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Push made to honor war hero

By Drew Brooks | The Fayetteville Observer (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 14, 2016

There's no doubt that retired Lt. Col. James "Maggie" Megellas is an American hero.

But a decades-long push to get the World War II veteran the nation's highest award for valor is seeing a new push with congressional interest.

Megellas earned the Distinguished Service Cross and two Silver Stars for actions in Holland and Belgium during the war.

At the time, he was a platoon leader in H Company, 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

Today, many recognize him as the most decorated officer in the 82nd Airborne Division's history.

But the Army has denied the Medal of Honor at least twice.

The first time came at the end of World War II, when Megellas was awarded one of his Silver Star medals instead of the Medal of Honor.

The officer who recommended the higher medal returned to the citation 71 years later, in 1999, when he discovered a mistake on paperwork detailing Megellas' heroics.

Specifically, the paperwork omitted information about how Megellas single-handedly destroyed an attacking German Mark V tank and its crew during the Battle of the Bulge, using only his submachine gun and two grenades.

Another request for the Medal of Honor was submitted, but it was rejected in 2003.

Even without the additional information, Megellas' war stories are the stuff of movies.

On Sept. 30, 1944, in Holland, Megellas was leading his platoon on a combat patrol when it arrived at an enemy observation post.

He crawled forward alone, killing two guards and the crew of a machine gun nest.

Then Megellas and his platoon used the position to launch an attack on more enemy positions, capturing three prisoners and killing two enemy soldiers.

With the mission over, then-1st Lt. Megellas led his platoon away from enemy mortar fire, firing his machine gun one-handed while carrying one of his soldiers who had been wounded.

By December, Megellas' platoon was in Belgium.

On Dec. 20, 1944, the soldiers were attacking a hill when Megellas charged the enemy, calling for his men to follow.

He then opened fire on a large force of enemy armor and infantry forces, killing a crew of eight before one of his men was wounded.

Megellas carried that man to cover, then reformed his platoon and led the small force back to its objective, seizing it from enemy hands.

A month later, on Jan. 28, 1945, in Belgium, Megellas' platoon was again on the move, moving across the country for 12 hours in deep snow with two supporting tanks.

A mile outside town, the platoon came under attack by 200 Germans. Megellas led a frontal assault into the enemy, routing them within 10 minutes. The entire German force was either killed, captured or fled, according to reports.

Those who escaped were pursued by Megellas' platoon, which braved heavy sniper and rifle fire to flush them from homes.

By the end of the assault, more than 100 enemy troops were killed, 180 captured and large amounts of valuable equipment was seized.
Meanwhile, Megellas' entire platoon was unwounded.

Megellas is now 98 years old, but his supporters continue to push for him to be further honored.

Recently, the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association hosted a reception in his honor in Washington. Nearly 20 members of Congress attended the event, where the organization drummed up support for the Medal of Honor bid.

Among those in attendance was the speaker of the House, Rep. Paul Ryan.

The organization, which has backed the efforts to further honor Megellas since 2011, is preparing to send a letter to acting Secretary of the Army Patrick Murphy asking him to reconsider Megellas' Medal of Honor case.

The AHEPA letter says Megellas "has been called the equivalent of five Sherman tanks," and said bipartisan support for the honor continues to strengthen.

"The American people deserve to honor this hero, age 98, while he is still living," the letter concludes.

brooksd@fayobserver.com

(c) 2016 The Fayetteville Observer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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