30 Heroic and Badass U.S. Armed Forces Veterans Every Bro Needs to Know About
Allow us to wave the flag for a moment: America is an amazing place. The list of intangibles that we love about our country is literally endless: gun ownership, blue jeans, blowing up fireworks in a backyard, women giving lap dances in public, the ability to pound cold beers in the bleachers of sporting events while hurling below-the-belt insults at the visiting team, uncensored access to unlimited online adult entertainment, the license to call nit-picky things “bro” or “not bro,” etc. Yet all this kick-ass freedom that you, me, and all the other 300 million+ of us living in the United States enjoy day in and day out didn’t come without individual valor and sacrifice.
In honor of Veterans’ Day, we’d like to say a big “thank you” to all veterans and active-duty serviceman keeping America safe. We’re also taking off our virtual hats to salute the fallen heroes whose lives were abruptly cut short defending the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. Anyone courageous enough to step into uniform and deploy to fight a war for Uncle Sam is a huge Bro (or Brah) in our book. So we’ve compiled a special list of 30 U.S. Armed Forces veterans noted for their combat heroics on the battlefield. Yes, this list of gallant soldiers could easily include millions of names — this is but a sampling. Feel free to suggest the names of other brave badasses in the comments.
Here are 30 warriors who fought for their country and whose real-life war stories about kicking ass and taking names in the heat of battle are at once jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring.
Note: The quoted descriptions of each soldier’s heroic acts are excerpted from their official citations for military decoration.
Private First Class Dirk Vlug
Conflict: World War II
While stationed in the Philippines with the Army’s 126th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Infantry Division, Dirk Vlug was ordered to set up a roadblock on the Ormoc Road. On the morning of December 14, 1944, a group of heavily armed Japanese tanks barreled into the barricade and began ambushing a group of surprised American soldiers with heavy machine-gun fire. Reacting on balls and instinct, Vlug pulled an ultimate boss move: He armed himself with a bazooka and six rounds of ammunition before charging at the tanks, rushing headfirst into an insane five-tanks-against-one-solider scuffle. Here’s Vlug’s Medal of Honor citation, which reveals his heroism under fire:
“Loading single-handedly, he destroyed the first tank, killing its occupants with a single round. As the crew of the second tank started to dismount and attack him, he killed 1 of the foe with his pistol, forcing the survivors to return to their vehicle, which he then destroyed with a second round. Three more hostile tanks moved up the road, so he flanked the first and eliminated it, and then, despite a hail of enemy fire, pressed forward again to destroy another. With his last round of ammunition he struck the remaining vehicle, causing it to crash down a steep embankment. Through his sustained heroism in the face of superior forces, Pfc. Vlug alone destroyed 5 enemy tanks and greatly facilitated successful accomplishment of his battalion’s mission.”
Lt. Brian Chontosh
Conflict: Operation Iraqi Freedom
This story is mind-blowing. During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a group of enemy combatants opened fire on Brian Chontosh and his platoon of Marines on a highway to Baghdad. Unfortunately for the enemy, Chontosh took his coffee with a shot of kick-ass on that particular morning. When coalition tanks blocked forward progress and left his platoon vulnerable to enemy fire on all sides, Chontosh battled through the bind, scooping up enemy weapons to continue fighting. He silenced more than 20 enemy soldiers. Hoorah.
“Without hesitation, First Lieutenant Chontosh ordered the driver to advance directly at the enemy position enabling his .50 caliber machine gunner to silence the enemy. He then directed his driver into the enemy trench, where he exited his vehicle and began to clear the trench with an M16A2 service rifle and 9 millimeter pistol. His ammunition depleted, First Lieutenant Chontosh, with complete disregard for his safety, twice picked up discarded enemy rifles and continued his ferocious attack. When a Marine following him found an enemy rocket propelled grenade launcher, First Lieutenant Chontosh used it to destroy yet another group of enemy soldiers. When his audacious attack ended, he had cleared over 200 meters of the enemy trench, killing more than 20 enemy soldiers and wounding several others. By his outstanding display of decisive leadership, unlimited courage in the face of heavy enemy fire, and utmost devotion to duty, First Lieutenant Chontosh reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”
Chontosh was awarded the Navy Cross for maneuvering his platoon safely through the kill zone.
