Military heroes from every state
Military heroes from every state
Military heroes come in many guises. Some are better with a gun while others bandage wounds as bullets whiz overhead. Stories of heroism come from the battlefield, training grounds, and natural disasters. Consider that bridge you cross every day, but never have stopped to think about its namesake—it could be dedicated to a local hero you never knew.
Stacker looked through the history books and records of various medal recipients across branches to find instances of bravery and sacrifice. These selfless acts reach back through the years, all the way from the American Revolution to today’s conflicts in the Middle East. In this search, we’ve found notable stories that touch every state in the union.
While there are several heroes that hail from each state, read on to see one we highlighted from your state for their bravery and heroism.
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Raised in Pratt City, Gunner's Mate 1st Class Osmond Kelly Ingram had served in the U.S. Navy for 14 years when he leapt into action to save the USS Cassin from a German torpedo in 1917. Although the destroyer had maneuvered to avoid being hit, Ingram knew it could hit depth charges at one end of the ship and tried to release the charges, but was killed in the resulting explosion. He was the first enlisted man in the U.S. Navy to die in World War I. Ingram received the Medal of Honor and had a destroyer, the USS Osmond Ingram, named for him.
Juneau’s own Marine Col. Archie Van Winkle first served in World War II, but it was his actions in the Korean War that earned him the Medal of Honor for “conspicuous gallantry.” A platoon sergeant at the time, Van Winkle defended his squad against a large number of Chinese soldiers, sometimes charging them by himself amid automatic weapon fire and grenade blasts. Despite being seriously wounded in the battle, he survived and eventually retired from the Marines in 1974; he died on May 22, 1986, in his home state.
A Winslow native, Jay Vargas was serving as a captain in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War when he led his platoon to aid others under fire. He was wounded three times while leading troops in this battle and remained at the fore. When his battalion commander was hit, Vargas carried the man to safety while continuing to defend the battalion. Vargas requested that his recently deceased mother’s name be engraved on his Medal of Honor instead of his own name.
Nathan Green Gordon, a Morrilton native, was a Navy pilot in World War II. In Feb. 1944, he carried out a dangerous mission to rescue pilots lost near Papua New Guinea. He landed his bulky seaplane three times, with Japanese forces nearby, to rescue nine men, then went back for six others in difficult weather conditions. Gordon received the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions. Green later went on to become lieutenant governor of Arkansas for 20 years.
Chief Petty Officer John Finn was asleep as Japanese planes approached Pearl Harbor. The noise woke him, and he hurried to a nearby hangar where he leapt into action, defending the base with a machine gun for two and a half hours. He sustained multiple serious injuries, but stayed at his post until it was safe to seek medical attention. The Los Angeles native received the first Medal of Honor in World War II; in 2017, the Navy named a destroyer after him.
Enemy fire was heavy as 2nd Lt. Raymond Murphy, a Pueblo native, directed evacuation teams to wounded soldiers during a 1953 Korean War assault. Murphy personally carried many fellow Marines to safety and provided cover fire until everyone had safely evacuated. Murphy received the Medal of Honor as well as the Silver Star, among other decorations.
In 1969, Hartford native Airman 1st Class John Levitow was serving as a loadmaster on an AC-47 gunship as it fired ammunition and dropped flares on Long Binh Post in Vietnam. Five hours into his mission, a mortar blasted through the plane and hit him and four others with shrapnel. One of the wounded men dropped a 27-pound lit flare inside the plane, dangerously close to explosive ammunition. Levitow managed to grab it while wounded and throw it out of the plane with seconds to spare. He is one of only two Air Force-enlisted men to receive the Medal of Honor in Vietnam (the other is Airman 1st Class William Pitsenbarger of Piqua, Ohio). In 1998, the Air Force named a C-17 Globemaster plane for Levitow.
Army Air Corps pilot George Welch was coming back from a late-night party at his base on Hawaii in 1941 when he saw the Japanese planes headed for Pearl Harbor. He and another pilot rushed to the airfield and immediately took off to defend the American fleet. In his career, the Wilmington native flew 348 combat missions and received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions at Pearl Harbor. His story is included in the 1970 film “Tora! Tora! Tora!”
District of Columbia
Dennis Bell was a Buffalo soldier—a member of the 10th Cavalry Regiment, which was made up entirely of African Americans. During the Spanish-American War, Bell embarked on a rescue mission to aid wounded colleagues in Tayabacoa, Cuba. Although some thought the mission impossible, Bell and his fellow soldiers successfully rescued the injured men. Bell received the Medal of Honor for his part in the mission.
Navy Lt. Clyde Lassen of Ft. Myers flew his helicopter in a nighttime rescue mission over Vietnam. Initially able to hover between trees with the help of flares, once the flares burned out, the helicopter collided with a tree. Lassen was still able to fly and made another attempt. The rescue was successful and he arrived back at the USS Jouett with only five minutes’ worth of fuel left. He received the Medal of Honor—the only Navy helicopter pilot in Vietnam to receive it—and a Florida veterans’ nursing home is named after him.
Barrow County native Mildred Dalton Manning was part of a group of Army nurses known as the “Angels of Bataan and Corregidor.” She, along with dozens of others, was taken prisoner by the Japanese in Philippines during World War II. Though she lost all her teeth from malnutrition, she continued to work as a nurse, treating fellow POWs from 1942 to 1945. The Army awarded Manning and other nurses the Bronze Star for their service.
