Throughout history, heroes have served as role models. I grew up proud to be named after two great American heroes – Francis “The Swamp Fox” Marion, who many say played a major role in the American Revolution by bedeviling the British with his guerilla attacks and giving George Washington time to get his troops ready for Cornwallis. I’m also named after Robert E. Lee, who some blame for not winning the War Between the States.
There have been so many great heroes – such as the 225 World War II U.S. Army Rangers who on June 4, 1945, scaled Pointe Du Hoc, a sheer 100-foot cliff overlooking Omaha and Utah beaches. Thousands of American soldiers on the beaches were being mowed down by Nazi machine gunners atop the bluff. The Rangers took the position, then without reinforcements or resupply for two days, fended off relentless German counterattacks. Only a handful survived by the time relief finally arrived. But thousands upon thousands of lives had been saved down on the beaches.
And then there are the Navajo “Windtalkers” who turned around the war in the Pacific when they volunteered to serve as communicators between the front lines and headquarters – making their reports in their native Diné dialect – thoroughly confounding the eavesdropping enemy – which targeted them for capture and torture, trying to break the complex U.S. “code” that was nothing but 400 very brave kids talking in the language of their grandfathers as the bullets whizzed by. Their story was a classified secret until 1968, but eventually the entire group was given Congressional Medals of Honor – although only 29 survived by the time the medal was finally awarded.
So, with so many heroes throughout history from which to choose, consider these nine. And ask yourself – which War Hero Am I?
Audie Murphy of Texas
The most decorated soldier in World War II was Audie Murphy with 1 Belgian medal, five French and 33 U.S. medals earned in 27 months of combat. After the war, Murphy went on to star in 44 movies. After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, 17-year-old Murphy tried to enlist in the military, but was too young. Upon turning 18, he was declined by the Marines, Navy and the Army paratroopers as too short and underweight at 5 feet 5 and 110 pounds. The U.S. Army finally accepted him, but at boot camp while learning how to march, he passed out. His company commander tried to have him transferred to a cook and bakers' school but Murphy insisted on becoming a combat soldier.
In 1943 he was shipped out to Africa and he took part in the invasion of Sicily on July 10, 1943. Shortly after arriving, Murphy was promoted to corporal after killing two escaping prisoners of war. On the Italian mainland, while leading a night patrol, Murphy and his men fought their way out of a German ambush, killed a squad of Nazi soldiers in and brought in several prisoners.
In France, Murphy's best friend, Lattie Tipton, was killed by a German machine gunner who feigned surrender. Murphy went into a rage and single-handedly wiped out the German machine gun crew, then used the German machine gun and grenades to destroy several other nearby enemy positions. During seven weeks of fighting in that campaign in France, Murphy's division suffered 4,500 casualties. He received two Silver Stars for heroic actions and was awarded a battlefield commission to second lieutenant, which elevated him to platoon leader, then company commander.
On January 26, Murphy's 128-man unit was reduced to 19. Murphy sent all of the survivors to the rear while he held off the Germans with his M1 carbine until he ran out of ammunition. He then climbed aboard an abandoned, burning M10 tank destroyer and used its .50 caliber machine gun to cut down one full squad of German infantry. He was able to call in artillery fire using a land-line telephone and, under heavy fire, was wounded in the leg. He nonetheless continued his nearly single-handed battle and only stopped fighting when his telephone line to the artillery fire direction center was cut by enemy artillery. He then organized a counter-attack which drove the enemy from Holtzwihr. When asked after the war why he had seized the machine gun and taken on an entire company of German infantry, he replied simply, "They were killing my friends." He received every U.S. decoration for valor available to Army ground personnel at the time. He earned the Silver Star twice in three days, two Bronze Star Medals, three Purple Hearts, the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Sgt. Alvin York of Tennessee
“Alvin York was born in 1887 into a Tennessee farming family that didn't have much, but nobody else did, so it wasn't so bad,” writes author Peggy Noonan. “He was the third of 11 children and had an average life for that time and place. Then World War I came. He experienced a crisis of conscience over whether to fight. His mother's Evangelical church tugged him toward more or less pacifist thinking, but he got a draft notice in 1917, joined the Army, went overseas, read and reread his Bible, and concluded that warfare was sometimes justified.”
During the battle of the Argonne in October 1918, the allies were attempting to break German lines when York and his men came upon well-hidden machine guns on high ground. As he later put it, "The Germans got us, and they got us right smart . . . and I'm telling you they were shooting straight." American soldiers "just went down like the long grass before the mowing machine at home."