David B. Bleak
Conflict: Korean War
This decorated Korean War vet in the Army’s 40th Division earned a Medal of Honor for bashing heads, taking bullets, saving wounded soldiers, and killing enemy soldiers with his bare hands in the heat of battle. His Medal of Honor citation says it all:
Sgt. Bleak, a member of the medical company, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and indomitable courage above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy. As a medical aidman, he volunteered to accompany a reconnaissance patrol committed to engage the enemy and capture a prisoner for interrogation. Forging up the rugged slope of the key terrain, the group was subjected to intense automatic weapons and small arms fire and suffered several casualties. After administering to the wounded, he continued to advance with the patrol. Nearing the military crest of the hill, while attempting to cross the fire-swept area to attend the wounded, he came under hostile fire from a small group of the enemy concealed in a trench. Entering the trench he closed with the enemy, killed 2 with bare hands and a third with his trench knife. Moving from the emplacement, he saw a concussion grenade fall in front of a companion and, quickly shifting his position, shielded the man from the impact of the blast. Later, while ministering to the wounded, he was struck by a hostile bullet but, despite the wound, he undertook to evacuate a wounded comrade. As he moved down the hill with his heavy burden, he was attacked by 2 enemy soldiers with fixed bayonets. Closing with the aggressors, he grabbed them and smacked their heads together, then carried his helpless comrade down the hill to safety. Sgt. Bleak’s dauntless courage and intrepid actions reflect utmost credit upon himself and are in keeping with the honored traditions of the military service.
Leigh Ann Hester
Conflict: Operation Iraqi Freedom
“When we first started taking fire, I just looked to the right and saw seven or eight guys shooting back at us — muzzle flashes… At first, I shot one guy. I saw him fall.” —Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester to ABC News
Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, a National Guard member of the 617th Military Police Company, played a critical role in wielding off a 50-insurgent attack 12 miles southeast of Baghdad on March 20, 2005. Thanks to her valorous marksmanship and leadership in battle, Hester earned an honorable position in military history books as the first Army woman awarded the Silver Star for valor since World War II. According to the Washington Post, the then-23-year-old retail store manager from Kentucky killed at least three attacking combatants in the fire fight.
Henry Lincoln Johnson
Conflict: World War I
This redcap porter from Albany was wounded 21 times in France while defending a trench against a German ambush with a bolo knife. Unfortunately, Henry Johnson died broke and alienated from his family in 1929 from battle lacerations without official recognition from Uncle Sam (he received the Croix de Guerre from the French government in 1918). In 1996, President Clinton awarded Sgt. Johnson a posthumous Purple Heart for his service. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 2003.
Private Johnson distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force. While on a double sentry night duty, Private Johnson and a fellow soldier were attacked by a raiding party of Germans numbering almost twenty, wounding both. When the Germans were within fighting distance, he opened fire, shooting one of them and seriously wounding two more. The Germans continued to advance, and as they were about to be captured Private Johnson drew his bolo knife from his belt and attacked the Germans in a hand-to-hand encounter. Even though having sustained three grenade and shotgun wounds from the star, Private Johnson went to the rescue of his fellow soldier who was being taken prisoner by the enemy. He kept on fighting until the Germans were chased away. Private Johnson’s personal courage and total disregard for his own life reflect great credit upon himself, the 369th United States Infantry Regiment, the United States Army, and the United States of America.”
Conflict: Second Nicaraguan Campaign, World War II, and the Korean War
I pity the fool who crossed paths with General Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller. You don’t earn five Navy Crosses and become the most decorated United States Marine in history by p*ssyflaking around all day behind a desk pushing pencils. Known for having a chest the size of an eight wheeler, General Puller once claimed “Our Country won’t go on forever, if we stay soft as we are now. There won’t be any AMERICA because some foreign soldiery will invade us and take our women and breed a hardier race!” That’s some bad-ass shit, but talk is cheap. Just how hard and battle savvy was this distinguished Virginia Military Institute alumnus? Puller often lead his divisions of Marines from the front-lines and had a knack for winning clashes when completely surrounded. In Nicaragua he earned his first Navy Cross by pummeling armed bandits “of superior numbers” five times. Also in jungle country, “with no lines of communication and a hundred miles from any supporting force,” he lead his force through a victorious insurgent ambush by holding a hill. In World War II, he defended critical lines in the dense jungle of Solomon Islands against Japanese penetration. In fact, during the same World War II battle in the Pacific in which he won his third Navy Cross, according to folklore, a grenade landed within a few yards of the general, causing others Marines to panic and duck in cover. Puller, however, kept his cool and allegedly said, “Oh, that. It’s a dud.”
