The Battle of the Bulge was one of the most infamous battles of WWII. Beginning in mid-December 1944, 30 German divisions assaulted U.S. forces in the Ardennes Forest, creating a bulge in the American line, thus giving the battle its name. As the situation became worse for the American forces, units of the 101st Airborne headed into the forest to defend the town of Bastogne.

The 101st Airborne was surrounded and running out of supplies. The weather was miserable, with freezing cold temperatures, snow, and almost no visibility. This made it virtually impossible to drop supplies to 101st’s cut-off soldiers. As the story goes, a miraculous break in the weather allowed American planes to drop supplies around Bastogne.

Yet, the real story is that a few courageous pathfinders of the 101st Airborne Division agreed to a suicide mission: They would jump into Bastogne in order to guide the resupply planes in with beacons.

The Rebellious Paratrooper

This story starts early in December 1944, with Jake McNiece, a paratrooper in the Demolitions Section the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), of the 101st Airborne Division. McNiece had jumped into Normandy on D-Day and later in Holland. He had been a member of the “Filthy 13,” a group of guys that had mohawks, wore war paint, and had very little interest in the discipline and regulations that the U.S. Army had to offer. But, these guys were true fighters, and they had paid a heavy price. The 72 days of fighting in Holland, in the fall of 1944, were especially hard on the group. The Filthy 13 had been reduced to three.

McNiece had the reputation of being a rebel and had already been reduced to Private First Class for taking an extended absence without leave. Well, in December in 1944, he did it again, staying out past his three-day pass in Mourmelon, France. His commanding officers knew something had to be done.

McNiece had just walked into his tent, when his friend, Frank “Shorty” Mihlan, came in and told him that the 506th (PIR) company commander wanted to see him.

Mihlan said, “They want to send you to England.”

“Oh, is England where they are going to hang me?” McNiece replied.