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The Filthy Thirteen

I had no idea that the film was even loosely based on actual events


One of the original members of the 'Filthy Thirteen', a crack US Army unit that inspired the Hollywood film The Dirty Dozen has died at the age of 88.

Jack Agnew belonged to the unofficial unit which operated behind enemy lines and was known for the less than respectful behaviour of its members.

Its soldiers refused to salute officers, or mop barracks, and were famed for brawling, drinking and spending time in the stockade. Some even wore Mohawk haircuts and donned war paint, inspired by their leader Jake McNiece, who was part Native American.

The l967 film, directed by Robert Aldrich, was loosely based on their exploits. It starred Lee Marvin as an Army major who recruits 12 criminals convicted of capital crimes and trains them for a top secret mission ahead of the D-Day landings.

The men are first taken on a training exercise under military guard where they become a united fighting force. At one point they resolve not to wash or shave and gain the nickname the "dirty dozen." Parachuted into France they then have to infiltrate a chateau near Rennes and assassinate German officers who have gathered for a war games exercise to counter an Allied invasion.

Mr Agnew's daughter, Barbara Agnew Maloney, said the mission or something similar to it, actually happened. Her father told her "about 30 per cent" of the movie was true.

She said: "And, actually, the scene where they captured the officers, Dad said that was true and he really coordinated that."

The movie also starred Telly Savalas, Charles Bronson, Donald Sutherland and Ernest Borgnine. Unlike characters in the film the Filthy Thirteen were not criminals and were part of the US 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. Tales of their exploits were featured in the US Stars and Stripes military newspaper at the time.

"We were always in trouble," Mr Agnew once recalled. "We weren't murderers or anything, we just didn't do everything we were supposed to do in some ways, and did a whole lot more than they wanted us to do in other ways." Mr Agnew, a private first class, died in Philadelphia and will be buried with full military honours.

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