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All the Way to Berlin

ISBN: 0-8914836-9
Review Date:

All the Way to Berlin is an extraordinary book.

I say this not as a way of praising James Megellas the writer, but as a way of expressing my own surprise at his candor. He is not a humble old soldier, but one who boasts of enjoying his former vocation. He writes at the war's end:

"I found the business of killing and destruction agreeable. I suppose this comes when killers are made out of soldiers. Alexander the Great cried in his tent when he realized there were no more lands to conquer. I didn't cry in my Company CP, but I was saddened knowing there would be no more lands to conquer and enemy to kill" (324).

Perhaps I expected to see a dose of humility or maybe even a shot of euphemism, masking the actions of such a proficient soldier (He was, after all, the 82nd Airborne's most decorated officer). After some thought, however, I'll take Megellas at his word, knowing that his honesty tells us how war shapes people, perhaps in ways that we don’t expect to see.

At other times in the book, Megellas uses worn clichés like "war is hell," or "our MOS was killing Germans," yet he has a knack for recreating moments in great detail. The strength of All the Way to Berlin is his research in compiling the remembrances of dozens of men in the 82nd Airborne experiencing the same events.

One such moment, and it is perhaps the heart of the book, is the crossing of the Waal river by the 82nd during Operation Market Garden. "This would be the 504's Omaha beach" (132). The men in the attack would be paddling toward unknown numbers of soldiers who were essentially looking down on the river from behind a series of dikes and embankments. "A suicide mission," one soldier remarked.

What Megellas describes is nothing short of amazing, considering the men crossing the wide river in daylight were not in Higgins boats, but in 19 foot canvas rafts with plywood bottoms, some using their rifles as paddles, under intense fire. He writes:

"Halfway across the river, an artillery shell or perhaps a 20mm round crashed into the overhead boat that was carrying the other half of my platoon. The boat capsized and sank, spilling all its occupants—two engineers and thirteen paratroops—into the river. They splashed frantically to keep from submerging or being swept downstream. There was nothing we could do to help them; the strong current made it impossible to maneuver our boat toward them, and there were no other boats near enough to provide aid. Nor were there any Mae Wests or other type of inflatable life jackets.... There had been no time to be concerned about such matters" (146).

He continues:

"Lieutenant Ernest P. Murphy, H Company, recalled the river crossing: 'We were the lead boat nearing the north bank and suddenly an enemy 20-mm shell tore through the canvas side of the boat opening two gaping holes. The boat started taking on water and we had to swim for shore. On the shore I took count of my men and all but one had made it. Then I noticed a helmet pop of the water and the missing man, Private Joseph Jedlicka, walked out of the water safely. Jedlicka, who could not swim, had sunk in about eight feet of water. He was still carrying his BAR and two boxes of ammo when he emerged. Drenched and shaken by his ordeal, he rejoined my platoon thankful to be alive. We had our boat shot out from under us, but fortunately, I had no casualties'" (146)

This is just one harrowing moment among several that Megellas describes in this section of the text. The pace and drama increase once the survivors make it across the river and take the fight to the Germans. These chapters alone make the book worth reading. And there are many other events that Megellas describes, from Italy on to the end of the war, with equal (and graphic) detail.

Readers will also appreciate the extra detail the author uses all through the book in describing what happened to wounded or missing soldiers. It's generally a sentence or two at the end of a paragraph, but it's a key device that makes this narrative a compelling historical document. While Megellas may boast of his exploits as a soldier, it's clear All the Way to Berlin is an important chapter in the European war, and a must read of students of the period.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Jim Eagle Feather says:
21 Oct 2007 02:21:22 PM

His description of some very intense combat events and extreme successes lead me to believe that he reached a level of combat proficiency not attained by other soldiers. However is utter hatred of the German people, later seen when hr ordered his men in Berlin to throw all scraps of food into the trash rather than allow Germans to bag it caused me a great deal of disgust. But it appears Megellas was extremely torn between total panic in the war – with the loss of so many buddies – and maintaining the composure he needed to remain alive. Like many such soldiers he chose hatred to sustain him. On the 2nd Death Star he would have jumped at the light saber offered by the evil emperor so as to become one with the Dark Side. For this Megellas should not be blamed. However many of us have read accounts of many effective soldiers – even SS – who seemed to never give in to that level of blood lust that Megellas repeatedly extols in his book. His excuses make for the rapes committed by the Russians that he KNEW of also leaves one sad. He seems to have known very little about the Germans. In truth he comes across like a Greek and not an Englishman. A typical immigrant’s view of right and wrong that is not always shared by English-American civilization. His treatment of the Germans seems almost sadistic – as when he locked the German girls in a cell for 48 hours without food or water. The upshot is I too wish along with Megellas himself that he would have had a chance to set foot on a combat beach in Japan.
2. Heather in Dallas says:
10 Dec 2008 06:43:14 AM

I haven't read the book yet- I bought it for my husband for Christmas, so I am looking VERY forward to reading it with him- but I wanted to say that I had a chance to meet "Maggie" and had a nice conversation with him at the DFW airport last weekend. It was an absolute pleasure- nicest man I've ever met (next to my grandfathers of course). We talked about his book and experiences in Europe and my grandfather's experiences in Iwo Jima. I called my husband crying as I boarded the plane just thinking about what he and my grandfather and all those men like them did for our country and how different things are now. It was definitely a moment I will remember my entire life! Again, I look very forward to reading his book!
3. Jack Pressly says:
28 Mar 2017 01:49:45 PM

A good man in a fight, I wish Maggie had resisted the impulse to write.

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