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All the Way to Berlin: A Paratrooper at War in Europe Hardcover – March 4, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
What World War II Lieutenant Megellas's memoir lacks in narrative force and elegance it makes up for in its unvarnished contribution to the historical record. Megellas was a senior at Ripon College in Ripon, Wis. during the Pearl Harbor attack; barely six months later, he had reported for duty and soon was enlisted in the storied 82nd Airborne Division. Landing in Italy on the eve of the Anzio invasion in the fall of 1943 and fighting his way through the mountainous Italian terrain, Megellas was wounded and then hospitalized ("I'm very fortunate to be alive," he wrote in a letter home. "I'm not certain as to how many Germans I killed but in my mind the minimum is at least 10"). In September 1944, Megellas's unit parachuted into Holland to take part in the bloody Operation Market Garden, in which the Allies lost more men than they would during the Normandy invasion. Megellas's description of his unit crossing the Waal River in rowboats under point-blank German fire is harrowing; that the soldiers reached the far shore and took the German positions is nothing short of a miracle. From there, Megellas and his men proceeded into the thick of the Battle of the Bulge and onward to the Rhine, fighting as they made their way toward Germany. Just as revealing as the battle accounts are Megellas's stories of the numbing boredom that soldiers in rear positions waiting for orders to the next engagement experienced, as well as the countless small acts of bravery and the daily hardships. Foregoing the romanticized hero-worship of some wartime accounts, Megellas recalls his two years of duty in the 20th century's deadliest war with admirable restraint.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Leading his H Company in a victory parade, the author remembers thinking how few of the men marching were with him in combat. Only half survived one of the battles recounted in this memoir, the September 1944 assault across the Waal River, immortalized in A Bridge Too Far (1974) by Cornelius Ryan. The attrition Megellas witnessed over months on the front line, at Anzio and in the Battle of the Bulge, shapes his narrative, but his observations about the craft of killing lend it a distinctive tone. In the firefights the author describes, the role of the combat leader is central, for he must both take orders from higher command and give orders to his platoon. Alongside his brother lieutenants in this role, Megellas was plainly an incredibly effective and brave leader, which is reinforced by his laconic, factual writing. Nor is authenticity lacking, as Megellas is brutally honest in admitting his hatred for German soldiers and his satisfaction in killing them. Strongly put and unsentimental, this memoir is a must for the World War II collection. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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"All the Way to Berlin" is the best Airborne book I've read and I've read a lot of them including S. Ambrose's "Band of Brothers". I've never understood why Ambrose, who taught at the University of Wisconsin passed up Wisconsin's greatest Airborne hero, Jim Megellas.
Not to take anything away from the 101st Airborne, another bunch of terrific, fighting paratroopers, but no one fought harder and longer with less against formidable opposition than the 82nd. And within the 82nd, the 504PIR, 3rd BN, H Company was one of the best.
My friend Bill Hannigan from St. Paul went all the way from Africa to Berlin with the 82nd. He became a squad leader in Maggie's platoon and is one of those paratroopers who knows Maggie best. Bill says Maggie was not only the best and bravest at killing Germans. "He cared about all of us. He did things for us. He's been a good man all his life."
Bill is one of the dwindling numbers of Maggie's platoon who continues to work for the Medal of Honor which Maggie was originally put in for after his heroism at Herresbach. The platoon killed and captured 100's of Germans during that battle and as they moved into the town, Maggie single-handedly attacked and took out a Mark IV tank that threatened his platoon. This part of the action was somehow deleted from the paperwork as it moved through channels. Maggie then received the Silver Star instead of the requested MOH. Several years ago, Maggie's platoon friends resurrected the original MOH request and it is now the subject of a bill in the House of Representatives.
Next month, Maggie - who is now 90 - starts a tour in Iraq where he will begin to deliver thousands of his books to the troops. Last year he visited his beloved 504 in Afghanistan where the troopers gave him and AR and 50 rounds of ammo and took him on patrol.
You will see in this great book how Maggie holds paratroopers in special regard. And if you understand paratroopers and the famed 82nd Airborne Division you will know why we love Maggie and this book about our WWII Brothers.
Tom Laney, Editor
Badger Airborne News
Badger State Chapter
82nd Airborne Division Assoc.
Megellas, like Moffat Burriss (Strike & Hold), is a member of the 3rd Bn of the 504th Para Regt and his war starts in Italy. He covers a few of the same themes, including the failure of British forces and his company being cut off, yet holding off large numbers of Germans. Megellas writes from his role as an officer, directing fire and breaking up attacks. It was all a bit general, until he mentioned writing to his brother, stating how many Germans he had killed!
The 504th, after being rested during Normandy, was involved in Market Garden and Megellas crossed the Waal in that epic action. He includes a few recollections from others and this section reads more like a unit history rather than a memoir. His strongest stuff here though is during the later defensive phase. There is quite a bit on close quarter fighting (killing) and some hair raising night patrols. Indeed, there is some very good stuff on the mechanics of planning and conducting patrols from the point of view of an officer. Again Megellas writes of killing a number of Germans. The most astonishing story though concerns his involvement in the capture of Heeresbach following (during?) the Bulge. It seems his column of two companies was marching in, just as two German columns came marching out - essentially either side of the Americans. Rather than consider themselves surrounded (or outnumbered), the paratroopers attack and completely rout the Germans! It is an incredible action for which Megellas wins the Silver Star.
The stunning part of this was that later he corrects an error on his citation by pointing out he actually killed more! Another trooper recalls Megellas running about counting out loud! It is scintillating stuff! Megellas is not boasting though. There is no long winded, blow by blow listing, but it is still one hell of a battle. The other really intriguing thing that was revealed, was Megellas' note that he thought that this now made him the leading `living' killer of enemy soldiers in his regiment. Implying that some sort of semi-official tally was being kept - something quite new to me. I know I've focused on the issue of killing here but the emphasis was just so different in this book compared to other memoirs. Killing is Megellas' business. At times he is quite brutal in how he expresses this. There is no reflecting on the humanity of the enemy or poignant descriptions of how their bodies came to lie. He keeps count but he doesn't mull over it. He just gets the job done and moves on. In mind, as well as body.
As I said above, Megellas also includes a lot of accounts from comrades. These are much shorter than those in Burriss' book and don't interrupt the flow of the story as much. They still have the affect of shifting attention away from what Megellas is doing himself though. Again though, the inclusion of all these stories speaks loudly of the camaraderie that existed in the airborne. There is also the point that these men are actually carrying out Megellas' orders, so they do inform the reader of things that Megellas is closely involved in. Overall, these inclusions, usually just paragraphs and passages don't disrupt the flow of Megellas own narrative - indeed in the way he has used them, they mostly enhance it.
This is one heck of a war book. Megellas' openness about killing really makes it stand out from the pack. It is well written and engaging and though it lacks the sensitive contemplation of Gantter for instance, there is a different emphasis and tone, it is an utterly compelling memoir of battle. And you are left in no doubt, that if you were a German soldier occupying your part in the line, the last person you would want coming for you, would be James Megellas! Highly recommended.