James “Maggie” Megellas

June 6, 2013

June 6, 2013

 

James “Maggie” Megellas, lieutenant colonel, U.S. Army (retired)

                James “Maggie” Megellas was born and raised in Fond du Lac, Wis., a son of Greek immigrant parents and a proud member of the city’s ethnic Greek community, attended Fond du Lac public schools and graduated from Ripon College in 1942.

He accepted a commission as a second lieutenant, infantry, U.S. Army, upon graduation at Ripon College and began his service in World War II.

Four years later, Megellas was acknowledged as the most decorated officers in the acclaimed 82nd Airborne Division and was discharged with the rank of captain.

He continued serving as a citizen-soldier and retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

His awards include the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, two Purple Hearts, Presidential Citation with Cluster, the Belgium Fouragere, six campaign stars and Master Parachutist Badge.

He was selected by General James Gavin, the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, to receive the Military Order of Wilhelm Orange Lanyard from the Dutch Minister of War in Berlin in 1945. Megellas is the first American to be honored with the award by the government of Holland.

Megellas fought in the Italian and Western European Campaign, as a platoon leader. While still a 1st Lieutenant, he was named Company Commander of H Company, 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) in the waning days of the war.

His most notable battle experiences include action in the Italian mountains near the Anzio beachhead, his combat jump into Holland as part of Operation Market Garden, crossing of the Waal River under heavy German fire in broad daylight, and the Battle of the Bulge in January of 1945, when he singlehandedly destroyed a German Mark V Panther Tank and led his platoon to one of the most distinctive actions of the war, without a single American casualty.

He finished World War II in the occupation of Berlin and led his company, the only company with which he served during all of his Word War II service, down Fifth Avenue in New York City in the January 1946 Victory Parade.

Megellas served in the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for 32 years, with assignments in Yemen, Panama, South Vietnam and Colombia.

During his assignment with USAID, he served two years in Vietnam, leading 4,000 soldiers and civilians from Vietnam and other nations in civil military relations. For this mission, he received the National Chieu Hoi Medal and the Psychological Warfare Medal from the South Vietnamese government.

His autobiographical best-seller, “All the Way to Berlin: A Paratrooper at War in Europe,” published in 2003, provides a riveting chronicle of his firsthand experiences as a young infantry leader and those of his fellow combat soldiers in his outfit.

At the age of 96, Megellas continues to be forceful, active and articulate. He is fond of saying his mission continues.

In 2006 at the age of 89, Megellas visited the modern-day version of his World War II outfit, the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, then serving in Afghanistan along the Pakistani border. He shared with them his book, “All the Way to Berlin,” and his continuing message of military service.

He has returned to Afghanistan two times since then — at Christmas in 2007 and in September of 2008 — to meet with soldiers and encourage the efforts of U.S. military personnel.

Megellas has been honored a number of times in recent years for his service to community and the nation.

In July of 2008, The Fond du Lac County Veterans Memorial Building in the city where he was born was named in his honor.

In 2010, he was honored by the nation of Holland for his incomparable valor there during World War II; and he received the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution Medal of Honor in Washington, D.C.

In 2011, a chartable foundation  in Arizona was set up in his name, The James Megellas Foundation, Inc. Most of the activity of the foundation has been directed to benefit Arizona schools.

Megellas and his World War II service are subjects of a newly released documentary film titled “Maggie’s War: A True Story of Courage, Leadership and Valor in World War II.” The film will be presented nationally. The world premiere of “Maggie’s War” was shown in his hometown in September of 2012.

Nearing the century mark, Megellas now lives in Colleyville, Texas with his loving wife and general manager, Carole.  “Maggie” continues to travel and lecture whenever called upon. It’s his mission.