Hollywood has dreamed up some pretty big action stars throughout its history. However, sometimes reality is more amazing than film. These five individuals had military careers that would almost seem unbelievable if they were made into a film.
5. Lieutenant Colonel “Mad” Jack Churchill, British Army
World War II saw a plethora of weapon advancements. While most soldiers were concerned with engaging their enemies more effectively from a distance, one man stuck with time tested tools of war – the bow & arrow and sword. He regularly carried a basket-hilted Scottish broadsword in his hand while leading his men into battle. He is quoted as once saying, “Any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed.”
Lieutenant Colonel Jack “Mad Jack” Churchill of the British Army is regarded as one the greatest warriors of all time. During World War II he recorded what is thought to be the last confirmed bow and arrow kill in modern warfare, killing a Nazi NCO in France in 1940. The archery shot signaled the rest of his men to launch an attack on the Nazi patrol. Prior to his service in WW2, Churchill was the archery champion of Great Britain and represented his country in the world championships.
To signal the start of a raid on a German garrison in Norway in 1941, Churchill leapt out his position playing “March of the Cameron Men” on the bagpipes before tossing a grenade at the enemy position and getting into the fight.
Churchill’s bagpipe playing would come back to haunt him though. In 1944, Churchill was playing “Will Ye No Come Back Again?” for his men as German troops advanced on their position. A mortar shell struck nearby and killed or wounded everyone except Churchill. However, he was captured by German forces, interrogated in Berlin, then transferred to a concentration camp. Churchill managed to escape the camp by crawling under barbed wire and through a drainage pipe. He was then captured again.
As the war began to end, Churchill and his fellow prisoners feared they would be executed by the SS troops who were guarding them. However, a moral German commander forced the SS troops to back off and released the prisoners after reading the writing on the wall about the war’s end. Following his release, Churchill walked 93 miles to Verona before meeting up with a unit of American troops.
After the war, Churchill was assigned to Australia, where he took up surfing. He is credited with developing a new type of custom surf board, which he used for much of the rest of his life. He was one of the first people to surf the Thames river in England.
4. Sergeant Thomas Baker, United States Army
With rare exceptions, the American warfighter is known for his bravery under fire. However, some tales are so outsized as to be almost unbelievable – but they are true. This is the first article in our “American Heroes” series highlighting these stories.
The Battle of Saipan. It’s no secret that Saipan was a nasty place, culminating in a terrifying banzai charge by an estimated 5,000 Japanese soldiers.
Baker’s had already cemented his legend before the charge by charging across open terrain under enemy machine gun fire to fire a bazooka into an enemy pillbox, killing 12 men in the fortified position. He then took a rear security position as his squad advanced across open terrain. He surprised a group of 6 enemy soldiers concealed and waiting to ambush the next group of Americans to pass. He shot all 6 dead.
Several days later, Baker surprised another group of Japanese soldiers. This time there were 12 soldiers manning a concealed machine gun, lying in wait behind American lines. Baker personally shot all 12 of the Japanese, preventing a devastating ambush.
As if those heroics weren’t legendary, the then-Private was on the front lines during that fateful bonzai charge.
Dug into a foxhole, Baker was wounded in the abdomen as he shot down scores of the enemy until he was out of ammunition. The then began using his rifle as a club against more than 10 more attackers.
Seeing Baker wounded, a fellow soldier tried to carry him back for medical aid but was shot and killed in the process. Baker decided no more Americans would die trying to save them and simply asked to be left propped up against a tree, facing the enemy.
His last known words were, “Give me your .45”. A fellow soldier complied and Baker was last seen alive propped against a tree, Colt 1911 (fully loaded with 8 rounds) in hand, calmly facing the enemy.
When the Americans repelled the banzai attack and retook the position, Baker was still there. His gun was empty and there were 8 dead Japanese in front of him.
Baker was posthumously promoted to Sergeant and awarded the Medal of Honor for all of his actions on Saipan.
Baker’s Medal of Honor Citation reads as follows:
When his entire company was held up by fire from automatic weapons and small-arms fire from strongly fortified enemy positions that commanded the view of the company, Sgt. (then Pvt.) Baker voluntarily took a bazooka and dashed alone to within 100 yards of the enemy. Through heavy rifle and machinegun fire that was directed at him by the enemy, he knocked out the strong point, enabling his company to assault the ridge.
Some days later while his company advanced across the open field flanked with obstructions and places of concealment for the enemy, Sgt. Baker again voluntarily took up a position in the rear to protect the company against surprise attack and came upon two heavily fortified enemy pockets manned by two officers and 10 enlisted men which had been bypassed. Without regard for such superior numbers, he unhesitatingly attacked and killed all of them.
Five hundred yards farther, he discovered 6 men of the enemy who had concealed themselves behind our lines and destroyed all of them.
On 7 July 1944, the perimeter of which Sgt. Baker was a part was attacked from three sides by from 3,000 to 5,000 Japanese. During the early stages of this attack, Sgt. Baker was seriously wounded but he insisted on remaining in the line and fired at the enemy at ranges sometimes as close as 5 yards until his ammunition ran out. Without ammunition and with his own weapon battered to uselessness from hand-to-hand combat, he was carried about 50 yards to the rear by a comrade, who was then himself wounded.
