It doesn’t matter where someone comes from, in war, they all are forced to make split-second decisions in extraordinary ways. More often than not, a brave side is shown in war that would never have been brought out otherwise. The highest honor a soldier can receive is the Congressional Medal of Honor. The medal is awarded for “gallantry and bravery in combat at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.”
The first Medal of Honor was awarded in 153 years ago in the Civil War conflict. Ever since 3,498 more Medals of Honor have been given out to men and women who risked their lives for their company and in some cases, sacrificed them.
Dr. Mary Walker was the first and only woman to have been awarded the Medal of Honor. She was a field surgeon trying to help people during the Civil War. She helped many soldiers and went on her own into the battlefield risking her life, to give aid to those who were wounded.
She kept helping both sides during the war and was eventually locked up for being “a Confederate spy” and was held as a POW for four months. Once the war ended President Andrew Johnson gave her the Medal of Honor for her amazing selflessness.
In France, 1918, After his team was cut down by German heavy machine-gun fire, Jake Allex couldn’t stand around, instinctually he sprang into action and charged the german infantry all on his own.
When he ran out of ammunition he used he bayonet and when that broke he used the stock of his gun. Singlehandedly, he subdued 15 soldiers for capture.
The area between trenches in WW1 is called no man’s land. It takes a lot of soldiers charging a trench to capture it and they’re exposed the whole time. It was in no man’s land that William Turner and his team were cut off from the rest of the soldiers.
After being suppressed by German machine-gun fire, Turner took on the nest with only his pistol. He eliminated the German soldiers and then rushed another group of soldiers twenty-five yards away. Turner was killed in action after successfully charging and taking three enemy trenches. He received posthumously the Medal of Honor.
Alan Eggers, Thomas O’Shea, and John Latham were stuck in no man’s land in 1918. They were far into enemy territory when they heard nearby calls for help from an inoperable tank.
O’Shea was mortally wounded making his way to the tank while Eggers and Latham successfully made it. They dragged the tank crew to the safety of a trench and waited for night so they could escape in the dark.
William Lawley and his crew were severely wounded while on a bombing run in 1944. With the co-pilot mortally wounded, and Lawley having a head wound, he had to try and abort back to airbase.
To make things even worse, one engine was one fire. Refusing first aid, Lawley managed to fly the bomber back to England with only his right arm and a serious concussion.
James R. Hendrix was under heavy gunfire from German 88mm guns. Exposing himself to their fire, he shot back with his rifle while advancing. His fire suppressed the Germans’s long enough for him to advance on them and make them surrender.
On the same day, Hendrix left his half-track again to help wounded soldiers. He fought off german soldiers and protected the wounded men. Then a third time that day, he left the safety of his half-track to save a soldier that was trapped in a burning vehicle. He managed to carry the man to his half-track where he put out the fire on the man’s clothing before the burning vehicle exploded.
Robert Laws fought in the Pacific Theater and faced Japanese soldiers. The only way the could advance on the enemy was to cross a tight ridge that was exposed to enemy fire.
Laws was the first man to make it across the ridge and started throwing grenades into the enemy positions. After moving forward alone he was rushed by three Japanese soldiers, he took two of them out with rifle fire and tumbled down the ridge with the other. After taking care of the third with only his hands, he joined the rest of the company to take the enemy position.
March 1945, Japanese forces sneak up on Charles Berry’s unit in the dead of night. The American soldiers are forced into a foxhole while they fight back. Then the two forces engage in a deadly game of catch with grenades.
Throwing grenades back out of the foxhole, eventually one landed where no one could get to it. Berry decided to sacrifice his own life by throwing his body on the grenade. He saved his unit and received the Medal of Honor posthumously.
April 5, 1945, Vernon Baker successfully takes over three enemy emplacements with his team. Then Baker exposed himself and draws enemy fire so that the wounded could be evacuated.
Vernon was the only African-American WW2 Veteran alive to be awarded the Medal of Honor. But it wasn’t until 1997 that Bill Clinton would recognize his efforts and award it to him.
The Korean War may not be as remembered as WWII or Vietnam, but make no mistake, it was a horrible conflict. More than half the number of people killed in action (36,574) as the Vietnam War, yet Korea lasted only three years, compared to Vietnam’s decade. On an impossibly cold January night in 1951, a well-placed machine gun nest began raking fire across the lines of Junior Edwards’s platoon. In an attempt to stave off the enemy’s volley, Edwards, alone, charged uphill toward the pillbox, tossing grenades as he advanced. It worked… temporarily.
