From Alex Omhof

FORT BRAGG, N.C. – May 23, 2013 – Nowadays if someone called him a devil, James Megellas said he might take offense. Back in World War II, however, the veteran said if an enemy troop called him a devil – that was a compliment.

Megellas, one of the most decorated officers in the history of the 82nd Airborne Division, and a former “Devil in Baggy Pants,” came home to the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment here during All American Week to share his experiences with paratroopers in the 1st Brigade Combat Team.

All American Week is a weeklong event that brings together Paratroopers from many generations to celebrate the proud history of the division.

While visiting the unit where he got his start, the spry, 96-year-old retired lieutenant colonel signed copies of the book he authored, “All the Way to Berlin, A Paratrooper at War in Europe.”

He also hosted screenings of the documentary film, “Maggie’s War: A True Story of Courage, Leadership and Valor in World War II.”

The film chronicles the heroic actions Megellas undertook while serving as a platoon leader during the Battle of the Bulge.

On Jan. 28, 1945, Megellas and the paratroopers in his platoon advanced toward a much larger German force. The advance was going well until machine gun fire from a German Mark V tank halted forward movement of the company.

As George D. Heib, a retired lieutenant colonel who participated in the advance as a private, recalled, Megellas single-handedly destroyed the tank with two grenades.

Heib said after Megellas launched a grenade to disable the tank, he said he saw the lieutenant jump on the tank and throw the second grenade into the turret.

A fellow platoon leader who served in the advance, Ernest P. Murphy, now a retired lieutenant colonel, said once the tank was neutralized, Megellas and his paratroopers seized Herresbach, Belgium, killing more than 100 Germans and capturing more than 180 prisoners.

Megellas, who received the Distinguished Silver Cross, two Silver Star medals, two Bronze Star medals and two Purple Hearts throughout his career, said he doesn’t consider himself to be a hero for his actions on the battlefield. Rather, he said he was a witness to history by being involved in important events that helped shape the world.

“I witnessed in World War II events that … defined us as who we really were: what we stood for, what we were willing to fight for, what we would sacrifice for, what we would die for,” Megellas said.

The veteran, who has traveled to Afghanistan to visit troops on three separate occasions, said today’s paratroopers are also defining themselves through their service.

The veteran said it was a humbling experience to spend time with today’s “Devils in Baggy Pants.” He said his combat days are so far in the past it’s difficult to remember his experiences.

“You volunteered to be a Paratrooper and for hazardous duty – that defined who you were,” he said. “You weren’t looking for an easy way out, you wanted to be there.”