lives . . . [after experiencing] . . . an adventure to last a lifetime”.

The Story

It was a particularly vicious beating that sent Jake to sign up for the paratroops. A lucky choice as it gave him and his unit so much leeway.

Not interested in military discipline — the saluting, keeping themselves or their quarters neat and tidy, picking up cigarette butts, following orders blindly — Jake and his people were fighters through and through.

In fact, after Normandy, the Germans called paratroopers the “Big Pocket Butchers”.

The Characters

Jake McNiece worked as a firefighter, gang pusher, until he joined up with the 506th, the first parachute regiment activated.

Camp Toccoa, Georgia
Jake was put into the demolition platoon of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) as acting staff sergeant for 1st Battalion. Jim Davidson was the sergeant of the 3rd Battalion and Charge of Quarters; William H Leach, a second lieutenant, was the officer of Jake’s section; First Lieutenant (Lt) Gene Brown was the platoon leader. Albert H. “Top Kick” Miller was their first sergeant and a great guy. Colonel (Col) Robert Sink is the regimental commander; he was a good fighter who knew tactics and later made two-star general. Lt Col Charles “Uncle Charlie” Chase was the regimental executive officer. Sink and Chase regularly called in Top Kick for advice. Platoon Sergeant (Sgt) Leonard “Truck Horse” Leonitus Johnson was regular army with a speech impediment. Corporal (Corp) Eddy Malas was a by-the-book army man.

This is where the “Dirty Five” began with Charles Lee, Louis “Loulip” Lipp, Martin “Max” Majewski, and Frank M. “Shorty” Mihlan (a drunk who became the alcoholic Sink’s orderly). Another group in Jake’s platoon were the Warsaw Seven: Edmund Lojko, Frank Palys, “Deacon” Salinas, George Baran, Joe Baranosky, Joe Oparowski, Herbie Pierce , and Joe Oleskiewicz, who was a great soldier. Dirty Johnson was a tough guy. Armando and Mike Marquez were brothers. Lt Sylvester Horner raised Cain about the party.

Captain (Capt) Hank Hannah was the company commander who was later replaced by Lt “Browny” Brown as acting company commander. Arthur “Red Gulch” Hayes. Malcolm Landry was with the communication platoon.

(The Dirty Five and the Warsaw Seven combined to become the 1st Battalion-Saboteur Section of the Demolition Platoon — Jake stayed with that battalion throughout the war.)

Camp Mackall, North Carolina, was . . .
. . . named after John Mackall, the first paratrooper killed in North Africa It was 26 February 1943 when they became part of the 101st Airborne Division.

Second Army Tennessee Maneuvers No 1
Lt Leach eyed a coral snake. Harold Scully had a close encounter with a beehive. Jake went AWOL with Tom Young. Corp Brincely Stroup and Ed Pikering, who was the medic for one operation.

Fort Bragg, North Carolina, was . . .
. . . their last stop before England. “Maw” Darnell, a real Georgia cracker, transferred over from a chemical warfare unit. George Underwood and Frank Pellechia were the only two barbers in the company. Lt Charles Mellen, Staff Sgt Earl Boegerhausen, and Platoon Sgt Johnson. Lt Shrable “Willy” Williams. Corp Johnnie “Peepnuts” Hale was a wild man off duty. Three Rangers transferred in: Jack “Hawkeye” Womer, William Myers, and John Klak. Jack Agnew was the best qualified combat man. Robert “Ragsman” Cone was all muscle. George “Googoo” Radeka was dumb at most things but was smart in combat comprehension. Roland “Frenchy” Baribeau. William “Piccadilly Willy” Green was young and slow-thinking, but rolled with the flow. Chuck Plauda was hot-tempered. They all called Jake “McNasty”. Capt “Dapper” Daniels eventually transferred to the OSS.

Sir Ernest Wills, Littlecote Manor House, England, was . . .
. . . where Jake and his unit were stationed. Chuck Cunningham seems to have had a mad-on for everyone. John “Dinty” Mohr got into it with Jake one night. Hayford, Steve Kovacs, Milo Kane, Stacey Kinglsey, and John Klack. Lt Gordon Rothwell wasn’t happy about Jake beating on a fellow paratrooper. Lt Edward Haley was stationed in another demolition section. Staff Sgt Charles “Chaplain” Williams was assigned to their platoon in the hopes he’d inspire them to clean up. John Dewey.