When the Korean soldiers realized Edwards exhausted his grenade supply, they returned to the gun and unleashed hell on him. He was forced back down the hill, but he only stayed down long enough to replenish his grenade supply. Advancing again, Edwards successfully neutralized the machine gun and its crew. However, Korean reinforcements quickly set up another heavy gun and began targeting Edwards. Edwards went downhill again to grab more grenades, and charged uphill a third time, alone, to try and neutralize the new threat. He succeeded in silencing the second machine gun but was mortally wounded in doing so. Junior Edwards was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
A frigid January night in Korea, just like Junior Edwards’s, only this time it’s 1953. A mere six months before the end of the war. Bryant Womack was the only medic attached to his unit on a night foot patrol. After a run-in with a numerically superior force, Womack’s unit suffered severe casualties. He immediately began to render aid to the wounded and was seriously wounded himself early on.
Womack refused medical attention, opting to assist his fellow soldiers, knowing he was the only medic. While treating one of them, Womack was struck by a mortar. The majority of his right arm was blown away. As a medic, Womack knew full well the consequences of delaying the field dressing to his wounds,yet he continued to treat other wounded men and provided direction to others in first aid techniques without regard for his own life. He collapsed from blood loss shortly thereafter and died while being carried away from the fire fight by his comrades. Bryant Womack was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
As Platoon Sergeant, Matthew Leonard was the Platoon Commander’s right-hand man. When his foot patrol was ambushed by enemy small arms fire, hand grenades, and snipers, Leonard’s Platoon Commander was among the first wounded. Leonard assumed command without hesitation, rallied his men to repel the initial assault, and organized a valuable defensive perimeter in the short lull that followed. That’s when Leonard noticed one of his men wounded and trapped outside the perimeter. Disregarding his own safety, Leonard crawled to the wounded man and dragged him to safety. In the process, his left hand was shattered by a sniper’s bullet. Their opponents assaulted again, and instead of seeking medical attention for his wound, Leonard continually exposed himself to the enemy’s barrage by traveling to different positions within his perimeter to direct his men.
The enemy then set up a heavy machine gun in position to wipe out his entire line. When he realized this, Leonard stood tall and charged the enemy gun straight on, eliminating its gunners. In the process he was mortally wounded, several times. Once he took out the machine gun, Leonard propped himself in a firing position against a tree and continued his role in the ambush until he succumbed to his many wounds. Matthew Leonard was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
It’s a rare occasion that a US Army Chaplain would be in close proximity to hostile frontlines. The general job description of a Chaplain is to oversee and administer religious ministry to military personnel, and at times provide advice relating to religion, morals, and morale. Chaplains do not carry a weapon. In Vietnam, in 1967, Major Watters was moving with a company-sized force of the US Army 173rd Airborne Brigade when they encountered, and were vastly outnumbered by, a battalion-sized enemy force. They were quickly overwhelmed and needed to drop back to form a defensive position to regroup.
During the initial chaotic melee, Watters ran to the frontlines to aid wounded soldiers. Completely exposed and with no weapon, Watters helped get wounded soldiers to safety, at one point even carrying a soldier over his shoulders. When the Americans formed a defensive line, Watters realized there were several wounded men trapped between them and the Vietnamese they were attacking. Overcoming attempts to restrain him, Watters exposed himself to enemy and friendly fire three times to retrieve wounded men. Once he was satisfied all the men were in relative safety, Watters began assisting medics in treating the wounded, distributing water, and administering last rites. It was during this time when he was mortally wounded. Charles Watters was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
The nightmare of jungle warfare reached a pinnacle during the Vietnam War. A hostile, foreign environment that supplied both sides with infinite camouflaged attack positions led to heavy casualties on both sides. Modern body armor and Kevlar had yet to be invented, which inevitably led to horrific wounds from booby-trapped explosives. On the night of May 7, 1970, Kenneth Kays was serving as a medic with the prestigious 101st Airborne Division. Their defensive positions were ambushed and a number of Kays’s fellow soldiers were killed and wounded. Without hesitation, Kays made his way to the perimeter, moving toward the enemy fire, to help the wounded. That’s when an explosive charge severed part of his left leg.
Instead of treating himself or waiting to be helped by someone else, Kays fastened a tourniquet on his leg to slow the bleeding and continued toward the perimeter to assist the wounded. After finding, treating, and moving two men to relative safety, Kays again returned to the perimeter (still losing blood), this time continuing beyond enemy lines, to rescue another wounded American. It wasn’t until Kays was satisfied that the wounded men were treated and evacuated that he allowed a medic to focus on his own severed leg.
Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down was not an exaggerated dramatization of what really happened on the Horn of Africa in 1993. US Army Special Operators were on their heels after two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down in Mogadishu’s urban jungle. On that day, Randall Shughart and Gary Gordon were providing sniper overwatch from a chopper when the second crash occurred. They quickly realized the four crew members were stranded with no hope of a quick reaction force from ground units. It took Shughart and Gordon all of two minutes to volunteer to be inserted on foot to provide assistance to the trapped crew. It would’ve happened sooner, but they had to radio in three requests to command to be choppered in.
