Legendary Jake McNiece, paratrooper in the 506th, 101st Airborne division and founder of what became known as the "Filthy Thirteen". Jake made an unheard of 4 combat jumps. During his Army career he was constantly in trouble, so much so that regardless of the fact that he was in charge of men on the ground and technically an acting Sergeant, was pivotal in these campaigns, and earned numerous awards and medals, never made it past Buck Private, something he is still very proud of.
A paratrooper (demolition/saboteur) had one of the most dangerous jobs in the Army, in fact so dangerous that initially it was all voluntary. The Army estimated that the average life span of a paratrooper was one and a half jumps, or 50% casualties. That's because for the most part when they were jumping out of those planes, they were being shot at from the ground. Jake said their unit actually experienced up to 70% casualties. When he was in the Pathfinders they had a casualty rate of 80%. The Army would put ten men in a "stick" as Jake liked to call it, because they figured they would lose 8 of the men which would leave 2 to do the job efficiently.
The picture on the front of the Filthy Thirteen book, taken the day before the D-Day drop, immortalized Jake and his unit and spawned inacurate stories from "a band of dirty Indians", "convicts", and even as far as a movie being made titled "Dirty Dozen." For the record, none of that information is correct. The only one who was close to Indian was Jake who has Indian ancestry, and none were convicts. The movie was highly inaccurate mostly because Jake refused to endorse the movie as he didn't want to earn blood money on his dead comrades. Hollywood in its usual manner created its own war story sprinkled with a few facts.
True to Jake's antics and constant wild ideas and behavior, the reason for the mohawk was simple. If Jake was going to fight in this war he was going to make the best of it. Coming from Oklahoma Jake figured that if Indians painted their faces before going into battle, he could to. Thus, shaved his head and put war paint on. One can imagine that this must have also helped with the anxiety of the men who within hours may or may not be alive.
* ref: "The Filthy Thirteen" by Richard Killblane & Jake McNiece, and personal conversation with Jake, 2010.
WWIIJake McNieceFilthy Thirteen