James “Maggie” Megellas, Lt. Colonel
Looking for the opportunity to face the Germans head on, James “Maggie” Megellas requested a transfer to the Paratroopers during World War II, where he would go on to face heavy fighting across Europe—including while crossing the Waal River during Operation Market-Garden and at the Battle of the Bulge. This oral history was recorded as a companion to Century of Service: U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, a Pritzker Military Museum & Library program.
James “Maggie” Megellas was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, in 1917. In this oral history interview, he recollects seeing World War I—and even a few Civil War era—Veterans from his home town march during the Armistice Day parades—or what is now designated as Veterans Day—and the impression that made on him even as a young man, and how we wished he had been able to capture a lasting memento from those interactions. When the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred in December of 1941, Mr. Megellas was completing a degree in Mathematics at Ripon College, in Wisconsin, where he also participated in the school's ROTC program. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant when he entered the U.S. Army in 1942.
Due to his level of education, and likely also to some of the chaos surrounding large military operations preparing to enter into war, Mr. Megellas trained in various military disciplines after basic training—going through some Signal Corps training, and even to Glider Infantry School—before he finally inquired from his command which route within the U.S. Army would get him to the front lines, and in direct conflict with the enemy, the quickest. When he was informed that route was to become a Paratrooper, he gladly volunteered.
The experiences that followed that decision by Mr. Megellas—the training and the combat in the mountains of Italy, the Waal River in Holland, the Battle of the Bulge, and beyond—have been well documented in military history, including in previous programs with the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, in the documentary Maggie's War: A True Story of Courage, Leadership and Valor in World War II, and in Mr.Megellas’ own written account, All the Way to Berlin: a Paratrooper at War in Europe. These works, along with this oral history interview, explore the actions for which Mr. Megellas was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart—as well as the action that lead to the Congressional nomination that he be awarded the Medal of Honor.
This interview was conducted, in part, to support a program recorded at the Pritzker Military Museum & Library called Century of Service: U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, in which Lt. Col. Joe Buccino discusses the storied history of the 82nd Airborne Division and its path towards the future. In this oral history interview, Mr. Megellas makes similar contrasts and comparisons. He discusses at length, for example, being able to go to Afghanistan to support the current men and women that make up the 82nd Airborne Divison and how he related their experiences now with his in World War II, specifically drawing a connection to their feelings about missing Christmas at home by discussing him missing three Christmas holiday seasons while fighting Germans in the mountains of Italy.
Mr. Megellas also goes into what makes the 82nd Airborne Division one of the best military outfits, discussing the readiness, the willingness to go into battle throughout its history, and to do anything asked of it—even if they hadn’t specifically been trained for a particular mission. Mr. Megellas also includes a discussion on his personal leadership philosophy, which centers around the concept of “leading from the front,” the cornerstone for any leader in the 82nd Airborne Division.