Sadly, World War 2 heroes are leaving us every day. With the vast majority of war veterans past the age of 90, it won't be long before only a few WW2 heroes and veterans are left to tell their stories of courage and triumph in the face of murderous odds. While some soldiers and important figures of the time are well known to the culture in general, most are unknown. Some didn't survive, and many others simply never spoke about what they did. This list of World War 2 heroes will show the courage, bravery, and selflessness of many men you may not have heard of, but who made important contributions to the war nonetheless.
World War II made heroes out of countless soldiers, scientists, officials, and even cooks and the World War 2 timeline is dotted with remarkable and heroic individuals. Whether fighting the Nazis on the European front or making a difference against the Japanese in the Pacific, these real life heroes helped the Allies win the war and helped make the world what it is today. Their sacrifices for their fellow fighters and even strangers they'd never feet were truly heroic.
This list features many World War 2 soldiers, pilots, and fighters who you should know something about. Some were officers and aces, others peasants and ordinary foot soldiers. They hailed from around the world, and some never even wore a uniform. But all of them took actions that saved lives, inflicted damage on the enemy, and collectively won World War II, the worst war in human history.Sources: 1, 2, 3
Lt. Colonel Matt Urban was the most decorated American officer of World War II, and that’s saying something. He fought in seven campaigns and was wounded seven times. He seemingly came back to life so often that the Germans gave him the nickname “the Ghost.” When he was given the Medal of Honor, his citation referred to ten separate acts of bravery during just the Normandy campaign.Just a sample of these includes taking on multiple enemy tanks with a bazooka (while walking on a cane because he’d broken his leg landing on Utah Beach), organizing multiple counterattacks after nearly having his leg blown off, then breaking himself out of the hospital, hitchhiking to the front, immediately throwing himself into battle, running into an abandoned tank and driving it toward the enemy line with no crew. He was wounded again and again, but refused to be evacuated. Finally, a bullet in the throat took him out of combat for good – but Urban recovered, survived the war, and lived until 1995.
One of many examples of the courage and cunning of the Nepalese Gurkha soldiers of the British Empire, Lachhiman Garung won the Victoria Cross for his insanely heroic action in May 1945. Garung single-handedly held off an advance by 200 Japanese soldiers after his frontline position was attacked and the men with him wounded and evacuated.
And “single-handedly” is not a euphemism in this case, as Garung literally was working with one arm. As his VC citation reads, a Japanese grenade “exploded in his right hand, blowing off his fingers, shattering his arm and severely wounding him in the face, body and right leg.” Shrugging off wounds that would kill almost anyone, Garung jammed his knife into the ground, declared that nobody would pass him, and held the line himself for four hours.
When the smoke cleared, the Japanese advance was beaten back, and 31 enemy soldiers were dead. The action cost him his right eye and right hand, but Garung survived and lived a simple life until his death in 2010.
Not every soldier experiences the horror and glory of fighting at the frontlines. Some guys have to be the cook. But Soviet soldier Ivan Pavlovich got to pull off both as a cook for the 91st Tank Regiment of the Red Army. Ivan was cooking dinner in August 1941, when he noticed a German tank within sight of his field kitchen. He was alone. Grabbing a rifle and an axe, Ivan waited for the crew to start to exit the tank, which had stalled.When they got out, Pavlovich charged, and the crew, seeing an axe-wielding Soviet running toward them, quickly got back into the tank and opened fire. Naturally, Pavlovich climbed onto the tank and chopped the machine gun barrel with his axe, then blinded the tank with a tarp and ordered his imaginary comrades to pass him an imaginary grenade. The tank’s crew surrendered and one imagines Pavlovich got back to his cooking.
Charles Joseph Coward
Captured in France in 1940, British soldier Charles Coward would have been notable just for the nearly dozen attempts he made to escape German captivity. But he’s world famous as the guy who broke into and out of a Nazi death camp. In 1943, the Germans decided they were done fooling around with Coward and sent him to Auschwitz, specifically the Monowitz slave labor camp there.Coward led his fellow Brits in smuggling food to Jewish inmates and passing coded notes to the Red Cross, who sent them back to England. At one point, he actually smuggled himself into the Auschwitz death camp for a night, then smuggled himself out and reported back to the British about what he’d seen. He bribed SS guards, saved at least 400 Jewish laborers from death and after the war, gave testimony at the Nuremberg Trials.