For the vast majority of people, war is a depressing, squalid affair. If you think you’re going to grab a machine gun and re-enact the finale of Rambo, you’ve got an unpleasant surprise coming.
But apparently not everyone gets the memo. Defying expectations, commonsense and basic physics, some soldiers arrive on the battlefield ready to pull off insane feats in the name of kicking ass. Here are 10 guys and girls who whupped bad guy butt on an epic scale.
10. Staff Sgt. William F. Leonard Kills ALL the Germans
It’s WWII. In occupied France, your platoon has just come under heavy artillery, mortar and sniper fire at a roadblock. Only 8 of you are still alive and your situation looks desperate. What do you do?
If you’re Staff Sgt. William F. Leonard, the answer is ‘kick some ass’. Rounding up his surviving men, Leonard led a kamikaze charge at the nearest German hill. He managed to fell two snipers at a range of 50 and 75 feet before getting shot twice in the back and succumbing to his wounds.
Just kidding. In reality, those two bullets just seemed to make Leonard madder. Now seriously wounded, he ran up to the nearest machine gun and grenaded it, killing its crew. So the Germans shot him with a bazooka. The explosion threw Leonard through the air and left him seriously concussed. Nonetheless, he got to his feet, sprinted to the next machine gun and grenaded that too, killing yet more Germans. By the time the smoke cleared, Leonard had wiped out the entire roadblock.
The most-badass part of all? This heavily-wounded war hero lived until 1985.
9. Master Sgt. Manuel V. Mendoza’s Kamikaze Charge
Master Sgt. Manuel V. Mendoza’s suicidal-charge into German enemy lines is the stuff of legend. When his platoon came under heavy mortar fire, Mendoza found himself badly wounded. Nonetheless, he grabbed a submachine gun and sprinted over the nearest German hill…and right into a nightmare.
Remember that scene in Star Wars when Han chases those stormtroopers, only to round the corner and run into a whole squadron of them? That’s exactly how Mendoza must’ve felt. On the other side of the hill were 200 angry Nazis, armed with flamethrowers, machine guns, rifles and grenades. In the face of this unstoppable wave of Germans, Mendoza weighed up his options for survival…and proceeded to mop the floor with the enemy troops.
Armed only with his gun and his wits, Mendoza mowed down 10 German troops and severely injured dozens of others. He repelled the Nazis long enough to make it back to safety and survive. He died decades later aged 79.
8. Sgt. Ardie R. Copas Gets a Hollywood Death
Not every soldier on our list survived their badass encounters. Sgt. Ardie R. Copas was one of the unlucky few destined to perish on the battlefield. But rather than go out choking on his own blood as war raged around him, Copas was determined to meet death on his own terms.
The year was 1970 and Copas’s convoy had just been attacked by the Viet Cong. Badly wounded, Copas realized everyone there would die unless someone was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. So he decided to give his own life providing cover for his injured men. He also decided to do it in the most badass way imaginable.
Leaping onto a flaming truck, Copas unleashed a wave of machine gun fire into the enemy, mowing them down even as the flames licked at his skin. To make things even crazier, the burning truck was filled with mortar rounds, meaning Copas could have been blown into tiny, heroic bits at any moment. He survived long enough to ensure all his men got evacuated, before finally succumbing to his wounds.
7. Antonio Ricaurte Makes the Ultimate Sacrifice
Not every kickass soldier served in the last century. During Colombia’s war for independence, Antonio Ricaurte joined up with Simon Bolivar to eject the Spanish. At one point, he found himself guarding a gunpowder store alone in the midst of a battle. Rebels were being picked off, Spanish troops were closing in, and Ricaurte’s fate looked certain. So he did what any coward would do and opened the storeroom doors, allowing the Spanish troops to come swarming in.
Wait, did we say “coward”? We meant to say “absolute boss”. See, Ricaurte didn’t flee before the advancing Imperial army. Instead he quietly sat down on a barrel full of gunpowder, and waited. The Spanish came flooding into the gunpowder room…to find Ricaurte holding a flaming torch. At this point, we like to imagine Ricaurte smiled slowly and dropped a devastating one-liner. Then he dropped his torch, right onto his homemade bomb. The resulting explosion blew Ricaurte to bits, but it also wiped out an entire Spanish unit, and turned the tide of battle to Bolivar’s favor.
6. Douglas Bader Loses His Legs, Keeps on Kicking Ass
Sir Douglas Bader was an RAF pilot who lost both his legs in a 1930s crash at an airshow. Normally, that would spell an end to death-defying hijinks, but not for Bader. When WWII began, Bader re-enlisted. Hard up for pilots and seemingly facing the total destruction of London, the RAF agreed. It was the best darn decision they ever made.
Bader taught himself to fly with his disability and went right into the white heat of battle. During his brief stint as a pilot, he blasted dozens of Germans out the sky, before finally being shot down over Europe. Bader survived the crash and became a POW…where he led so many escape attempts that the Nazis eventually sent him to Colditz.
Although Bader would live out the rest of the war here, his badassery was far from over. When they heard of his antics, Nazi high command were so impressed they allowed the UK to send Bader over a new prosthetic leg. Bader took the leg gratefully…and went right back to trying to escape again.
5. Sgt. First Class Leigh Ann Hester
Under Pentagon rules, female soldiers are meant to be kept away from major firefights. Apparently, Sgt. First Class Leigh Ann Hester didn’t get the memo. During the Iraq War, her job was to lead convoys safely through areas crawling with insurgents and terrorists. It was a highly-dangerous job with the potential to go badly wrong. One day in 2003, it did.
