Ernest "Ernie" Magri, a motorcycle buff and World War II hero who helped liberate Germany's largest prisoner-of-war camp, died May 31 of age-related causes, his family said. He was 99.
The eldest of four brothers who served in the war, Mr. Magri landed with the 14th Armored Division of the 7th Army in France in October 1944. He kept the unit rolling as a tank mechanic and won a Bronze Star for bravery for fixing a broken radiator while under heavy fire from German 88mm guns.
He fought under Gen. George Patton as U.S. troops pushed into Germany in 1945 and rousted civilians in their homes in search of enemy soldiers and weapons.
"The Army told us that we could confiscate anything from Germans that we needed for the war effort," he wrote in an autobiography for his family. "It was my chance to pick up clean socks and underwear from their dressers, which beat doing laundry."
Mr. Magri and the 14th Armored Division liberated Stalag VII A in Moosberg in April 1945. The POW camp held more than 110,000 Allied soldiers, including two grateful American pilots who posed for pictures with him.
"I got a thank-you letter from each one of them after the war," he said.
Mr. Magri was a longtime figure in the Northern California motorcycle community. He founded the Chico Motorcycle Club in 1932 and traveled the racing circuit with his younger brother Armando, who later owned Harley-Davidson of Sacramento.
He collected scrapbooks with historic photos of club rides through undeveloped fields in the Bay Area during the 1930s and 1940s. He helped found the Mount Tamalpais Motorcycle Club after World War II.
He retired in 1983 after 20 years as a sales manager at his brother's dealership. He rode Indian and Harley-Davidson motorcycles for more than 75 years, until he was 92.
A son of Italian immigrants, Ernest Magri was born in Chico in 1912. He graduated from Chico High School.
He worked as a San Anselmo police officer, El Dorado County sheriff's deputy and San Quentin prison correctional officer before settling in Sacramento in 1963. He was married for 60 years to his wife, Rose, who died in 1998. They had no children.
A colorful storyteller with a sharp memory and a knack for details, he enjoyed reminiscing about his early years riding motorcycles in Chico and serving in World War II.
"All you had to do was ask him one question, and you'd get 20 minutes out of him," said his nephew Ken.
Mr. Magri described his experiences in Germany including touring the Dachau concentration camp and Adolf Hitler's mountaintop summer home, Eagle's Nest in news stories about veterans. He also recorded an interview for the StoryCorps project for the Library of Congress.
"His favorite thing to talk about was growing up in Chico," his nephew said. "It was during the Great Depression, but he never thought about how broke they were. He only remembered the good times. He said, 'If you could get a few cents for gas, you could get a girl on the back of your bike and ride through the peach orchards.' "