James Megellas, born March 11, 1917, is a retired U.S. 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 a nomination for the Medal of Honor. Megellas was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and attended nearby Ripon College. 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.
He first experienced combat in the mountains outside Naples, Italy, 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 Jan. 22, 1944, the 504th took part in an amphibious assault at Anzio. The fighting took a heavy toll with Megellas being wounded again. Due to the losses at Anzio, the 504th did not participate in the D-Day Normandy landings, but they did parachute into the Netherlands as part of Operation Market Garden.
Megellas took part in the crossing of the Waal River near Nijmegen, where American forces crossed the river in flimsy boats while under heavy machine gun fire. He single-handedly attacked a German observation post and machine gun nest during the engagement. For these actions, he was awarded the U.S. military's second-highest decoration, the Distinguished Service Cross, and, in December 1944, the regiment was rushed into the Battle of the Bulge.
On Jan. 28, 1945, Megellas' platoon was advancing toward Heresiarch, 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 or capturing a large number and causing many others to flee. As they prepared to assault the town, a German Mark V tank took aim at them. Megellas ran toward it and disabled it with a single grenade. Climbing on top of the tank, he dropped another grenade into the tank, eliminating the threat to his men. He then led his men as they cleared and seized the town with no casualties to his team. He was nominated for the Medal of Honor, but the account of his actions was not included in the original battle reports, and he was instead awarded the Silver Star.
Throughout the war, Megellas served with Company H, 504th PIR, which he would later command. In January 1946, he led his company down Fifth Avenue in New York City in the Victory Parade. He left the active Army service that year with the rank of Captain and served an additional 16 years in the Army Reserve. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel and wrote a memoir of his wartime experiences entitled “All the Way to Berlin: A Paratrooper at War in Europe.” Megellas and his wife currently live in Colleyville, Texas. Maggie was nominated for the Medal of Honor seventy years ago, it was reviewed by the Senate on 01/30/2017 and referred to the Committee on Armed Services.