Armed only with sniper rifles and sidearm pistols, Shughart and Gordon were dropped in nearly 100 yards from the second crash and had to sprint through the maze of shanties, under fire from hundreds of Somalians. When they reached the crash site, they immediately dragged the crew to relative safety, then set up an exposed defensive perimeter, just the two of them, to hold off the attack. With their ammunition quickly diminishing, Shughart continued to provide cover fire while Gordon traversed from the wreckage back to the injured pilot to radio for help and provide him with a small amount of ammo for personal defense. He then rejoined Shughart, and the two men held off hundreds of attackers until their munitions were depleted and both were fatally wounded. The actions of Shughart and Gordon saved the life of the pilot Michael Durant. Randall Shughart and Gary Gordon were both awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
As a turret gunner in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, your upper body is exposed to the world. At your fingertips is usually either a M2 .50 caliber gun or the Mark 19 automatic grenade launcher. Both are capable of annihilating structures, vehicles, aircraft, and taking numerous lives. But in order to harness that firepower, you have to be out in the open. That’s especially frightening in an environment as hostile and unpredictable as Baghdad in 2006. Ross McGinnis was manning his Humvee’s M2 while his unit was conducting combat patrols to subdue the locals. On a narrow street, a freedom fighter threw a well-aimed grenade right past McGinnis, through the gunner’s hatch, and into the Humvee. McGinnis instinctively yelled “grenade!” to give his crew even the slightest chance to prepare for the blast. Instead of easily leaping up through the hatch to avoid the explosion, McGinnis dropped inside the Humvee and pinned the grenade between his body and the vehicle.
In the armored shell of a military vehicle, the concussion wave alone would be powerful enough to most likely kill every man inside. However, by pinning the grenade, McGinnis’s body absorbed the majority of the blast, and by giving his life, he directly saved four men from certain serious injury and death. Ross McGinnis was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
Ryan Pitts was manning an isolated observation post near a US base in the mountainous Kunar Province of northeastern Afghanistan when a well-organized force of more than 200 rebel fighters unleashed hell. The initial volley of fire consisted of rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), heavy machine guns, and small arms fire. Pitts was injured by shrapnel and bleeding heavily almost immediately. Instead of tending to his wounds, Pitts returned fire with both his rifle and hand grenades. Realizing he was greatly outnumbered, he began pulling grenade pins and waiting to throw them to allow for near-immediate detonation. He continued this process until another two men arrived to assist him but didn’t stop there.
Pitts continued to fight off the attackers until his ammunition was depleted and then crawled closer to reach the observation post’s radio to provide updates to the main base nearby. He had to whisper into the radio to avoid detection and was close enough to the locals to hear their voices. His actions prevented the observation post, and the base, from being overrun.
COP Keating was positioned in a valley, surrounded by mountains on all four sides. Taliban fighters occupied the high ground in every direction. When the attack broke out, American soldiers were immediately pinned down and cut off from other positions around the base. Concentrated, heavy fire from the enemy quickly destroyed the majority of Keating’s structures and vehicles.
When a forward position ran low on ammo, Ty Carter voluntarily ran 100 yards through a completely exposed gauntlet of enemy fire to resupply them, twice. After the second time, he remained in the isolated position to accurately return fire. After realizing a man was wounded and stranded nearby, Carter ran through the gauntlet again, provided life-extending first aid, and dragged the wounded man to safety. As the onslaught continued, Carter ran through the hail of enemy fire a fourth time to help a fallen soldier and recover the squad’s radio. Carter then assisted the wounded man through the 100 yards of hell, and got him to a relatively safe position. The radio he recovered allowed for better coordination for counterattack and evacuation efforts.
Lt. Daniel Inouye served in WWII and received the medal of honor “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty” in 1945. In an attempt to seize an enemy ridge in San Terenzo, Italy, he defended his platoon though he suffered major injuries as a result of heroic action. He brought his troops within 40 yards of hostile forces before taking it upon himself to eliminate the defending fire by crawling up a “treacherous slope” and “destroying the emplacement” within five yards of their position.
Second Lt. Inouye neutralized enemy fire and pushed forward though he had been wounded by a sniper and later lost his right arm to a grenade. Despite his injuries, he managed to lead his troops though “formidable resistance” and capture the ridge. Inouye returned to the states where he was eventually elected into the House of Representatives as a Senator in Hawaii. He became the first Japanese-American Member of Congress in 1959.
Sergeant Roy Benavidez was awarded the Medal of Honor for voluntarily boarding an aircraft which took him into an active enemy war zone in a dense jungle area west of Loc Ninh, Vietnam, in 1968. Benavidez intended to help extract wounded troops who had come under relentless fire. He moved soldiers from the field into rescue aircrafts, ignoring his own injuries in order to protect those who were unable to save themselves.
Benavidez ended up saving at least eight lives, only relenting to medical attention once he was satisfied he’d rescued as many soldiers as possible.