York and his men flanked the Germans, overran a unit, and captured the enemy. Suddenly he came under fire from a different machine gun on a nearby ridge and six Americans around him were killed. York, the Tennessee farmboy who had grown up hunting dinner for his family, remained cool and began to shoot. "All I could do was touch the Germans off just as fast as I could. I was sharp shooting. All the time I kept yelling at them to come down. I didn't want to kill any more than I had to." The Germans surrendered and York marched 132 German prisoners back to the American lines.
His Congressional Medal of Honor citation called him fearless, daring and heroic.
“Warriors are funny people,” writes Noonan. “They're often naturally peaceable and often do great good when they return. York went home to Tennessee, married, founded an agricultural institute (it's still operating as an award-winning public high school) and a Bible school. They made a movie about him in 1941, the great Howard Hawks film "Sergeant York." If you are in Manhattan, walk down York Avenue on the Upper East Side. It was named for him. He died in Nashville in 1964 at 77.
Los Niños Héroes of Mexico City
If we are going to consider history’s great heroes, we cannot overlook Juan de la Barrera, Juan Escutia, Francisco Marquez, Agustin Melgar, Fernando Montes de Oca and Vicente Suarez. They are known to very Mexican schoolchild as “Los Infantes” or “Los Niños Héroes,” the little boy heroes. The youngest was 13. All were teenagers, military cadets in Mexico City. The Mexican-American War was in its final chapters. United States Marines were quickly advancing on Chapultepec Castle, Mexico’s national military academy.
Mexico’s General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna recognized the strategic advantage that Chapultepec Hill held. Rising some 200 feet above Mexico City, it was naturally fortified. However, American forces greatly outnumbered their Mexican counterparts, both in manpower, strategy and gunpowder.
When it became apparent that the American forces were triumphing, Santa Anna ordered a retreat to safety. The six young cadets refused and fled into the building – vowing to stay and defend their academy.
The Americans began a day-long artillery barrage against Chapultepec at dawn on September 12. On September 13 at first light, U.S. General Winfield Scott ordered a charge.
To the southwest, 40 Marines led the storming party. However, the boys in the castle put down withering fire and the storming party stalled. George Pickett (later famous for "Pickett's Charge" and the Battle of Five Forks during the American Civil War) was the first American to top the wall of the fort. General Shields was severely wounded, but his troops managed to raise the U.S.
The six young heroes were led by 19-year-old Lt. Juan de la Barrera – and fought to the death. According to legend, the last of the six, Juan Escutia, grabbed the Mexican flag, wrapped it around himself and jumped off the castle’s tower to prevent it from falling into enemy hands.
The six died that September day, defending their school and their country, their sacrifice forever etched into Mexico’s history.
Tadeusz Kościuszko of Poland
Andrzej Tadeusz Bonawentura Kościuszko was born in 1746 in the village of Mereczowszczyzna, near the present-day town of modern-day Kosava, Belarus – but then a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In 1765 Poland's King Stanisław August Poniatowski created a Corps of Cadets and Kościuszko joined, graduating as a captain. In 1768, civil war broke out. Rather than choose sides, Kościuszko set off for Paris, but was rejected by the French army as well as the Prussian and Saxons, so he sailed to America, saying that upon reading the Declaration of Independence, he was so moved – because it encompassed everything in which he believed – that he resolved to meet Thomas Jefferson. They became close friends and Kościuszko was put to work in the American army. His excellent judgment and meticulous attention to detail at Saratoga received great praise. Dr. Benjamin Rush reported "...the great tacticians of the campaign were hills and forests, which a young Polish engineer was skillful enough to select.”
Thereafter, Kościuszko was regarded as one of the best American engineers. George Washington took notice, tasking him with the command of improving the defense of West Point. During the course of the war, he was placed in charge of constructing camps, river crossings, fortified positions – and was in charge of developing intelligence contacts. During the famous "Race to the Dan River," when exhausted British troops chased the Americans through 200 miles of rough backcountry terrain in the dead of winter, the Continentals safely crossed each stream safely – thanks to Kościuszko’s advance work. British General Cornwallis, having no boats and finding no way to cross the swollen Dan, withdrew back into North Carolina.