Conflict: World War I
This decorated Army captain was a World War I legend with cojones the size of grapefruit. York became rock-star famous for his assault on a 32-gun German machine gun nest that was so batshit crazy that it actually worked.
After his platoon had suffered heavy casualties and 3 other noncommissioned officers had become casualties, Cpl. York assumed command. Fearlessly leading 7 men, he charged with great daring a machinegun nest which was pouring deadly and incessant fire upon his platoon. In this heroic feat the machinegun nest was taken, together with 4 officers and 128 men and several guns.
Sgt. Seth E. Howard
Conflict: The War in Afghanistan
I once swore an allegiance to Waffles that I would never speak ill of John Rambo. Allow me to backtrack on my word for a second: Rambo is a complete p*ssy compared to Staff Sergeant Seth E. Howard of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces. During a daring mission in a remote village in Afghanistan’s Shok Valley, this Green Baret kept insurgent fighters at bay thanks to his advanced sniper skills. Here’s a recount of Howard’s heroism from the Army Times:
On 6 April 2008, Sergeant Howard heroically fought for over an hour up a mountain while under intense Insurgent fire to rescue wounded members of his ODA pinned down by Insurgent fire.
Sergeant Howard was fixed in a wadi by heavy sniper, Rocket Propelled Grenade, small arms and machine gun fire on initial contact.
Without hesitation, Sergeant Howard directed his Afghan Commandos to fire on Insurgent positions while he engaged numerous positions with his sniper rifle and an 84 millimeter recoilless rifle.
His accurate suppressive fire killed numerous Insurgent fighters and drew fire on his position, allowing the command and control (C2) element to move to covered positions.
Sergeant Howard left his covered position and heroically fought across a 60 foot cliff under intense fire from multiple locations after hearing that the C2 element received two critically wounding ODA members and were in danger of being overrun.
Howard and nine of his teammates received a Silver Star for the battle.
Bruce P. Crandall
In 2007, Bruce Candall received the Medal of Honor for laughing in the face of danger and providing critical air support during Vietnam’s Battle of Ia Drang.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: Major Bruce P. Crandall distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism as a Flight Commander in the Republic of Vietnam, while serving with Company A, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). On 14 November 1965, his flight of sixteen helicopters was lifting troops for a search and destroy mission from Plei Me, Vietnam, to Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley. On the fourth troop lift, the airlift began to take enemy fire, and by the time the aircraft had refueled and returned for the next troop lift, the enemy had Landing Zone X-Ray targeted. As Major Crandall and the first eight helicopters landed to discharge troops on his fifth troop lift, his unarmed helicopter came under such intense enemy fire that the ground commander ordered the second flight of eight aircraft to abort their mission. As Major Crandall flew back to Plei Me, his base of operations, he determined that the ground commander of the besieged infantry battalion desperately needed more ammunition. Major Crandall then decided to adjust his base of operations to Artillery Firebase Falcon in order to shorten the flight distance to deliver ammunition and evacuate wounded soldiers. While medical evacuation was not his mission, he immediately sought volunteers and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, led the two aircraft to Landing Zone X-Ray. Despite the fact that the landing zone was still under relentless enemy fire, Major Crandall landed and proceeded to supervise the loading of seriously wounded soldiers aboard his aircraft. Major Crandall’s voluntary decision to land under the most extreme fire instilled in the other pilots the will and spirit to continue to land their own aircraft, and in the ground forces the realization that they would be resupplied and that friendly wounded would be promptly evacuated. This greatly enhanced morale and the will to fight at a critical time. After his first medical evacuation, Major Crandall continued to fly into and out of the landing zone throughout the day and into the evening. That day he completed a total of 22 flights, most under intense enemy fire, retiring from the battlefield only after all possible service had been rendered to the Infantry battalion. His actions provided critical resupply of ammunition and evacuation of the wounded. Major Crandall’s daring acts of bravery and courage in the face of an overwhelming and determined enemy are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
Conflict: The War in Afghanistan
Marcus Luttrell was the sole survivor a four-man Navy SEAL team ordered to carry out Operation Red Wing, a failed mission to kill or capture Ahmad Shah, a Taliban leader based in northeastern Afghanistan. After the team’s position was ratted out by goat headers, 80 to 150 Taliban insurgents began an all-out assault on the SEALs. The mission further spiraled out of control when an enemy RPG struck the CH-47 Chinook rescue helicopter during the battle, killing all 16 American soldiers on board. Despite injuries sustained when an RPG blasted him off the side of a cliff, Luttrell managed to walk seven miles and kill seven more Taliban soldiers before finding shelter with a nearby tribesman. The SEAL team leader, Michael P. Murphy — Special Ops hero — was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor after getting getting mortally shot while radioing help and continuing to spray Taliban forces with bullets. Luttrell was awarded the Navy Cross for his valor.
