Local World War II hero Jack Womer dies at 96
Wednesday, 08 January 2014 10:48

Last surviving member of the Filthy Thirteen

by Nicole Rodman

    A memorial service will be held at Dundalk United Methodist Church, 6903 Mornington Road, on Saturday, Jan. 11, at 1 p.m. for Fort Howard resident Jack Womer.
    Womer, a World War II veteran and member of  the famed “Filthy Thirteen” unit, died at Gilchrist Hospice Care on Dec. 28. He was 96.
    Born in Lewistown, Pa. in 1917, Womer moved to Sparrows Point with his family in 1920.
    Growing up in the shadow of the steel mill, Womer, along with his father and brothers, worked at Bethlehem Steel for many years.
    Drafted into the U.S. Army following America’s entry into World War II in 1941, Womer was initially assigned to the Army’s 29th Division.
    He would go on to train with British commandos in Scotland as part of the 29th Ranger Battalion.
    In a 2010 interview with The Dundalk Eagle, Womer called that time “the toughest period I experienced in my life.”
    In October 1943, Womer became a paratrooper with the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, a unit of the 101st Airborne Division.
    He would then become a member of an elite demolition unit which would come to be known as the Filthy Thirteen.   
    Led by Sgt. Jake McNiece, a hard-living soldier averse to following rules, the unit earned its nickname due to McNiece’s ban on showering.
    By 1944, the unit had become as well known for its ferocity on the battlefield as for their trouble-making.
    On June 6, 1944 — D-Day — Womer and the rest of his unit parachuted into Normandy in France with a mission to defend, or destroy, bridges over the Douve Canal, so that the Germans would be unable to access reinforcements.

While the Filthy Thirteen would complete their mission, it would cost most of the members their lives.
    Womer, relying on his intense commando training, made it through relatively unscathed.
    He would go on to fight in Bastogne, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge.
    By May 1945, Womer and his fellow soldiers had made their way to the Berghof, Adolf Hitler’s home in the Bavarian Alps.
    The wartime exploits of the Filthy Thirteen unit would later become the inspiration for the E.M. Nathanson novel (and 1967 film) The Dirty Dozen.
    Following World War II, Womer returned home to Sparrows Point. He would go on to marry Theresa Przywozna and raise two children.
    After the war, Womer also resumed work at the Bethlehem Steel mill. He worked at the mill for 50 years before retiring.
    In his spare time, Womer enjoyed spending time with family and admiring the view from the back porch of his waterfront home in Fort Howard.
    As his daughter, Ellen Mary Womer, recalled, he also enjoyed crabbing, fishing and golf.
    In addition to his daughter Ellen, he is survived by  brother Douglas Womer and two grandchildren.
    In addition to his wife Theresa, who died in 1986 after 41 years of marriage, he was predeceased by his parents, Walk William Womer and Roxy Middlesworth, son John Walker Womer, brothers Herbert Womer, David Womer and Ben Womer and sister Jane Wyant.
    Interment will be held at Arlington National Cemetery at a later date.
    On June 6, the Round Canopy Parachute Team will honor Womer by throwing red roses out of a plane during a jump over Sainte-Mère-Église in Normandy.
    The jump, a re-enactment of the jump Womer and other soldiers took over Normandy in 1944, will be held to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
    Memorial contributions may be made to the Veterans Back to Normandie Foundation, a French organization that raises funds for World War II veterans to return to Normandy.
    For more information, call Gene Garren at (828)-682-6650 or visit Veterans Back to Normandie on Facebook.