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In mid-1943 James Megellas, known as "Maggie" to his fellow paratroopers, joined the 82d Airborne Division, his new "home" for the duration. His first taste of combat was in the rugged mountains outside Naples.In October 1943, when most of the 82d departed Italy to prepare for the D-Day invasion of France, Lt. Gen. Mark Clark, the Fifth Army commander, requested that the division's 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Maggie's outfit, stay behind for a daring new operation that would outflank the Nazis' stubborn ...
In mid-1943 James Megellas, known as "Maggie" to his fellow paratroopers, joined the 82d Airborne Division, his new "home" for the duration. His first taste of combat was in the rugged mountains outside Naples.In October 1943, when most of the 82d departed Italy to prepare for the D-Day invasion of France, Lt. Gen. Mark Clark, the Fifth Army commander, requested that the division's 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Maggie's outfit, stay behind for a daring new operation that would outflank the Nazis' stubborn defensive lines and open the road to Rome. On 22 January 1944, Megellas and the rest of the 504th landed across the beach at Anzio. Following initial success, Fifth Army's amphibious assault, Operation Shingle, bogged down in the face of heavy German counterattacks that threatened to drive the Allies into the Tyrrhenian Sea. Anzio turned into a fiasco, one of the bloodiest Allied operations of the war. Not until April were the remnants of the regiment withdrawn and shipped to England to recover, reorganize, refit, and train for their next mission.In September, Megellas parachuted into Holland along with the rest of the 82d Airborne as part of another star-crossed mission, Field Marshal Montgomery's vainglorious Operation Market Garden. Months of hard combat in Holland were followed by the Battle of the Bulge, and the long hard road across Germany to Berlin.Megellas was the most decorated officer of the 82d Airborne Division and saw more action during the war than most. Yet All the Way to Berlin is more than just Maggie's World War II memoir. Throughout his narrative, he skillfully interweaves stories of the other paratroopers of H Company, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The result is a remarkable account of men at war.
I At War
On 7 December 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, I was a senior at Ripon College, in Ripon, Wisconsin, expecting to complete my bachelor of arts studies and looking forward to graduating the following June. At the time, the future was uncertain. The country had suffered through the Great Depression of the 1930s, and prospects of a liberal arts graduate finding a suitable niche in the workplace appeared bleak. War clouds were gathering in Europe and the Pacific, and German submarines were prowling off the Atlantic coast, attacking U.S. shipping destined for Great Britain. A military buildup was going on in the United States, and fervor to enter the war on the side of the Allies was growing. I also was in my final year of reserve officer training at Ripon College and, upon graduation, would receive a second lieutenant's commission in the U.S. Army. Given the situation, even before Pearl Harbor, it was almost certain that the new crop of Ripon officers would be ordered to active duty. The universal draft was instituted in 1940, so there was a growing need for officers to lead newly recruited enlisted men.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor ended all the uncertainties I might have had concerning my future, at least for the short term. The United States was at war. This was stunning, and my knee-jerk reaction was to drop out of school (even though graduation was only about six months away) and enlist in the army. This reaction was soon dispelled when an accelerated schedule for graduation was announced. The best course of action would be for me to stay in school and receive a commission, then go on active duty. Graduation was set a month earlier than scheduled, at which time we would also receive our commissions and active duty orders. In the meantime, our Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) instruction became more intense and took on greater significance. The only questions remaining were where and how soon we would be on duty. Everything else became mundane. Academic studies, homework, and term papers began to suffer from lack of priority. Although it was still important to complete school and receive a degree--an officer's commission depended upon completion of studies--for the next six months, concentration on anything but the war was difficult.
The nation responded vigorously to the mobilization, with young men forming long lines at recruiting offices, volunteering for service. Factories turning out the sinews of war worked overtime. Women were replacing men who had answered the call to serve. Legislation establishing priorities for the use of essential resources was quickly approved. Victory gardens replaced lawns; sewing and knitting were in vogue. Patriotism knew no bounds as the nation mobilized for war. It was the defining moment for my generation.
On the day of graduation--28 May 1942--when I walked across the stage dressed in a black cap and gown, I was given a diploma in my left hand and an officer's commission in my right. I was a second lieutenant of infantry in the U.S. Army. Only moments later, I received orders assigning me, along with six others, to report for duty on 8 June 1942 at Fort Knox, Kentucky. I was twenty-five years old.
Eight years earlier, I had graduated from high school. In 1934, during the throes of the Great Depression, continuing the education of the third born in an immigrant family of seven children had not been an option. Struggling to provide the basic necessities of life, my father was laid off more than he worked at the local leather-tanning factory. My brother George, nine years my...