Commanding U.S. forces in the Battle of James Island on November 14, 1782, Kościuszko was nearly killed, but was among the first Continental troops to reoccupy Charleston, S.C. After seven years of faithful, uninterrupted service to the American cause, on October 13, 1783, he was promoted to brigadier general, received American citizenship and was given by Congress a grant of land near Columbus, Ohio. When he died, he left his property to be used to buy the freedom of black slaves.
George Vujnovich of New York
In the summer of 1944, the U.S. Army Air Corps undertook a series of missions to Romania to attack Hitler's oil fields -- and the Nazis sent up anti-aircraft fire that downed hundreds of American bombers. Many of the surviving airmen were retrieved by a group of Serbian resistance fighters called the Chetniks.
The Chetniks hated Nazis, but didn’t think much of Americans either, so put them into prison camps. The U.S. Army sent George Vujnovich, a New Yorker with Serbian roots, to negotiate for their release. He masterminded a huge operation codenamed "Halyard Mission," during which 512 airmen were escorted out of Nazi territory by the militia of war-hardened Serbs – which Vujnovich won over to the American side.
He was awarded the Bronze Star for his efforts. "I feel deeply satisfied," said Vujnovich. "Not for myself, but for men who gave their lives to save these airmen."
Chiune Sugihara of Japan
During World War II, Japanese Consul-General Chiune Sugihara and his wife Yukiko were assigned to Berlin. They saw first-hand how bad things were getting for the Jews and decided to get involved. Unfortunately the Japanese government had formed the Axis with Germany and fascist Italy – and refused permission for Chiune to issue visas to Jews to get them out of harm's way.
So, he did it anyway, in direct disobedience to his superiors. The Nazis became furious – but Chiune and his wife started issuing Japanese visas around the clock, blazing through them like no bureaucrats in history. Although they were forced to flee the country, Sugihara continued issuing visas and throwing them out his train window as it pulled away.In the end, it's estimated he and his wife saved the lives of up to 6,000 Jews – which is noteworthy when you consider that Oskar Schindler's list is estimated to have saved 801.
When he arrived back in Japan, his government threw him out of government service. The Japanese only begrudgingly apologized to his family in October of 2000, acknowledging that in the Japanese tradition of Samurai, Chiune had served as a brave warrior of conscience – despite the personal toll.
Deborah Sampson of New England
Deborah Sampson fought bravely in George Washington’s Continental Army, pretending to be a man. She was born in 1760 in Plympton, Massachusetts, but her family’s terrible poverty forced her into indentured servanthood as a teen. By the time she was 21, the American Revolution had broken out and she was determined to join the fight.
Although most women worked at home, in hospitals or in other support roles, she made herself a man’s suit of clothes and enlisted as “Robert Shurtleff” in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment. She kept her true identity secret by what one historian has called “artful concealment of her sex.” Her fellow soldiers simply thought she was late bloomer -- a whiskerless lad in his late teens!
U.S. military records show she was wounded twice in raids along the Hudson. In a skirmish near Tarrytown, she suffered a sword cut to the head. At East Chester she took a bullet in her thigh that left her a permanent scar.
She cared for her own wounds in order to prevent detection. She was not discovered until 1782 when serving as a general’s orderly near Philadelphia, she became sick with fever and lost consciousness. An attending physician learned that the infantryman under his care was actually a female. She received an honorable discharge and soon after married farmer Benjamin G. Gannet. She raised three children before putting her army uniform back on in the 1790’s to become America’s “first woman lecturer.”
At a time when it was extremely unusual for a woman to speak before a mixed male and female audience, she toured the nation and told of her adventures in the War for American Independence.