At this point Sgt. Baker refused to be moved any farther stating that he preferred to be left to die rather than risk the lives of any more of his friends. A short time later, at his request, he was placed in a sitting position against a small tree. Another comrade, withdrawing, offered assistance.
Sgt. Baker refused, insisting that he be left alone and be given a soldier’s pistol with its remaining 8 rounds of ammunition. When last seen alive, Sgt. Baker was propped against a tree, pistol in hand, calmly facing the foe.
Later Sgt. Baker’s body was found in the same position, gun empty, with 8 Japanese lying dead before him. His deeds were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.
3. Major Audie Murphy, United States Army
Murphy, a scrawny kid from Texas who was originally rejected by both the Marine Corps and Air Force ultimately became one of the most decorated soldiers in the history of the United States Army.
Enlisting at the age of 17, by the end of the Second World War, Murphy had earned every possible combat award from the US Army, including the Medal of Honor. Here is his MoH Citation:
2d Lt. Murphy commanded Company B, which was attacked by 6 tanks and waves of infantry. 2d Lt. Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to prepared positions in a woods, while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him, to his right, 1 of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. Its crew withdrew to the woods. 2d Lt. Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry.
With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, 2d Lt. Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer, which was in danger of blowing up at any moment, and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to German fire from 3 sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminate 2d Lt.
Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad which was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards, only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound, but ignored it and continued the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack which forced the Germans to withdraw. His directing of artillery fire wiped out many of the enemy; he killed or wounded about 50.
2d Lt. Murphy’s indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction, and enabled it to hold the woods which had been the enemy’s objective.
After the war, Murphy continued to serve in the Texas National Guard and later the Army Reserves. He also enjoyed a successful career as a movie star. He first starred in a movie about his time in the military.
Murphy was afraid people would think he was exaggerating his acts of valor so he had the producers remove some of his more exciting stories from the film.
2. Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav, Indian Army
Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav was a true badass who served in the Indian Army during the Kargil War with Pakistan in 1999. During the battle of Tiger Hill, it was necessary for Yadav’s platoon to climb 300 foot tall, ice covered cliff face. Yadav volunteered to initially make the climb by hand in order to affix climbing ropes for the rest of his platoon. Things ended up going badly. The incident is described in Yadav’s citation for the Param Vir Chakra award (which is basically India’s Medal of Honor):
Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav was part of the leading team of a Ghatak Platoon tasked to capture Tiger Hill on the night of 3/4 July 1999. The approach to the top was steep, snowbound and rocky. Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav, unmindful of the danger involved, volunteered to lead and fix the rope for his team to climb up. On seeing the team, the enemy opened intense automatic, grenade, rocket and artillery fire killing the Commander and two of his colleagues and the platoon was stalled.
Realizing the gravity of the situation, Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav crawled up to the enemy position to silence it and in the process sustained multiple bullet injuries. Unmindful of his injuries and in the hail of enemy bullets, Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav continued climbing towards the enemy positions, lobbed grenades, continued firing from his weapons and killed four enemy soldiers in close combat and silenced the automatic fire. Despite multiple bullet injuries, he refused to be evacuated and continued the charge.
Inspired by his gallant act, the platoon charged on the other positions with renewed punch and captured Tiger Hill Top.
Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav displayed the most conspicuous courage, indomitable gallantry, grit and determination under extreme adverse circumstances.
It was thought that Yadav had been killed during the attack, and the Param Vir Chakra was awarded posthumously. However, Yadav was found to be recovering in a field hospital and he became one of only three living recipients of the award.
1. Second Lieutenant Simo Häyhä, Finnish Army
Simo Häyhä is the single most successful sniper in military history. Nicknamed the “White Death” for his totally white camouflage and eerie white mask he wore in combat, the Finnish marksman amassed at least 505 confirmed sniper kills during the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union. He recorded an additional 200 kills with a submachine gun.
All off Häyhä’s kills took place in a period of 100 days, meaning he eliminated enemy fighters at a rate of 5 per day. Häyhä was only able to operate during daylight hours, unlike modern snipers, as night vision scopes had not yet been developed.
One of the more amazing facts about Häyhä’s kills is that they were all accomplished with iron sights. He did not use a scope on his rifle as he was afraid it would make him more visible to the enemies he was stalking.
Häyhä allegedly kept snow in his mouth while he was engaging the enemy to make sure he did not emit steamy breaths that might give away his position.
Häyhä had half of his face blown off by an explosive in 1940. Fellow soldiers carried him to safety, but did not believe he would be able to live through his injuries. Häyhä did in fact survive, but had visible damage to his face for the rest of his life.
For his efforts during the Winter War, Häyhä was awarded the Cross of Liberty and Medal of Liberty, two of the highest military honors Finnish soldiers can earn.
Häyhä died of old age in 2002, living to the age of 96.