The 82nd Airborne’s Most Decorated Officer
Week by week, Speaker Ryan greets many different Wisconsinites as they visit the nation’s capital. On February 2, one visit in particular brought a special sense of pride to the speaker when he came face-to-face with a true American hero—Lieutenant Colonel James “Maggie” Megellas, originally of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. And boy does he have a story worth sharing.
In mid-1943, then-26-year-old James Megellas joined the 82nd Airborne division of the United States Army to defend the nation’s freedom during World War II, and his actions thereafter were nothing short of legendary. That’s why a grateful nation honored him with a February ceremony in the Cannon House Office Building—a place steps from the U.S. Capitol that houses congressional offices like the Veterans Affairs Committee.
In attendance at this ceremony was a fellow Wisconsinite: Speaker Paul Ryan. They exchanged stories and laughs of being Wisconsin-bred, with plenty of Packers talk thrown in. As always, Lt. Col. Megellas was the definition of modesty. “You make me proud to be from Wisconsin,” the Lt. Col. said to Speaker Ryan. “Are you kidding?” responded Speaker Ryan. “I’m the one who’s proud.”
There was no doubt about it: Everyone there was in the presence of an American hero. Lt. Col. Megellas is the 82nd Airborne’s most decorated officer, having received both the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star. Two stories of his heroism stand out in particular.
Then-First Lieutenant Megellas was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross—the U.S. military’s second-highest decoration—for his heroic actions on September 30, 1944, in Holland, when he single-handedly dismantled an enemy observation outpost and machine-gun nest.
He was also awarded a Silver Star for his heroic actions on January 28, 1945, when he single-handedly attacked—and destroyed—a 50-ton Nazi tank during the Battle of the Bulge in Herresbach, Belgium.
Today is this hero’s 99th birthday. We celebrate him, and we celebrate this truth: It is because of American heroes like Lt. Col. James Megellas that Americans have the freedom we all enjoy today.
For that, we should all be thankful. Happy birthday, Lt. Col. Megellas!
March 15, 2016