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell, United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism in actions against the enemy while serving in a four-man Special Reconnaissance element with SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team ONE, Naval Special Warfare Task unit, Afghanistan from 27 to 28 June 2005, in the vicinity of Asadabad, Konar Province, Afghanistan. Operating in the middle of an enemy-controlled area, in extremely rugged terrain, his Special Reconnaissance element was tasked with locating a high-level Anti-Coalition Militia leader, in support of a follow-on direct action mission to disrupt enemy activity. On 28 June 2005, the element was spotted by Anti-Coalition Militia sympathizers, who immediately revealed their position to the militia fighters. As a result, the element directly encountered the enemy. Demonstrating exceptional resolve and fully understanding the gravity of the situation and his responsibility to his teammates, the unidentified SEAL fought valiantly against the numerically superior and positionally advantaged enemy force.
Col. Mitchell Paige
Conflict: World War II and Korean War
The life-long Leatherneck — who’s often cited as the inspiration for G.I. Joe — served 28 years in the Corps. However, he’s best remembered for his heroism in the Solomon Islands during World War II, where he kicked ass with a machine gun and threw down the gloves to lead a bayonet charge against the Japanese. Paige was awarded the Medal of Honor for his fearlessness in combat.
For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the Second Battalion, Seventh Marines, First Marine Division, in combat against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands Area on October 26, 1942. When the enemy broke through the line directly in front of his position, Platoon Sergeant Paige, commanding a machine-gun section with fearless determination, continued to direct the fire of his gunners until all his men were either killed or wounded. Alone, against the deadly hail of Japanese shells, he manned his gun, and when it was destroyed, took over another, moving from gun to gun, never ceasing his withering fire against the advancing hordes until reinforcements finally arrived. Then, forming a new line, he dauntlessly and aggressively led a bayonet charge, driving the enemy back and preventing a break through in our lines. His great personal valor and unyielding devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Col. Lewis Millett
Conflict: World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War
Lewis Millett is best known for leading the last bayonet charge in American military combat. Judging by the mustache, are you really that surprised? His Medal of Honor citation tells the tale of the Battle of Bayonet Hill during the Korean War.
Capt. Millett, Company E, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action. While personally leading his company in an attack against a strongly held position he noted that the 1st Platoon was pinned down by small-arms, automatic, and antitank fire. Capt. Millett ordered the 3d Platoon forward, placed himself at the head of the 2 platoons, and, with fixed bayonet, led the assault up the fire-swept hill. In the fierce charge Capt. Millett bayoneted 2 enemy soldiers and boldly continued on, throwing grenades, clubbing and bayoneting the enemy, while urging his men forward by shouting encouragement. Despite vicious opposing fire, the whirlwind hand-to-hand assault carried to the crest of the hill. His dauntless leadership and personal courage so inspired his men that they stormed into the hostile position and used their bayonets with such lethal effect that the enemy fled in wild disorder. During this fierce onslaught Capt. Millett was wounded by grenade fragments but refused evacuation until the objective was taken and firmly secured. The superb leadership, conspicuous courage, and consummate devotion to duty demonstrated by Capt. Millett were directly responsible for the successful accomplishment of a hazardous mission and reflect the highest credit on himself and the heroic traditions of the military service.
Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone
Conflict: World War II
If you’ve watched “The Pacfic” on HBO, you’re probably familiar with John Basilone’s heroics with a machine gun in the Solomon Islands. The Marine Gunnery Sergent was awarded the Medal of Honor for halting a Japanese assault during the Battle of Guadalcanal.
