Acts of Valor: 5 Unsung Heroes of World War II

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Everyone loves a hero; a person who achieves feats of such exceptional greatness and courage that we can look up to them as source of inspiration. In times of war, many heroes emerge. And the bigger the war, of course, the more acts of heroism are bound to occur. Thus, the fairly earned name of “The Greatest Generation” of Americans, those who served in (or got by on the home front) WWII: it was a pretty goddamn big war.
Many of the heroes of WWII are well-known: you have your Audie Murphys, your JFKs, the marines atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima. However, in a war that involved tens of millions of fighting men (and some women, sure), there were bound to be hundreds of acts of gallantry performed by amazing individuals that flew under the proverbial radar. Well, no more! Today, we shed some long overdue light on a few unsung heroes of World War II. Grab your whiskey bottles and a shot glass – you’ll want to raise many a toast to these guys.

5 1st Lt. Vernon J. Baker

1st Lt. Vernon J. Baker had to wait until he was 76 to get his Medal of Honor, because while every bit a goddamn hero, he was born black, and it took people a while to realize that was a poor reason not to recognize valor. During one battle in the last days of the European campaign, in April of ’45, Vernon singlehandedly took out seven enemy soldiers, destroyed an artillery observation post, and put his life on the line to protect his men in the face of withering fire and grenade attacks. He has since passed, but at least the man got his medal while he still had breath.

4 Rufino Alves Correia

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Rufino Alves Correia was a guerilla soldier during WWII who fought to protect Australian commandos on East Timor from the onslaught of the Japanese army. Sadly, his heroic and selfless acts of valor were not officially recognized during his lifetime, even though he lived 90 years. Those Aussies and Timorese who served with him never forgot his bravery, which included soldering on even after being shot in battle.

3 Ira Hayes

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Ira Hayes was from the Pima Native American tribe, and falls into the all too large ranks of natives who served with distinction without being given any distinction. But Hayes was not only a hero, but also humble, never wanting recognition. Sorry, buddy, but you helped raise the flag on Iwo Jima, you get your fifteen minutes. Hayes later in life said “How can I feel like a hero when only 5 men in my platoon of 45 survive?” Enough said.

2 Scotsman Bert Conville

Scotsman Bert Conville was not taken with the idea of being a German prisoner of war, so instead he escaped his captors and confounded all attempts to catch him. And this was over some two years, even though he was alternately hiding in the woods, hiding in plain sight in a Dutch village, crossing the mountains on foot into Spain, and so on. In 1940, after leaping from a train where on which he and his fellow soldiers were being taken to a POW camp deep in German territory, Pvt. Conville lived for nearly two months in a forest. With the help of local resistance fighters, he then managed to convince the Gestapo he was a Belgian deaf mute, and worked for months in a factory they were running. Finally, he travelled hundreds of miles on trains and on foot, eventually making his way to Gibraltar and then a ship home back to the UK.

1 Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader

Image credit: Rafmuseum.org.uk

Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader makes the swords of most other men who have been knighted look a bit droopy. Bader was a British pilot who was an ace many times over, credited with at least 20 aerial victories in his time as a WWII fighter pilot. And this is despite the fact that he had lost both legs in a plane crash. A crash that took place a decade before the war began! Bader so wanted to kick ass, he bribed, bitched, and shouted his way back into the service and was ultimately accepted as a pilot. He then went on to prove that you don’t need legs to kill the hell out of Luftwaffe pilots. After being shot down and taken prisoner, Bader attempted so many escape attempts – some of them briefly successful – that his German captors even threatened to take his prosthetic legs away from him.

There, now off you go to the rest of your day. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be both shamelessly proud of these men (and others of their ilk) and utterly ashamed of whatever minutiae bogs you down on the way to work, the grocery store, or uh… the florist.

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