Looking him over once more, the sergeant was sure Jake McNiece was lying. “You know, if they discover you’re over 28 they’ll take you out of the airborne and put you in the infantry, or wherever else they decide.”

“I’m only 23, so I’m not worried about that,” he replied. “I can make it. Just get me in and give me a shot at paratroop service.”

The sergeant chuckled a little and said. “You may be 23, I don’t know. But, your head, neck and shoulders looks like they’ve been used for live grenade practice.”

McNiece reaffirmed his age once again, and the sergeant, still with reluctance, gave in and signed his orders. Soon enough, the recruit was on his way through basic and advanced training, then preparing himself for the final hurdle… Airborne School. And here, much to his surprise, he waited seven more days for the Army to find seven volunteers to join him for the trip to Camp Toccoa, Georgia.

He fell out into formation and began learning the art of being a paratrooper, plus engaging in antics only he could deliver, things the Army frowned on. Little did Jake McNiece know that despite this, he would become the leader of a unit of fearless warriors, a unit that would inspire a novel and classic war movie.

Of partial Choctaw Indian descent, James Elbert “Jake” McNiece was born on May 24th, 1919, in Maysville, Oklahoma as the ninth of ten siblings. In 1931, the family moved to Ponca City, Oklahoma, where Jake ended up playing high school football and graduating in 1939.

He held a number of jobs over the next two years, including a job at the Pine Bluff Arsenal where he learned to use explosives. His final job when America went to war in 1941 was that of a fireman, where he continued using his demolitions knowledge to fell condemned buildings.

As a fireman he could be excluded from the draft, but with almost every able bodied male heading off to the services, Jake wanted to make a contribution. And yet, there was another reason he wanted to get out of Ponca City.