For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action against enemy Japanese forces, above and beyond the call of duty, while serving with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division in the Lunga Area. Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, on 24 and 25 October 1942. While the enemy was hammering at the Marines’ defensive positions, Sgt. Basilone, in charge of 2 sections of heavy machine guns, fought valiantly to check the savage and determined assault. In a fierce frontal attack with the Japanese blasting his guns with grenades and mortar fire, one of Sgt. Basilone’s sections, with its guncrews, was put out of action, leaving only 2 men able to carry on. Moving an extra gun into position, he placed it in action, then, under continual fire, repaired another and personally manned it, gallantly holding his line until replacements arrived. A little later, with ammunition critically low and the supply lines cut off, Sgt. Basilone, at great risk of his life and in the face of continued enemy attack, battled his way through hostile lines with urgently needed shells for his gunners, thereby contributing in large measure to the virtual annihilation of a Japanese regiment. His great personal valor and courageous initiative were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
Sergent Basilone lost his life in battle at Iwo Jima, for which he was awarded a Navy Cross.
LT. Col. Matt “The Ghost” Urban
Conflict: World War II
You know what’s badass? Destroying attacking enemy tanks with a bazooka. You know what’s even more badass? Voluntarily leaving the hospital after being wounded, hitchhiking across France to meet up with his company. You know what makes Urban one of the most badass war heroes in United States history? That he continued to lead a charge after sustaining a seemingly mortal bullet to the neck. In fact, he survived. President Jimmy Carter called Urban one of the “greatest soldiers in American history” when presenting him with the Medal of Honor. Here’s the citation:
On 14 June, Captain Urban’s company, attacking at Renouf, France, encountered heavy enemy small arms and tank fire. The enemy tanks were unmercifully raking his unit’s positions and inflicting heavy casualties. Captain Urban, realizing that his company was in imminent danger of being decimated, armed himself with a bazooka. He worked his way with an ammo carrier through hedgerows, under a continuing barrage of fire, to a point near the tanks. He brazenly exposed himself to the enemy fire and, firing the bazooka, destroyed both tanks. Responding to Captain Urban’s action, his company moved forward and routed the enemy.Later that same day, still in the attack near Orglandes, Captain Urban was wounded in the leg by direct fire from a 37mm tank-gun. He refused evacuation and continued to lead his company until they moved into defensive positions for the night. At 0500 hours the next day, still in the attack near Orglandes, Captain Urban, though badly wounded, directed his company in another attack. One hour later he was again wounded. Suffering from two wounds, one serious, he was evacuated to England. In mid-July, while recovering from his wounds, he learned of his unit’s severe losses in the hedgerows of Normandy. Realizing his unit’s need for battle-tested leaders, he voluntarily left the hospital and hitchhiked his way back to his unit hear St. Lo, France. Arriving at the 2d Battalion Command Post at 1130 hours, 25 July, he found that his unit had jumped-off at 1100 hours in the first attack of Operation Cobra.” Still limping from his leg wound, Captain Urban made his way forward to retake command of his company. He found his company held up by strong enemy opposition. Two supporting tanks had been destroyed and another, intact but with no tank commander or gunner, was not moving. He located a lieutenant in charge of the support tanks and directed a plan of attack to eliminate the enemy strong-point. The lieutenant and a sergeant were immediately killed by the heavy enemy fire when they tried to mount the tank. Captain Urban, though physically hampered by his leg wound and knowing quick action had to be taken, dashed through the scathing fire and mounted the tank. With enemy bullets ricocheting from the tank, Captain Urban ordered the tank forward and, completely exposed to the enemy fire, manned the machine gun and placed devastating fire on the enemy. His action, in the face of enemy fire, galvanized the battalion into action and they attacked and destroyed the enemy position. On 2 August, Captain Urban was wounded in the chest by shell fragments and, disregarding the recommendation of the Battalion Surgeon, again refused evacuation. On 6 August, Captain Urban became the commander of the 2d Battalion. On 15 August, he was again wounded but remained with his unit. On 3 September, the 2d Battalion was given the mission of establishing a crossing-point on the Meuse River near Heer, Belgium. The enemy planned to stop the advance of the allied Army by concentrating heavy forces at the Meuse. The 2d Battalion, attacking toward the crossing-point, encountered fierce enemy artillery, small arms and mortar fire which stopped the attack. Captain Urban quickly moved from his command post to the lead position of the battalion. Reorganizing the attacking elements, he personally led a charge toward the enemy’s strong-point. As the charge moved across the open terrain, Captain Urban was seriously wounded in the neck. Although unable to talk above a whisper from the paralyzing neck wound, and in danger of losing his life, he refused to be evacuated until the enemy was routed and his battalion had secured the crossing-point on the Meuse River. Captain Urban’s personal leadership, limitless bravery, and repeated extraordinary exposure to enemy fire served as an inspiration to his entire battalion. His valorous and intrepid actions reflect the utmost credit on him and uphold the noble traditions of the United States.
