82nd Airborne's 'most decorated' visits Knox
October 23, 2006
FORT KNOX, Ky. (Army News Service, Oct. 23, 2006) - Before he left for war, Jim Magellas entered the Army at Fort Knox as a fresh-faced ROTC lieutenant.
That was 64 years ago, the war was World War II, and Magellas (or "Maggie," as he eventually came to be known) was on his way to becoming a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division.
He visited Fort Knox Oct. 20 to speak to troops gathered in Haszard Auditorium and sign copies of his new book, "All the Way to Berlin: A Paratrooper at War in Europe."
Magellas left the Army after the war, but returned as a colonel during the Vietnam War, when he served as a civil affairs battalion commander.
Now, he speaks to veterans' groups and Soldiers around the world.
"The reason I intended to write a book was because I felt I had a story to tell," said the veteran of Operation Market Garden.
A recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, Magellas is still the 82nd's most decorated Soldier, and the division presents its "most outstanding" lieutenant with the Jim Magellas Award yearly.
Magellas visited Soldiers in Holland, where he fought during World War II, and recently in Afghanistan. He said he believed he recognized the people he found there on Army posts and forward operating bases.
"I felt we were cut from the same cloth," he said. "There's the same mission, the same devotion to the job."
Magellas said he doesn't subscribe to Tom Brokaw's idea of a "greatest generation."
"Every generation produces great men and women," he said to the gathered Fort Knox Soldiers. "In order to protect those things we hold dear, we answered the call, just as you are doing today."
He recounted some of his memories from his campaign in Europe, particularly a brutal encounter with a German unit across a river.
"If there is such a thing as hell on Earth, that'd be pretty close," he said. "They were shooting at us with grazing fire, maybe a foot and a half off the ground. The Germans were laying everything they had on us."
His unit was to cross the river in 26 boats, none of which had a motor. The paddles hadn't shown up. Magellas used the buttstock of his Thompson machine gun as a paddle when his turn came to cross.
"I was careful, though," he said. "I didn't want to get anything messed up, because if I did make it across, I had some business to take care of."
The action that night was dramatized in the book "A Bridge Too Far," by Cornelius Ryan, and eventually made into a film starring Robert Redford.
Magellas said he was shocked by the war movies playing in theaters when he returned from Europe.
"When I came back, I was appalled by what I saw about war in the movies," he said. "It was glorified.
"War is not to be glorified," he said. "War is the most brutal form of human endeavor. Those who glorify a war dishonor the men who fought and died in it."