James Lewis Meagher Sr., a retired insurance company manager and former prisoner of war who became an advocate for World War II veterans, died Sunday of kidney failure at Anchorage Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Salisbury. He was 82.
Born in Baltimore and raised on Ailsa Avenue, he was a graduate of St. Dominic's parochial school and started work at age 14. He sold newspapers and magazines and worked at a brother's Belair Road gas station.
Drafted into the Army in 1942, he was sent to Belgium in early December 1944. Family members said that Mr. Meagher was captured by German soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge.
"He fought valiantly and was wounded by shrapnel in several places," said his son, Timothy M. Meagher of Salisbury.
Mr. Meagher was sent to Stalag II-A north of Berlin, and treated his wounds by ripping his coat apart and making bandages. While in the camp, he lost 80 pounds.
"My father was always resourceful. When he was captured and about to enter the interrogation building, in order to save our mother's snapshot he jumped from the 'in' line to the 'out' line," said another son, James L. Meagher Jr., also of Salisbury.
In the spring of 1945 as the Russian army advanced, German guards ran off, and Mr. Meagher and a friend escaped on an abandoned truck. They met up with Russian forces, who turned them over to the U.S. Army.
Mr. Meagher was awarded a Purple Heart and three Bronze Stars with a V for valor.
After the war, he used veterans training courses to become a baker and for nine years owned and operated the Paramount Pastry Shop on Belair Road. Moving to Salisbury in 1957, he ran and expanded the bakery at English's Family Diner there. He later went into insurance sales and became a district manager for Western Southern Life Insurance Co. He retired in 1979.
"The first words out of his mouth were, 'I've got a joke for you.' He wove that in whether he was at the bakery or selling insurance," Timothy Meagher said.
Mr. Meagher led a drive to create the state's chapter of American Ex-Prisoners of War, and as its commander he lobbied in Annapolis for creation of POW license plates for motor vehicles. When they were issued in 1980, he was given plate POW 001.
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. tomorrow at St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church in Salisbury.
In addition to his two sons, survivors include his wife of 59 years, the former Elda Canova; another son, Brian K. Meagher of Ocean City; a brother, Francis Meagher Sr. of Baltimore; four grandsons; two step-granddaughters; and five great-grandchildren.