Pretty obvious how he earned the nickname “The Ghost.” Not only would the guy not go down, this decorated warrior kept popping up at the most clutch moments imaginable.
Master-at-Arms Second Class Michael Monsoor
Conflict: Operation Iraqi Freedom
U.S. Navy Seal Michael Monsoor was dispatched to Iraq in April 2006, where he was in charge of training Iraqi Army soldiers to police Ramadi. On September 29, 2006, after an insurgent chucked a grenade onto a rooftop where Monsoor and his Delta Platoon were set up, Monsoor jumped without hesitation on the grenade. The wounds Monsoor suffered would take his life, but the lives he saved were numerous. Monsoor posthumously received the Medal of Honor, and it was announced in October 2008 that the second ship in the Zuwalt class of destroyers would be named the “Michael Monsoor.”
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as Automatic Weapons Gunner for Naval Special Warfare Task Group Arabian Peninsula, in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM on 29 September 2006. As a member of a combined SEAL and Iraqi Army sniper overwatch element, tasked with providing early warning and stand-off protection from a rooftop in an insurgent-held sector of Ar Ramadi, Iraq, Petty Officer Monsoor distinguished himself by his exceptional bravery in the face of grave danger. In the early morning, insurgents prepared to execute a coordinated attack by reconnoitering the area around the element’s position. Element snipers thwarted the enemy’s initial attempt by eliminating two insurgents. The enemy continued to assault the element, engaging them with a rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire. As enemy activity increased, Petty Officer Monsoor took position with his machine gun between two teammates on an outcropping of the roof. While the SEALs vigilantly watched for enemy activity, an insurgent threw a hand grenade from an unseen location, which bounced off Petty Officer Monsoor’s chest and landed in front of him. Although only he could have escaped the blast, Petty Officer Monsoor chose instead to protect his teammates. Instantly and without regard for his own safety, he threw himself onto the grenade to absorb the force of the explosion with his body, saving the lives of his two teammates. By his undaunted courage, fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of certain death, Petty Officer Monsoor gallantly gave his life for his country, thereby reflecting great credit upon himself and upholding the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
Sergeant Randall ‘Randy’ David Shughar and Master Sergeant Gary Gordon
Conflict: Operation Gothic Serpent (“Black Hawk Down”)
Army Ranger Sergeant Shughart and Gary Gordon never came home from their heroic mission to save the crew of two downed Black Hawk helicopters in Mogadishu, Somalia, during the summer of 1993. The Delta Force sniper teammates became the first Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam War.
Sergeant First Class Shughart, United States Army, distinguished himself by actions above and beyond the call of duty on 3 October 1993, while serving as a Sniper Team Member, United States Army Special Operations Command with Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu, Somalia. Sergeant First Class Shughart provided precision sniper fires from the lead helicopter during an assault on a building and at two helicopter crash sites, while subjected to intense automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenade fires. While providing critical suppressive fires at the second crash site, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader learned that ground forces were not immediately available to secure the site. Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader unhesitatingly volunteered to be inserted to protect the four critically wounded personnel, despite being well aware of the growing number of enemy personnel closing in on the site. After their third request to be inserted, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader received permission to perform this volunteer mission. When debris and enemy ground fires at the site caused them to abort the first attempt, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader were inserted one hundred meters south of the crash site. Equipped with only his sniper rifle and a pistol, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader, while under intense small arms fire from the enemy, fought their way through a dense maze of shanties and shacks to reach the critically injured crew members. Sergeant First Class Shughart pulled the pilot and the other crew members from the aircraft, establishing a perimeter which placed him and his fellow sniper in the most vulnerable position. Sergeant First Class Shughart used his long range rifle and side arm to kill an undetermined number of attackers while traveling the perimeter, protecting the downed crew. Sergeant First Class Shughart continued his protective fire until he depleted his ammunition and was fatally wounded. His actions saved the pilot’s life. Sergeant First Class Shughart’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest standards of military service and reflect great credit upon him, his unit and the United States Army.