Hester’s convoy was walloped with a rocket-propelled grenade attack. Around them, dozens of insurgents suddenly leaped out of trenches and started pummeling their vehicles. Trapped and at the mercy of terrorists, Hester’s team prepared to die. They weren’t counting on the undiscovered badass in their midst.
Along with Staff Sgt. Timothy Nein, Hester grabbed a machine gun, leaped out of her truck, ran to the top of the nearest trench and opened fire. In no time at all, this one woman monument to bravery had dispatched literally dozens of highly-armed killers. By the time the smoke cleared, all the terrorists were dead and everyone in Hester’s unit had survived. For her bravery, Sgt. First Class Leigh Ann Hester became the first woman to be awarded the Silver Star since WWII.
4. Bishnu Shrestha Takes on 40 Bad Guys Single-Handed (and Wins)
Bishnu Shrestha is unusual in that he’s the only one on our list who was off-duty at his most-badass moment. A Gorkha soldier (an Indian army unit leftover from the days of British rule who, like the Nepalese Gurkhas, are famed for their bravery), Shrestha was catching a train across West Bengal when it was attacked by 40 armed bandits.
Had these punks ever seen an action movie, they would have known it wasn’t going to end well.
The bandits boarded the train and robbed everyone. Throughout this whole time, Shrestha kept silent. Then the thieves decided to rape a teenage girl in front of her parents and Shrestha could keep silent no more.
Armed only with his khukuri – a kind of tiny-but-deadly pocket knife – Shrestha unleashed hell on the bandits. In close quarters, surrounded by 40 armed men, he managed to kill 3 and seriously wound 8 before the remaining 29 got scared and ran away. We’ll repeat that for those who can’t quite believe it: Bishnu Shrestha took on 40 heavily-armed men in hand-to-hand combat alone and he won. When asked about his titanic, sun-eclipsing cajones by a stunned reporter, Shrestha humbly replied: “Fighting the enemy in battle is my duty as a soldier; taking on the dacoits in the train was my duty as a human being.”
3. Lewis L. Millett Makes Desertion Heroic
Let’s start with the strangest part of Lewis L. Millett’s story. In WWII, he was court martialed as a deserter of the American army. And that’s exactly what he was, only not in the way you’re thinking. When WWII broke out, Millett was a cadet in the US Army. Unwilling to wait until Pearl Harbor to go kick some Nazi butt, Millett instead abandoned his post, fled to Canada and demanded to be sent to Europe. The Canadians obliged.
What followed was a war full of displays of badassery. During the London Blitz, Millett manned anti-aircraft guns, taking down multiple German planes. When the US entered the war, he re-enlisted with the Army, despite the very real threat of a court martial for his desertion. But perhaps his greatest moment came in North Africa.
Working as an anti-tank gunner in Tunisia, Millett found himself in a company of men when an ammunition truck burst into flames in their midst. Rather than simply fleeing, Millett leaped into the burning truck, drove it away from his fellow soldiers and jumped out to safety just as the truck exploded behind him. That’s right: this guy basically lived a scene from a 1980s music video. For being both brave and awesome, he was awarded the Silver Star.
2. Ganju Lama Takes on Three Tanks, Wins
Tanks are like the infantryman’s Kryptonite. Going toe-to-toe with just one of these metal monsters and winning would make you deserving of a medal. Gurkha Ganju Lama didn’t limit himself to taking on just one tank. In 1944 he defeated three Japanese tanks single-handedly.
The backdrop was a hot summer’s morning in the Pacific theater of war. Ganju’s unit was pinned down by a ferocious artillery barrage and tanks were closing in. Badly wounded in the wrist, leg, and hand, Ganju shook his injuries off, grabbed an anti-tank Piat and crawled toward the nearest tank. He waited until he was 30 yards away before letting fire. The explosion immediately destroyed the leading tank.
Not that Ganju was out of the woods yet. As the second tank approached, he grabbed his Piat and blew that one to smithereens, too. The third tank was already damaged, and the crew decided to exit and take care of Ganju on the ground.
With one arm completely useless, Ganju mounted a one man grenade attack on the tank crew. It wasn’t until he’d killed every last one of them that he allowed a doctor to treat his horrendous wounds. The best part? After 22 months recuperating, Ganju went straight back to military service.
1. Mad Jack
When a guy’s name is “Mad Jack,” you know you’ve got an interesting case on your hands. Lieutenant Colonel John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill went beyond simply being interesting. During his insane WWII career, he made a name for himself by attacking Germans armed only with a sword and longbow.
These weren’t just for show. Jack currently holds the last recorded longbow kill in military history, after a Nazi got in his way in 1940. At one point, he captured 42 enemy troops using only a sword. At another, crazier point, the hill he was on was overrun. As the last surviving British troop, Jack sat down in the middle of all this carnage and proceeded to play the bagpipes until a German grenade knocked him unconscious.
Still not impressed? Well, he also managed to escape from two concentration camps, walking a total of 225 miles to the safety of American lines armed only with a rusty tin. When the war in Europe wrapped up, he immediately high-tailed it to Japan to finish fighting. When VJ Day came before he arrived, he apparently cursed out the USA, exclaiming “If it wasn’t for those damn Yanks, we could have kept the war going another ten years.” Legend has it that he was so respected by Nazi high command that they refused to kill him, despite having at least two opportunities to do so. After reading up on his biography, we can’t say we blame them.