THE FILTHY THIRTEEN
The myth and legend of The Filthy Thirteen got its start at Camp Toccoa, Georgia during their initial training. By the time the war ended with causalities and the missing in action over thirty men could claim to be part of this famed group. What they were was a demolition section assigned to the Headquarters Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. They were members of the famed 101st Airborne Division, “The Screaming Eagles” and would play an integral role in every battle they fought in World War II.
During training and throughout the war their antics and attitude would get them in trouble. Like many of the stories the print press would publish during the war about The Filthy Thirteen, a 1960’s movie, loosely based on them, by E. M. Nathanson, The Dirty Dozen, bore only a slight resemblance to the groups real makeup and accomplishments. Surviving members are quick to point out that unlike the movie they were not prisoners or convicts but their behavior would get them in trouble, often meriting a short trip to the brig. They didn’t do everything they were supposed to do and did a lot more than the military wanted them to do.
Their reputation for not bathing prior to D-Day was only overshadowed by the hard living, hard fighting; never give up attitude that preceded them into battle. They were certainly not the military’s idea of ‘spit and polish’ but once on the ground in France, later in Holland, Belgium and Germany, the Germans were to be the recipients of their tenacity and ferociousness that perpetrated the myth into a legend.
They were easily recognizable on D-Day with their Mohawk haircuts and with the invasion stripe paint from the airplanes they painted their faces with war paint. They were the only planeload of paratroopers to do this on D-day or during any other combat jump.
As demolition-saboteurs they first jumped on D-Day with their mission being to defend and/or destroy bridges over Douve Canal to prevent the Germans from reinforcing the beach heads. Their mission near the small Normandy village of Brevands was considered suicidal but they accomplished it despite being vastly outnumbered fending off repeated German counter attacks for five days. Before returning to England for resupply and redeployment, they fought for bravely for 36 days in Normandy contributing immensely to the liberation of the first major city in France, Carentan.
Their second combat jump would be the following September with the rest of the 101st and the 82nd Airborne as part of Operation Market Garden in Holland. Fighting for 78 consecutive days they fought the Germans at every turn along this thinly held highway. Summing up the intensity of this fighting in Holland that took place, history has bestowed the nickname of ‘Hells Highway’ to where they fought to keep this vital transportation corridor open during the campaign.
During the Battle of the Bulge, the Filthy Thirteen fought bravely alongside other elements of the 101st in defending the city of Bastogne. Some of the Filthy Thirteen played a key role by volunteering as Pathfinders before this German offensive started. With Bastogne being cut off and surrounded supplies were running low. The pathfinders would have to jump in directing the resupply of the Bastogne during the siege. The Pathfinders lead by the Filthy Thirteen members jumped in guiding the much needed supplies saving an entire Division and ensuring the 101st had its Rendezvous with Destiny. After Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge they moved to Haguenau, France then Germany to fight, finally ending up in to the Austrian Alps. Any combat mission given to them they completed successfully.
JOHN “Jack” AGNEW
Jack was born in Northern Ireland and moved to Philadelphia as a boy. Learning to fly before the war he thought of joining the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) before the United States entered the war and once war was declared, the Army Air Force after Pearl Harbor. He enlisted in the Army volunteering for the paratroopers. He was a member of the Filthy 13 since their training at Camp Toccoa where he met Jake for the first time. Jack’s first two combat jumps on D-Day and Holland were as a member of the Filthy 13. In Normandy he fought along side Jake, first to complete his mission at the Douve River bridges and then to help liberate the first major city in France, Carentan. In Holland he would fight along side Jake and his other Filthy Thirteen buddies for over 78 days. Learning that Jake McNiece had volunteered for the pathfinders prior to the start of Battle of the Bulge he volunteered as well for this unit. During the siege of Bastogne his third jump was made as the skies cleared, guiding the planes to resupply the beleaguered city during the Battle of the Bulge. An iconic World War II photograph shows Jack on top of a large pile of bricks near Bastogne setting up his pathfinder CRN-4 beacon to accomplish this mission.
After the war Jack would move back to Eastern Pennsylvania work and retire after a long career at Western Electric. Jack credits much of his survival during the war to learning to hunt during his youth in the hills near his home. His knowledge and interest in firearms would have him become a range instructor for the National Rifle Association (NRA) where today he is their longest living member. His membership in this organization dates back to 1938.
MIGUEL “Mike” MARQUEZ
Hailing from El Paso Texas both Mike and his brother Armando trained from the beginning with 506 PIR at Camp Toccoa, although his brother was not a member of the Filthy 13. Mike jumped on D-Day and during Operation Market Garden he completed his second combat jump along with his brother. On D-Day, as it is known many of the paratrooper drops were scattered all
over the countryside. Mike was one of the fortunate ones to find some men of his stick almost immediately. Mike was to meet up with Jack Agnew once on the ground and a short time later with Jake McNiece. He fought along side them in securing the bridges over the Douve River and attacking Carentan on D-Day +7. At one point after his 2nd combat jump during Operation Market Garden in Holland he fought just a city block apart from his brother. Mike also fought with distinction in Bastogne and later in Germany before the war ended. Mike enjoyed drawing and some of his war time illustrations were reprinted in the Currahee Scrapbook and The Epic of the 101st Airborne, the later being described as “A Pictorial Record of a Great Fighting Team”. These were both published by the Army in 1945.
Mike put his artistic talents to good use and became an illustrator for the US Forces in Austria directly after the war. Returning the United States he worked for a printing company in Blair, Nebraska illustrating farm machinery and then finally he settled in his hometown of El Paso. Mike would continue as a free lance illustrator until his eyesight deteriorated.
