LtCol James “Maggie” Megellas, age 100, most decorated officer of the 82nd Airborne, arrives on Air Berlin
From Occupier to German Government Honoree
World War II 82nd Airborne veteran LTC James “Maggie” Megellas arrived in Berlin to attend the July 20 Ceremony of the Federal Government for the Resistance Fighters in Berlin, at the invitation of Federal Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen. Having served in the Allied Forces’ liberation of Berlin and its occupation in 1945, Megellas will participate as a guest of honor. The Chancellor, President, and U.S. Ambassador will be among the dignitaries present to commemorate the anniversary of the July 20, 1944, assassination attempt against Adolf Hitler, and honor those who fought against the Nazi regime.
On July 20, 1944, Claus von Stauffenberg flew to a meeting at Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair headquarters in East Prussia. He had a bomb in his briefcase and intended to assassinate Adolf Hitler and bring down the Nazi regime. The plot, also known as Operation Valkyrie, failed, and that night, Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators were executed in the Berndlerblock courtyard in Berlin. The Gestapo subsequently arrested over 7,000 people and executed 4,980.
In 1949, German survivors and bereaved family members established a Memorial Foundation, and James Megellas has been invited to address their descendants in Berlin after the ceremony.
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, and crossing the Waal River under heavy German fire in broad daylight. During the Battle of the Bulge, he single-handedly destroyed a German Mark V Panzer Tank, armed only with his Thompson submachine gun and two gammon grenades, and led his platoon to liberate the town of Herresbach, Belgium, without the single loss of an American life.
He finished World War II in the occupation of Berlin and led his company, the only company with which he served, down Fifth Avenue in New York City in the January 1946 Victory Parade.
At age 100, Megellas is still the most decorated officer of the 82nd Airborne. 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, to receive the Military Order of Wilhelm Orange Lanyard from the Dutch Minister of War in Berlin in 1945.
Megellas published the memoir All the Way to Berlin and shared his book during three visits to the troops in Afghanistan in 2006, Christmas 2007 and 2008.
He was invited by the German government back to the town of Ludwigslust, where he was honored for liberating the Woebbelin Concentration Camp and the town of Ludwigslust. He traveled with Holocaust survivor George Salton, who was liberated from that camp. In his memoir, Megellas recounted, "It was not until our men witnessed this that we fully realized what we had been fighting for. The destruction of the monstrosity the Nazis had created was the cause greater than ourselves that we had often alluded to but never fully understood. It was a defining moment in our lives: who we were, what we believed in, and what we stood for."
Megellas is the subject of the World War II Foundation documentary Maggie’s War. He spoke to the West Point football team before the 2016 Army-Navy game, and the winning Black Knights were wearing uniforms in honor of the 82nd Airborne, some jerseys with his name.
At age 100, Megellas continues to travel and speak about his World War II experiences whenever called upon. It’s his mission, and he is deeply honored to travel all the way back to Berlin, to preserve the legacy of those who fought against the Nazis, and celebrate German-American friendship for today, and the future.
Meredith M. Walker serves on the Board of Councilors for the EastWest Institute and the Board of Directors for the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum, and is a member of Business Executives for National Security.
She received her Master of Science in economics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a Chinese language and society fellowship. She received her Bachelor of Arts in economics from the University of Texas at Austin, with minors in Asian Studies and French, and held internships at the Pentagon and State Department Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.