Corporal Tibor Rubin
Conflict: Korean War
Tibor Rubin spent 14 months of his childhood at the Nazi concentration camp in Mauthausen, Austria. When U.S. soldiers opened the camp, he promised himself that he would head to the land of green pastures in the U.S. and join the Army to show his gratitude, saying, “It was my wish to fight alongside them.” Rubin would go on to use his survival skills helping his fellow soldiers in a Communist POW camp in the 1950s. The White House said that without his help, the soldiers would have died under the care of those “everyone-gets-the-same-thing” Communists. Rubin received a Medal of Honor during the Korean War because he went back to save a solider on the battlefield on his own while still maintaining fire against the enemy.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: Corporal Tibor Rubin distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism during the period from July 23, 1950, to April 20, 1953, while serving as a rifleman with Company I, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division in the Republic of Korea. While his unit was retreating to the Pusan Perimeter, Corporal Rubin was assigned to stay behind to keep open the vital Taegu-Pusan Road link used by his withdrawing unit. During the ensuing battle, overwhelming numbers of North Korean troops assaulted a hill defended solely by Corporal Rubin. He inflicted a staggering number of casualties on the attacking force during his personal 24-hour battle, single-handedly slowing the enemy advance and allowing the 8th Cavalry Regiment to complete its withdrawal successfully. Following the breakout from the Pusan Perimeter, the 8th Cavalry Regiment proceeded northward and advanced into North Korea. During the advance, he helped capture several hundred North Korean soldiers. On October 30, 1950, Chinese forces attacked his unit at Unsan, North Korea, during a massive nighttime assault. That night and throughout the next day, he manned a .30 caliber machine gun at the south end of the unit’s line after three previous gunners became casualties. He continued to man his machine gun until his ammunition was exhausted. His determined stand slowed the pace of the enemy advance in his sector, permitting the remnants of his unit to retreat southward. As the battle raged, Corporal Rubin was severely wounded and captured by the Chinese. Choosing to remain in the prison camp despite offers from the Chinese to return him to his native Hungary, Corporal Rubin disregarded his own personal safety and immediately began sneaking out of the camp at night in search of food for his comrades. Breaking into enemy food storehouses and gardens, he risked certain torture or death if caught. Corporal Rubin provided not only food to the starving Soldiers, but also desperately needed medical care and moral support for the sick and wounded of the POW camp. His brave, selfless efforts were directly attributed to saving the lives of as many as forty of his fellow prisoners
Lieutenant Edouard Victor Izac
Conflict: World War I
This Navy Lieutenant’s Medal of Honor citation is one of the most badass POW escape stories you’ll ever read:
When the U.S.S. President Lincoln was attacked and sunk by the German submarine U-90, on May 21, 1918, Lt. Izac was captured and held as a prisoner on board the U-90 until the return of the submarine to Germany, when he was confined in the prison camp. During his stay on the U-90 he obtained information of the movements of German submarines which was so important that he was determined to escape, with a view to making this information available to the U.S. and Allied Naval authorities. In attempting to carry out this plan, he jumped through the window of a rapidly moving train at the imminent risk of death, not only from the nature of the act itself but from the fire of the armed German soldiers who were guarding him. Having been recaptured and reconfined, Lt. Izac made a second and successful attempt to escape, breaking his way through barbed-wire fences and deliberately drawing the fire of the armed guards in the hope of permitting others to escape during the confusion. He made his way through the mountains of southwestern Germany, having only raw vegetables for food, and at the end, swam the River Rhine during the night in the immediate vicinity of German sentries.
Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock
Conflict: Vietnam War
This Marine sharpshooter known for wearing a white feather in his hat became a Vietnam War legend when he shot an enemy sniper through the barrel of his scope, entering his skull directly through his eye. Despite his 93 confirmed kills, he was awarded a Silver Star for valor for saving the lives of others under his command.
