James Megellas

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
James Megellas
James Megellas 2009.jpg
James Megellas in 2009
Nickname(s) Maggie
Born (1917-03-11) March 11, 1917 (age 97)
Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Rank Lieutenant Colonel
Unit Company "H", 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division
Battles/wars World War II
 • Operation Shingle
 • Operation Market Garden
 • Battle of the Bulge
Awards Distinguished Service Cross
Silver Star

James Megellas (born March 11, 1917)[1] is a retired United States Army officer who commanded a platoon in Company "H" of the 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), 82nd Airborne Division during World War II. He is "the most-decorated officer in the history of the 82nd Airborne Division," having received a Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star, and been nominated for the Medal of Honor.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Megellas was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and attended Ripon College in the nearby town of Ripon. The attack on Pearl Harbor occurred mid-way through his senior year. He participated in the school's Reserve Officers' Training Corps program and, upon graduation in May 1942, received a commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.[3]

World War II[edit]

Megellas was originally assigned to the Signal Corps, but grew tired of the required additional schooling and volunteered to become a paratrooper in order to see combat.[3] He first experienced combat in the mountains outside Naples, Italy, near Venafro, where he was wounded and hospitalized. In October 1943, while the remainder of the 82nd Airborne departed Italy to recoup before the invasion of Normandy, the 504th PIR remained behind and took part in Operation Shingle. On January 22, 1944, the 504th took part in an amphibious assault at Anzio. The fighting took a heavy toll, Megellas being wounded again, and it was not until April before the regiment was withdrawn. Due to the losses at Anzio, the 504th did not participate in the D-Day Normandy Landings. They did, however, parachute into the Netherlands as part of Operation Market Garden, the airborne invasion of that country.

Megellas took part in the crossing of the Waal River near Nijmegen, where the American forces crossed the river in flimsy boats while under heavy machine gun fire. During the day's fighting, Megellas single-handedly attacked a German observation post and machine gun nest. For these actions, he was awarded the U.S. military's second-highest decoration, the Distinguished Service Cross.[3] Another member of the 504th PIR, Private John Towle, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his part in the battle.

In late December 1944, the regiment was rushed into the Battle of the Bulge. On January 28, 1945 Megellas' platoon was advancing towards Herresbach, Belgium. Struggling through heavy snow and freezing cold, they surprised 200 Germans who were advancing out of the town. Catching the Germans largely off-guard, the attack proved to be devastating, with the Americans killing and capturing a large number and causing many others to flee. A they prepared to assault the town, however, a German Mark V tank took aim at them. Megellas ran towards it, and disabled it with a single grenade. Climbing on top of it, he then dropped another grenade into the tank, eliminating the threat to his men. He then led his men as they cleared and seized the town, and not one of his men was killed or injured. He was nominated for the Medal of Honor shortly afterward, but the account of his actions was not included in the original battle reports, and he was instead awarded the Silver Star.[2]

Throughout the war, Megellas served with Company H, 504 PIR, which he would later come to command. In January 1946 he led his company down Fifth Avenue in New York City in the Victory Parade.

Post-war life[edit]

In 1946 Megellas left the active Army with the rank of Captain and served for a further 16 years in the Army Reserve. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. He wrote a memoir of his wartime experiences entitled All the Way to Berlin: A Paratrooper at War in Europe.[3] Megellas currently lives in Colleyville, Texas.[2]

He was portrayed by John Ratzenberger in the 1977 film A Bridge Too Far.

Medals and decorations[edit]

US Army Airborne master parachutist badge.gif Master Parachutist
Combat Infantry Badge.svg Combat Infantryman Badge
Distinguished Service Cross
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Silver Star with two oak leaf clusters
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze Star with one oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Purple Heart with one oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Presidential Unit Citation with one oak leaf cluster
American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal
Army of Occupation Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Vietnam Service Medal
Armed Forces Reserve Medal
Vietnam Campaign Medal
Belgian fourragère
6 campaign stars
  • Order of Saint Maurice in 2008.
  • Dallas Military Ball's Meritorious Service Award in 2009.
  • He was also the first American to be decorated by the Government of the Netherlands when he was awarded the Military Order of William Orange Lanyard. Selected by General James Gavin as the most outstanding officer of the 82nd Airborne Division, it was presented to him by the Dutch Minister of War in Berlin in 1945.

Medal of Honor[edit]

On May 21, 2013, Congressman Tom Petri of Wisconsin introduced H.R.2082 in the United States House of Representatives to request the President award the Medal of Honor to Megellas for his 'above and beyond' heroism on January 28, 1945, during the Battle of the Bulge. Senator John Cornyn also introduced the 'companion bill' S.993 into the U.S. Senate on that date.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ ww2awards.com
  2. ^ a b c Connaher, Justin (May 24, 2009). "A MAN OF PRECIOUS METTLE". The Reporter (Fond du Lac, Wisconsin). Retrieved 2009-05-26. [dead link]
  3. ^ a b c d e Young, Michael E. (December 12, 2007). "War hero offers words of encouragement to troops". The Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas). Retrieved 2009-05-26. 
  • All the Way to Berlin: A Paratrooper at War in Europe, James Megellas, Presidio Press, 2003. ISBN 0-89141-784-2

External links[edit]