Chaplain John Maloneuy said Mass just before Normandy.

In the next Quonset hut over, Corp Tom Young, Burl Prickett, and Sgt Myers were determined their section would look great. Kaiser Young was Tom’s brother.

Lt Truman Smith was from Jake’s hometown. Lt Peter Baranowski‘s dog jumped with him in Normandy and Holland (but went nuts in Bastogne). General (Gen) Eisenhower and Field Marshal Montgomery. Gen Maxwell Taylor set up the 506th to blow all the bridges. Gen Don F Pratt came into Normandy on a glider holding his jeep . . . and lost his head. Gen Bill Lee was the father of airborne units in America until he became disabled. Col Howard R Johnson was the commander of the 501st. General Higgins joined a number of other generals and colonels on the podium at an award ceremony.

Charles “Trigger” Gann, Clarence Ware, George Baran, and Thomas E “Old Man” Lonegran were added to Jake’s unit for the bridges mission. Andrew E “Rasputin” Rasmussen, a T-5 bridgeman, was supposed to be part of it. After the Normandy jump, paratroopers joined up willy nilly including Manual Cockeral, the kid who enlisted along with Jake in Tulsa; Keith Carpenter; and, Capt Tilden McGee, a chaplain. Sgt Bruno Schroeder missed the gathering place. Wilbur Shanklin almost got court-martialed. Burl Prickett, George Smith, James “LaLa” Leach, and Lt Carl Bedient were taken prisoner. Capt Edward Peters took out three tanks.

Back in England
Lt Virgil Smith was another of Jake’s homeboys; he became Higgins’ aide. Jake’s unit’s replacements included Manny Freedman, Prvt William Coad, Clarence Furtaw, AJ Bini, Richard “Dick the Raper” Graham, and Paul Zemedia.

“Operation Market Garden” Holland
Gen Miles Dempsey commanded the British Second Army. “Sonny Boy” Browning was the head of all English airborne forces and wanted the glory the 101st and 82nd had achieved. Jerk. Major Brian Urquhart in charge of their British intelligence section told Browning his mission idea wouldn’t work. An American, a Tech-5 David Marcus from S-2, was another idiot.

Lefty McGee, another Ponca City homeboy, was shot in the head. Winsor “Ink” Ellefson loved the libraries and museums. Lt Eugene Dance transferred over from the Rangers, but was pretty new to the paratroopers and got Sgts Myers and Davidson killed. Stanley “Speedwack” Spiewack. Bobby Reeves.

Push out of Veghel
Push to the Rhine
Doesn’t sound like Dempsey was much of a general. He used paratroopers as shock troops when the rest of his plans showed up as a farce. Brig Gen Jerry Higgins was the American assistant division commander.

C Company of the 506th was the disaster company, losing most of their men with each battle. Lt Albert H Hassenzahl was their only remaining officer. Lt Lucian H Whitehead was assigned to C. Sgt “Guinea” Campiello came in as a replacement after Normandy. Robert Reeves. Nathan “Cigar” Sieger. Pete was a Dutch civilian who joined the paratroopers on the ground and coordinated communications between the British, the Americans, and the Dutch hiding trapped British and Polish troops. Malcolm Landry was a line man.

Mourmelon, France
Corp Frank Kough. Jake joined the Pathfinders, essentially a suicide group, to get a clean record. Majewski, Bill Coad, Corp John Dewey, Pfc Jack Agnew, and Lt Williams joined with him. Others in the Pathfinders included White, Lockland Tillman, Charles Parlow, James Benson, Richard Wright, Irving Shumaker, Sgt John Roseman, Sgt Leroy Shulenberg, Sgt Cleo Merz, Pfc George Slater, and T-5 George Blain, who was a good cook.

Reims, France, was . . .
. . . SHAEF headquarters for Eisenhower that was invaded by the 82nd which resulted in Reims being put off limits to all airborne troops.

9th Troop Carrier Command Pathfinders, Chalgrove, England
Captain Frank L Brown is the company commander of a bunch of goof-offs.

