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."