I have goosebumps as I am writing this…
As I start to type I remember the man I met a few days ago known as ‘Maggie’. He is James Megellas and a World War II veteran. But not just a World War II veteran a hero and was nominated for the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of the Bulge. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Megellas
Because of my work with the Afghanistan Memory Wall I was invited to a private dinner with James and 10 other men who were either current or former military. It was such an honor and afterwards Mr. Megellas stood and gave us a 10-15 minute speech. Before you do the math, I will help you. The Battle of the Bulge was in 1944, that’s 69 years ago and James was 27. As he stood before me last week, he was 96 years old and mentally as sharp as a tack. If you had told me he was 70 I would have believed you and if talking on the phone and you said 60 I would believe you because of his sharp and clear voice. Instead, NINETY SIX. He said he recently spoke for a group of 90 year old WWII veterans and he told them the best 6 years of their life is still ahead of them! 🙂
His age and health were impressive but pale’s in comparison to his life story and the speech he gave us.
As he spoke of World War II and the battles he was in he told us of the heroism of others but didn’t mention his and keep in mind he was nominated for the Medal of Honor. Maggie is the most decorated officer in the history of the 82nd Airborne. The speech that day wasn’t about him but I can’t wait to read his book to get his story http://www.amazon.com/All-Way-Berlin-Paratrooper-Europe/dp/0891418369/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1368987874&sr=8-1&keywords=james+megellas
Maggie explained that in the 1990’s the World War II generation started being referred to as the ‘Greatest Generation.’ Here is his thoughts on that. He said:
We are not the Greatest Generation. If I said he were that would be an insult to the men I served with in Vietnam and all of you. We were not the Greatest Generation but we were the greatest of our generation, just as each of you is the greatest of your generation. There will be a Greatest Generation but it hasn’t happened yet and it isn’t even close to happening. It will be a long time in the future and they will be the generation that can solve their problems without war. When that happens one day all of us can look down and point and say, ‘That is the Greatest Generation.”
Maggie is such a humble and gracious man. After his speech I asked him if I could get my picture with him.
Maggie spoke of liberating a concentration camp in Germany and being stunned by what he saw. He referred to them as walking skeletons and he said in that instant he knew exactly what he was fighting for and fighting against. Maggie said he was shocked that humanity could do this to one another.
He is beyond an incredible man and I sincerely hope our paths cross again. Maggie brought his wife of 51 years with him to the dinner. They married when he was 45 (his only marriage) and she was much younger (by at least 20 years).