Bastogne Jump and the Battle of the Bulge
What was left of the 28th “Bloody Bucket” Division was stationed at Bastogne. Gen McAuliffe was sent in with the 101st. Lt Col Joel L Crouch and 1st Lt Lionel E Wood flew the Pathfinders in to refit the remaining troops. Young Loui Massen helped the landing paratroopers. Lt-Col James “LaP” LaPrade was the commander of the 1st Battalion. Dr Kurt Yeary, also from Ponca City, was taken prisoner. Maxwell Taylor, the commanding general of the whole corps, reinforced Jake’s request to have Browny sent back. Vick Utz, a full-blood German who spoke the language like a native, was an All-American out of Rutgers. He would later marry Dotty and raise four children. A chaplain at the aid station, Capt Maloney, later asked Jake about Utz’s watch.

The Prume Jump
Jake had a ten-man team including the whistling Malcolm, Lockland Tillman and George Blain (Jake and these last two had three combat jumps when the average life expectancy of a combat paratrooper was one-and-a-half jumps.)

After the Bulge
William H Leach was promoted to major and he finally decided to lead a patrol, including Frank Pellechia, Alfred Tucker (also in S-2 section), and three others. He got all but Tucker killed.

In on the Practice Jump at Zell-am Zee, Austria, May 1945
Lt Robert Haley, Lt Ed MacMahan, Lt Sterling Horner, Lt Leo Monoghan, Lt John Stegeman, Jake McNiece (Pathfinder), Harold Anderson, Leonard Cardwell, Ed Borey, Stacey Kingsley, and John Dewey (Pathfinder).

Troy Decker, with the communications platoon, had a dog named Mopey, a cocker spaniel. Media Feistower was an Austrian girl Jake dated; her father had been the commander of the Hitler Youth.

Jake’s parents (Becky died in January 1944) lived in Ponca City, Oklahoma, and raised ten kids along with his dad’s two half-brothers. His brother Jack had been a major in the Air Corps. Sidney is another brother, who had been an underwater demo man with the Seabees in the South Pacific. Raymond H McNiece was a captain in the US Army Air Corps. Rosita Vitale ran a dress shop in town and had a thirteen-year-old daughter; Jake married her 6 July 1949. On 4 September 1953, he married Martha Louise Beam-Wonders; they raised Rosita’s daughter, Martha’s son and their own two: Rebecca and Hugh.

Thad Tucker was not one of Jake’s friends and provided Jake the impetus to enlist. Eleanor Powell had been a great dancer and famous Hollywood star at the time. Earl Robins only drove through St Vith.

When Jake got out, he went to work as a fireman for the Southern Pacific Railroad because they wouldn’t hire him as a fireman parachuter — he was too old?!?! Dave owned part of a construction company that helped Jake out. Buzzy was a lady friend of Shorty’s. He worked for the Ponca City flour mill for a bit, then as a coke knocker at City Service where Fred Walker was the head man. Kenneth Langis was the fire chief in Ponca City, Jake later worked for the post office for twenty-seven-and-a-half years!!

Laura Erikson in Virginia was the niece of Lt Mellen. George Koskimaki was the 101st Association secretary and historian as well as a veteran of the 506th PIR. Tom Hoge was the war correspondent who pieced together the accounts of the Filthy 13 with the best embellishment coming from True Magazine‘s story by Arch Whitehouse. EM Nathanson wrote the fictional The Dirty Dozen, after hearing their stories.

Jake found God, became a lay preacher, and started up programs to help widows. Ya gotta think his experiences in war had a hand in this. On 15 July 2000 the 95th Regional Support Command made Jake an honorary colonel of the 95th “Victory” Division and in 2002, Jake was inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame.

CP is a command Post. PFC is a Private First Class. OP is an outpost. A stick is a group of men who jumped out of a plane on one pass.

The Cover and Title

The cover is an old black-and-white photo of Jake putting warpaint on a fellow soldier, both men facing each other and sporting a scalp lock. Irreverent and determined. The top quarter of the cover uses a black background to showcase the two authors’ names at the top with a horizontal rule in red separating their names from the title (in red) and the subtitle (in white). A narrow black banner runs the width of the cover just below the man on the right’s gloved hand with its story info in red. A red triangle in the lower right corner declares, in white, that this tale is now in paperback.

The title is how the men in Jake’s section became The Filthy Thirteen.

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