War book unites veteran, 89 and Larchmont boy, 8.
LARCHMONT — When he was 6, Ramon Pineda picked an unusual bedtime story: a memoir of World War II written by the most decorated officer in the 82nd Airborne Division.
His fascination with the book and with its author, James "Maggie" Megellas, has led to an even more unusual friendship between the Larchmont boy and the 89-year-old veteran, a friendship that brought Megellas to speak with Ramon’s Cub Scout troop yesterday afternoon.
"I’d describe it as amazing," said Ramon, about his hero’s visit to Larchmont. "I’m proud to call him my friend."
Megellas has similar feelings about his youngest and biggest fan: "I’d describe it as incredible."
Their friendship started in 2004, when Ramon’s father, also named Ramon, brought home an autographed copy of "All the Way to Berlin" from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. He told his son that he could read the book when he got older, but young Ramon couldn’t wait.
Young Ramon was riveted by Megellas’ dangerous parachuting missions and stories of brotherhood among soldiers. So when Ramon had to write a book report on a historical figure, he passed over George Washington to interview the author by phone.
"He was so taken with history and World War II," Megellas said. "He can recite so much about World War II."
The two became pen pals, and Ramon became Megellas’ unexpected promoter. The boy wrote a letter to President Bush urging him to upgrade Megellas’ Silver Star to a Medal of Honor. Megellas has two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts, as well as the Distinguished Service Cross.
Megellas sent a copy of the letter to a colleague of Bush’s, who hand-delivered it to the president at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. The Pinedas were told that Karl Rove was handling the matter.
"He’s like his PR (public relations) person," said Ramon’s mother, Grace Pineda, with a laugh.
When Megellas went to Holland to promote his book and visit key battle sites, he invited Ramon and his family to join him. Ramon’s father recalled how Megellas took his son’s hand and showed him where his war buddies were buried.
"It was a very emotional moment," the elder Ramon said.
The family traveled again to see Megellas in March, to help him celebrate his 89th birthday with his wife, Carole Megellas, in Chicago.
"He’s been nothing but an incredible friend," Ramon’s father said.
Yesterday, at the at the Larchmont Cub Scouts’ annual Blue and Gold Dinner at Larchmont Avenue Church, Ramon got to show Megellas some of his "medals" — namely his Cub Scout swimming pin and his Tiger Badge.
Megellas talked to the boys and girls, including Ramon’s 6-year-old sister, Claudia, about history, war and unity. He told them to be tolerant of others’ differences, to avoid violence and to respect their parents, teachers and elders.
"You do that," he said. "You’re honoring veterans."
Members of Boy Scout Troop 4 also came to hear Megellas speak, and asked him about being in combat.
"It’s the most brutal form of human endeavor," he said. "There’s no glory in war."
For many of the boys, World War II seems as far in the past as the French and Indian War, Cub leader Robert Herbst said.
"It’s great to have a living example here," he said. "They will carry something away from this."
Megellas is planning to speak today to Ramon’s classmates at Sts. John and Paul Elementary School, as well as to fifth- and sixth-graders.
Grace Pineda is still amazed that the octogenarian from Texas and her son are friends. She said Megellas has become a surrogate grandfather to her son, who lost his paternal grandfather in 2003.
"It’s been an extraordinary journey," Grace Pineda said. "How many kids meet their heroes, and how many form a relationship with them?"