'Filthy Thirteen,' 506th PIR live on at Camp Toccoa, Ga.
July 3, 2014
- "The 506th … a lot of these guys, that's their identity for a lifetime," Maloney said. "My Dad was Jack Agnew of the 506th his whole life. They were young men defining themselves. That's who they are the rest of their life."-- Barbara Agnew Maloney, daughter of the Filthy Thirteen's Jack Agnew
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- The Filthy Thirteen -- a nickname given to the 1st Demolition Section of the Regimental Headquarters Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, in World War II -- says a lot about the men of the unit. They are the men who suited up in war paint and shaved their hair into mohawks prior to parachuting into Normandy.
Despite their reputation as troublemakers, the section was tasked to secure or destroy bridges overlooking the Douve River in the days following D-Day. While the activities of these men rose to new fictional heights in the 1960s book and movie, "The Dirty Dozen," there is much more to the story.
Telling her father's story
Barbara Agnew Maloney, daughter of the Filthy Thirteen's Jack Agnew, remembers her father mentioning his service every so often as a child.
"When I was a kid, he would say, 'I won the war,' and I'd say, 'Yeah, right,'" she recalled. "He said, 'You'll find out,' and I did find out."
It was not until years later that the section's full story came to light, and as Maloney realized how much her father had contributed as a Soldier.
In the 1990s, she took the opportunity to ask him about his service and record it on VHS tapes. Maloney hopes to keep the memory of the Filthy Thirteen, and more specifically her father, by assembling his memoirs into a book she is currently working on completing. The Filthy Thirteen gained a reputation for unruly behavior that occasionally landed them in the stockade. Agnew himself is quoted in an issue of American Valor Quarterly, "We were always in trouble."
A former history teacher, Maloney said she finds it extremely interesting to be personally related to a person who shaped the American military experience. Agnew and section leader, Jack McNiece, were battle buddies throughout the war.
"My Dad became famous and popular, and you know, people want to know his story," Maloney said. "… My Dad was kind of like Ed McMahon to [McNiece's] Johnny Carson."
Restoring their stomping grounds
During the writing process, Maloney reconnected with the Currahee Military Museum in Stephens County, Ga. The museum helps preserve the memorabilia and history connected to the regiments that trained at Camp Toccoa both before and after World War II -- most notably the 506th PIR, as well as the 501st, 511th and 517th, all parachute infantry regiments. Museum curator Brenda Carlan said Camp Toccoa was where the Army's idea for the secret weapon called the "paratrooper" got its start. Because of this unique history, where many men trained for months before heading overseas, thousands of people come through each year to see what the museum has to offer and maybe take a run up the dreaded Currahee Mountain where "three miles up, three miles down" was the Soldiers' rallying cry.
"We're probably running anywhere between 10-14,000 people," Carlan said, of the visitors who frequent the museum each year, which is housed in an old train depot where the Soldiers would have first arrived. Most of the visitors come mainly from out of state and from more than 70 countries, Carlan added.
The success of the museum in the small, rural Southern community spurred a campaign, which began three years ago, to restore the original Camp Toccoa site. Originally an approximately 280-acre spread, after World War II, the majority of the camp's buildings were torn down and the land put to other uses. The wood from the deconstructed buildings went on to build local barns and other facilities.
However, one building remained untouched and used as storage on the property. It was the Regimental Headquarters building, where Jack Agnew undoubtedly once roamed.
"The men, the real men of Filthy Thirteen when they were here in Toccoa, they actually called themselves the Flying Thirteen," Carlan said. "I guess after they went through that long period of time with no bath and not really caring after a certain point [overseas], they became the Filthy Thirteen."
This building stands on a six-acre plot of the original property that organizers from the museum and fellow non-profit, the Camp Toccoa at Currahee, Inc., are restoring with the intention of showing visitors how the camp would have looked in the 1940s.
"Phase One, what we're working on now is there was one building that was left standing from World War II," Carlan said. "We're working on that building. We're going to be putting restrooms, a small exhibit space, just information about Camp Toccoa and an office will be in that building."
In addition, the Family who owned a popular bar across from the camp known as the Wagon Wheel retained the frame of an entire original barracks building that organizers also plan to put up again on the property. A pavilion is also something that Carlan hopes to see come to fruition.
"The open air pavilion is something we desperately need here in Toccoa, because we don't have a place large enough to invite guests, you know large groups of people to come in," she explained.
It is at the pavilion where Carlan envisions events such as conferences and reunions taking shape. It is only fitting for units like the 506th to have such a space available in a time when the regiment's 1st and 2nd Battalion both live on despite 4th Brigade Combat Team's inactivation in April.
"Probably if you look back, the 506th men were one of the very first few groups of military or associations that actually started getting back together after the war," Carlan said. "That alone tells me a lot. It tells me a lot that those men were really close, and that they wanted to see each other. You see that as opposed to other men in other outfits or other units that did not train with the same men so long and didn't fight with them so long."
As for the Filthy Thirteen, their exploits remain larger than life.
"They were definitely a unique group of men," Carlan said. "Most of the men that I talked to that were with the Filthy Thirteen -- they wanted to be with that group for a number of reasons. One is they felt safe with them. They trusted them. On the lighter side is they knew if they hung around with Jake and Jack, they'd have food because Jake either killed it, or he 'liberated it' somewhere."
Funds are needed to keep the restoration project moving forward, and Carlan encourages anyone interested in learning more about the donation process to call (706) 282-5055 or email email@example.com. Memorabilia for the museum is also eagerly accepted, she said. Visit the museum's website at www.toccoahistory.com or www.camptoccoaatcurrahee.org for upcoming event and fundraising information.
"Any financial donations would greatly be appreciated," she said.
When it comes to preserving historical site like Camp Toccoa, it is based on a legacy of the Soldiers who served before. Many of the World War II 506th PIR Veterans are buried now, but people like Maloney, and organizations like the Currahee Military Museum, will make sure their stories never die.
"The 506th … a lot of these guys, that's their identity for a lifetime," Maloney said. "My Dad was Jack Agnew of the 506th his whole life. They were young men defining themselves. That's who they are the rest of their life."