Ironically, the only decoration for valor that he won was for saving, not taking, lives. On his second tour in Vietnam, on Sept. 16, 1969, he was riding atop an armored personnel carrier when it struck a 500-pound mine and erupted into flames. Hathcock was knocked briefly unconscious, sprayed with flaming gasoline and thrown clear. Waking, he climbed back aboard the burning vehicle to drag seven other Marines out. Then, “with complete disregard for his own safety and while suffering an excruciating pain from his burns, he bravely ran back through the flames and exploding ammunition to ensure that no Marines had been left behind,” according to the citation for the Silver Star he received in November 1996, after an extensive letter-writing campaign by fellow Marines had failed to win him the Medal of Honor for his exploits with a rifle. —The Washington Post
Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez
Conflict: Vietnam War
During a battle in South Vietnam on May 2, 1968, this Master Sergeant in the Military Assistance Command was wounded by bayonets, bullets, and shrapnel 37 times. In fact, at Benavidez’s Medal of Honor reception, President Ronald Reagan reportedly told members of the White House press corps, “If the story of his heroism were a movie script, you would not believe it.”
Master Sergeant (then Staff Sergeant) Roy P. Benavidez United States Army, who distinguished himself by a series of daring and extremely valorous actions on 2 May 1968 while assigned to Detachment B56, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, Republic of Vietnam. On the morning of 2 May 1968, a 12-man Special Forces Reconnaissance Team was inserted by helicopters in a dense jungle area west of Loc Ninh, Vietnam to gather intelligence information about confirmed large-scale enemy activity. This area was controlled and routinely patrolled by the North Vietnamese Army. After a short period of time on the ground, the team met heavy enemy resistance, and requested emergency extraction. Three helicopters attempted extraction, but were unable to land due to intense enemy small arms and anti-aircraft fire. Sergeant Benavidez was at the Forward Operating Base in Loc Ninh monitoring the operation by radio when these helicopters returned to off-load wounded crewmembers and to assess aircraft damage. Sergeant Benavidez voluntarily boarded a returning aircraft to assist in another extraction attempt. Realizing that all the team members were either dead or wounded and unable to move to the pickup zone, he directed the aircraft to a nearby clearing where he jumped from the hovering helicopter, and ran approximately 75 meters under withering small arms fire to the crippled team. Prior to reaching the team’s position he was wounded in his right leg, face, and head. Despite these painful injuries, he took charge, repositioning the team members and directing their fire to facilitate the landing of an extraction aircraft, and the loading of wounded and dead team members. He then threw smoke canisters to direct the aircraft to the team’s position. Despite his severe wounds and under intense enemy fire, he carried and dragged half of the wounded team members to the awaiting aircraft. He then provided protective fire by running alongside the aircraft as it moved to pick up the remaining team members. As the enemy’s fire intensified, he hurried to recover the body and classified doc*ments on the dead team leader. When he reached the leader’s body, Sergeant Benavidez was severely wounded by small arms fire in the abdomen and grenade fragments in his back. At nearly the same moment, the aircraft pilot was mortally wounded, and his helicopter crashed. Although in extremely critical condition due to his multiple wounds, Sergeant Benavidez secured the classified doc*ments and made his way back to the wreckage, where he aided the wounded out of the overturned aircraft, and gathered the stunned survivors into a defensive perimeter. Under increasing enemy automatic weapons and grenade fire, he moved around the perimeter distributing water and ammunition to his weary men, reinstilling in them a will to live and fight. Facing a buildup of enemy opposition with a beleaguered team, Sergeant Benavidez mustered his strength, began calling in tactical air strikes and directed the fire from supporting gunships to suppress the enemy’s fire and so permit another extraction attempt. He was wounded again in his thigh by small arms fire while administering first aid to a wounded team member just before another extraction helicopter was able to land. His indomitable spirit kept him going as he began to ferry his comrades to the craft. On his second trip with the wounded, he was clubbed with additional wounds to his head and arms before killing his adversary. He then continued under devastating fire to carry the wounded to the helicopter. Upon reaching the aircraft, he spotted and killed two enemy soldiers who were rushing the craft from an angle that prevented the aircraft door gunner from firing upon them. With little strength remaining, he made one last trip to the perimeter to ensure that all classified material had been collected or destroyed, and to bring in the remaining wounded. Only then, in extremely serious condition from numerous wounds and loss of blood, did he allow himself to be pulled into the extraction aircraft. Sergeant Benavidez’ gallant choice to join voluntarily his comrades who were in critical straits, to expose himself constantly to withering enemy fire, and his refusal to be stopped despite numerous severe wounds, saved the lives of at least eight men. His fearless personal leadership, tenacious devotion to duty, and extremely valorous actions in the face of overwhelming odds were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflect the utmost credit on him and the United States Army.