Comrades still trying to get Medal of Honor for Colleyville man

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Pacific Historian
Jun 4, 2005
Orange County, CA
A patient patriot
Comrades still trying to get Medal of Honor for Colleyville man

COLLEYVILLE -- No officer in the history of the 82nd Airborne Division is believed to be as highly decorated as James Megellas.

The shadow box in his house contains a Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars for valor and two Purple Hearts.

But the men who served with Megellas during World War II believe that even those medals don't fully tell the story of his exploits. There, at the top, they say, should hang a Medal of Honor.

"He was the best officer I ever saw in 51 years of service," said retired Army Lt. Col. George Heib. "And as an infantry soldier in two wars with two Combat Infantryman Badges, I never saw a braver act in my lifetime."

For eight years, a group of men appealed to the Army to upgrade a Silver Star that Megellas earned on Jan. 28, 1945, during the Battle of the Bulge, believing that crucial information was left out of the original nomination. Twice, though, they were rebuffed.

Now a congressman from Megellas' home state of Wisconsin has filed a bill requesting that President Bush award the medal 62 years after Megellas' death-defying actions that day.

Megellas moved to Colleyville in 2002 to be closer to his sons and grandchildren. While he believes that a Medal of Honor is warranted, he's certainly not counting on it. He knows the odds are long.

"In a war, everybody does things to survive and accomplish the objective," said Megellas, who is a month from turning 90. "A lot of guys did things that they never got medals for. If I don't get it, I have no problem with that. I've lived this long without it."

After so many years, one might wonder why it matters so much to the men who fought with Megellas in the Devils of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. They'll be glad to answer that, too -- because a Medal of Honor reflects on all who served in that unit, past and future.

Unlike most medals earned by individuals, the Medal of Honor gives a unit a special status, every bit as important to its history as the battles it fought.

"This would be another Medal of Honor for the 82nd Airborne," said Edward J. Sims, a retired Army colonel who started the appeals initiative. "It's important to all who were members of the 504th. We were all part of it."

The incident in question occurred toward the end of the epochal Battle of the Bulge, the Germans' massive counterattack in December 1944.

It was outside Herresbach, a town in Belgium. Lt. Megellas' platoon, moving through deep snow and freezing cold, had surprised 200 Germans heading out of town. His men decimated the Germans' ranks and were preparing to attack the town when a German Mark V tank took aim at them.

Megellas ran toward the tank, got close enough to throw a grenade at the track and disabled it. He then climbed on top of the tank and dropped another grenade in the hatch.

His men then moved on and captured the town. Not one of his men was hurt.

"I know what heroism is," said Heib, who was then an 18-year-old assistant machine gunner in the unit. "I've seen a lot of it. Anytime you destroy a tank up close and personal with two grenades while under fire, that's extraordinary heroism."

Megellas' commanders nominated him for the Medal of Honor, but somewhere along the line, the part about the tank was left out of the nomination. They also misspelled his name. Instead, he received a Silver Star.

Everyone went on about their business. There was still a war on.

"Guys who have ever been in combat will tell you they don't pay much attention to it," Megellas said. "I had other things to worry about."

Decades later, in the late 1990s, Sims reread the Silver Star citation and noticed the missing part. He contacted eyewitnesses, got sworn statements and then submitted everything to the military for reconsideration.

Two secretaries of the Army wrote back, though, that they believed the Silver Star was the appropriate recognition for the action. Neither secretary mentioned the tank, which perturbed Sims greatly.

Sims saw a lot of combat during World War II and Korea -- all told, 440 days of front-line duty from Sicily and Anzio to the Battle of the Bulge to Korea. He knew the difference between Silver Star actions and Medal of Honor actions.

"It was ridiculous," said Sims, who is 87 and lives in New Jersey. "Their decisions were based on the old citation. No one ever looked at my recommendation to judge the two side-by-side. "

U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wisconsin, got wind of the story about three years ago at a reunion of the 504th. He knew Megellas, a native and longtime resident of Fond du Lac, Wis. Petri filed the bill last week.

While it is unusual to upgrade a decoration to the Medal of Honor, it has happened to 31 men since 2000.

For Megellas, who retired as a lieutenant colonel, the effort has already rewarded him.

"What E.J. Sims and the others have done is amazing," he said. "The recognition from my peers is enough --when they believe in you and what you did and go to such trouble for you. The satisfaction I've gotten from that is reward enough."


Age: 89

Wife: Carole. They have two sons.

Home: Colleyville

Hometown: Fond du Lac, Wis.

College: B.A. from Ripon College in Wisconsin

Army service: Commissioned in May 1942 at graduation. Served on active duty in the 82nd Airborne Division until 1946. Continued in the Army Reserve for 16 years. Retired as a lieutenant colonel.

Battles: Naples, Anzio, Operation Market Garden, Battle of the Bulge, Ruhr Pocket

Career: Served in the foreign service in Yemen, Colombia, Panama and Vietnam.

Still active: In 2006, he traveled to Afghanistan for his old regiment, the 504th Parachute Infantry. He went on patrol, attended briefings and spoke to soldiers about leadership under fire. He plans to go to Iraq this year. He is the author of one book, All the Way to Berlin (Presidio Press, 2003).

Web site: jamesmegellas. org


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Charging a German Mark V with 2 freakin hand grenades is almost suicidal... Amazing he didnt get cut down....

However, its not the first time a man single handedly destroyed an armored vehicle, and Im not sure of the count, but not all of em got the Medal... Still pretty damn brave...

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