Mike was to be one of the signers for the print but sadly he would pass away in October of 2008 just a few weeks prior to a much anticipated reunion with the other four surviving members of the group at a Veterans Conference in Washington D.C.
JAKE “McNasty” McNIECE
Jake was born in rural Maysville Oklahoma. As the unofficial leader of the Filthy Thirteen he not only embodied the attitude and spirit of the group but to all accounts, he originated it. He fostered a strong camaraderie among his men and a fierce competitive mentality that honed his unit into exactly what the government wanted a…’Lean, Mean, Fighting Machines’. So unorthodox were his methods, and most times in direct conflict with Army regulations that throughout training and the war he would never raise about the rank of PFC. Only upon discharge from the Army after the war did he obtain the rank of Sergeant. Unlike the other nicknames Jake would give his comrades Jack Agnew was responsible for giving him his nickname “Mc Nasty”. It was a sure reference to his mind-set and prevailing attitude that would make him a survivor in the brutal game of war.
It was all Jakes’ idea for the haircuts and face paint for his group on D-Day. Jake was one of the few of the 101st Airborne paratroopers who completed four combat jumps during the World War II. The first two were as a Demolition/Saboteur and the last two as a Pathfinder. His first on D-Day was considered a suicidal mission to secure and/or blow up bridges over the Douve River. He was dropped 8 miles from his objective near Ste. Mere Eglise but had the resourcefulness to round up enough paratroopers (some from his stick and others) to accomplish his objective in the early morning hours of D+1. One heroic battle at river pitted barely 30 paratroopers against an entire German Battalion. Suffice to say the German did not have a chance with the paratroopers wiping out the entire unit.
Jumping during operation Market Garden he endured the fierce fighting and defense of ‘Hells Highway’. After fighting for over 78 days in Holland he was granted a 72 hours to the local town of Mourmelon in France. Typically he did not see the fairness in that thereby ‘taking liberty’ and disappearing for two weeks in Paris. Thinking he would be court marshaled for being AWOL instead he was given the option to volunteer for the Pathfinders. These Pathfinder units experienced extremely high causality rates so it meant you had to volunteer. Jake would lead the Pathfinders, his third combat jump, to set up signals and guide the resupply the 101st in Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. His last and final combat jump would be again as a Pathfinder on Friday 13th, 1944 into Prume Germany. He would rejoin his original unit toward the end of the war in Austria.
After the war Jake would do some traveling then find a job as a smoke jumper (parachuting in to fight forest fires) and work on the railroad in California before moving back to in Ponca City after the war. He would try some more jobs in construction and one in an oil refinery before working and retiring from the United States Post Office.
ROBERT “Ragmen” CONE
Bob is originally from Roxbury Massachusetts and enlisted in the National Guard in 1938. He joined the Filthy 13 as a replacement in England before D-Day. His nickname like all the others in the group was given to him by Jake McNiece and a paradigm of the condition in which he kept his jumpsuit. Prior to jumping on D-Day he completed boxing exhibitions for the Army throughout England. After fighting for 3 days in Normandy he was wounded in the shoulder. Unable to shoot his gun do to this injury he took refuse in a barn where a French farmer turned him over to the Germans. His dog tags were found after his capture and he was presumed killed in action. His parents were notified and it was three months before they received word that he was indeed alive and a POW. He was a prisoner of war until just about the end of war. After being liberated by the Russians in Poland he fought briefly with them. He then traveled though Poland, Romania, Russia, Egypt and finally Italy before he was reunited with the U.S. Army.
His exploits to get reconnected with the Army would have the Russians locking him up for lack of having any identification papers only to be released after a week when the American consulate got involved. Upon arriving in Egypt by boat, the British mistaking him and his partner for criminals landed him in jail for another week in Egypt before it was cleared up. His flight to freedom is a story of resourcefulness laden with these harrowing globe trekking stopovers. He never reconnected with his unit before the end of the war or upon return to America.
Bob would go to work as a plumber for a short time after the war but eventually would settle into a career in the post office much like Jake McNiece finally retiring to Florida. Thinking that Bob had not survived the war Jake and others made no attempt to contact him. It was not until 2002 that Bob’s son persuaded his Dad to contact Jake. It was only then that he the other surviving Filthy Thirteen members would learn of him having survived the war.
JACK “Hawkeye” WORMER
Jack is a native of Dundalk, Maryland and joined army as member of the 175th infantry and became a member of the 29th Army Division. Volunteering to be a Ranger he then became part of the 29th Army Rangers in England. As part of this group he trained for two weeks with battle hardened British Commandos. He then joined the 101st Airborne and the Filthy 13 in the months leading up to D-Day. His nickname “Hawkeye” was given to him by Jake for his exceptional eyesight. To qualify for his paratrooper wings he made all his five training jumps in one day, something not heard of then, much less now. Jumping 16th in the stick on D-Day he landed in a swamp near St Come du Mont. Fighting his way out of the swamp with 40 other paratroopers in the first hour on the ground he was the only one to survive. Separated from Jake and the others, he instinctively rounded up men and fought alongside the 501st PIR at Hells Corner. One epic battle on the second day in Normandy he participated in fierce fire fight resulting in capturing over 100 Germans of the 6th Paratrooper Regiment, only to see them annihilated by the German’s own mortar barrage. This support of the 501st would have him occupied in battle for nearly two weeks. He would meet up later with the Filthy 13 and fight with them and the rest of the 506th until the end of the campaign. In Bastogne he was trucked in with the rest of the 101st and fought all the way to Germany until the end of the war.
Like his father and four brothers after the war Jack would return home to Maryland working for Bethlehem Steel until retirement. With the Chesapeake Bay right out of his home’s back door, he would become a lifelong “Crabber” enjoying time spent chasing, trapping and eating his catch, those Chesapeake Bay soft shell and blue crabs.