In 1951, Pfc. Herbert Kailieha Pililaau left his hometown of Waianae after being drafted into the Army to serve in Korea. During the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge, Pililaau’s squad covered for retreating troops. With his ammunition and grenades all used up, Pililaau threw rocks at the enemy soldiers rather than surrender. When troops retook the hill and recovered Pililaau’s body, they discovered he’d taken out 40 enemy soldiers by himself. Pililaau received a posthumous Medal of Honor and the Navy named a ship for him in 2000.
Army Pvt. Thomas Neibaur was on patrol just after his unit had helped secure Cote-de-Chatillon on Oct. 16, 1918, when he encountered enemy fire and sustained machine gun wounds to the leg. Neibaur, a Sharon native, kept defending his position and eventually captured 11 enemy soldiers. His Medal of Honor citation said that the enemy “counterattack in full force was arrested to a large extent by the single efforts of this soldier.”
In 2008, Cpl. Joseph Lollino was serving with the Army in Afghanistan as a medic when his convoy came under fire. He drove into the line of fire and stayed there to treat four injured soldiers. Though hit by shrapnel himself, Lollino continued to treat others’ wounds and got the casualties evacuated. For his actions, the Hoffman Estates native received the Distinguished Service Cross.
In 1967, Stephen Wayne of Fairmount was a first lieutenant teaming up with Maj. Robert Pardo to fly a mission near Hanoi, Vietnam. The two ended up making history with “Pardo’s Push,” when a second aircraft took a critical blow from enemy fire. Though their plane was also damaged, Wayne and Pardo managed to hook their plane to the other one and get both crafts to safety, where all four airmen could eject. Wayne received the Silver Star for his actions.
In 1918, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Edouard Izac found himself a prisoner of war aboard a German U-90 submarine. Determined to share his observations and information about the submarine, he later escaped from a moving train, was recaptured, and escaped a second time to successfully share his information. The Cresco native retired as a senior lieutenant in 1921 and received the Medal of Honor, the Croce di Guerra of Italy, and the Cross of Montenegro.
Second Lt. Erwin Bleckley of Wichita was flying as an observer as part of the 50th Aero Squadron in October 1918 when he received the mission to search for The Lost Battalion. He and pilot 2nd Lt. Harold Goettler dropped crucial supplies to the battalion before being shot down by enemy fire and killed. Bleckley is one of just four airmen to have received the Medal of Honor during World War I.
Bowling Green native Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester of the 617th Military Police Company National Guard unit made headlines back in 2011 when she earned the Silver Star—the first woman to receive it since World War II. She was protecting a convoy in Iraq—but not meant to be in direct combat—when an attack wounded three members of her team. She joined her squad leader in defending the group for a 45-minute firefight, saving the entire team.
From 1891 to 1932, New Orleans-raised Margaret Norvell rescued many people as a keeper with the U.S. Lighthouse Service, which later merged with the U.S. Coast Guard. When a naval airplane crashed in Lake Pontchartrain in 1926 in the middle of a squall, she rowed a boat for two hours in the storm to reach and recover the survivor. The Coast Guard named a cutter in honor of her in 2013.
As the Japanese attacked the cruiser San Francisco during World War II, Lt. Cmdr. Herbert Schonland found that all his superior officers had died in the battle, and he was now in command. Facing waist-deep water inside the ship and constant enemy fire, Schonland managed to bring the ship back to its port successfully. The Portland native received the Medal of Honor and later went on to become a rear admiral.
A Marine staff sergeant in Korea, William Shuck took charge of a rifle squad during an assault on a heavily fortified enemy position. Though seriously wounded himself, he continued to lead the attack until all the dead and wounded had been evacuated. A sniper killed Shuck as he helped to move the last casualty. The Cumberland native received a posthumous Medal of Honor.
During the Revolutionary War women weren’t allowed to serve in the Army, but some found a way around the rules. One of the most famous was Deborah Sampson of Plympton, who served in the Continental Army from 1781 to 1783 while disguising herself as a man. She served as part of the Light Infantry Troops, taking on risky missions. Wounded in the thigh, she removed the bullet herself so a doctor would not discover her gender and prevent her from continuing to serve. In 1837, a congressional committee considering her husband’s application for a military widower's pension could find “no other similar example of female heroism, fidelity and courage” from that war on the level of Sampson.
When his unarmed helicopter flew into a hostile area of Vietnam in 1967, Duane D. Hackney of Flint, a pararescueman, volunteered to go into the jungle to find a downed soldier. As they loaded the rescued man onto the helicopter, Hackney gave the man his own parachute. Just as Hackney located another, enemies fired at the helicopter, and Hackney was blown out the door. He managed to open the replacement parachute and survived to receive the Air Force Cross.
Lt. Col. Leo Thorsness of Walnut Grove saw much of Vietnam from above. The pilot of an F-105, he kept an eye on another crew who had to bail out of their plane during a fight in 1967 while continuing to attack enemy aircraft to keep them safe. He later spent six years as a prisoner of war. Thorsness received the Medal of Honor for his actions in the air.
Marcus Shook of Belmont was part of a B-17 crew bringing supplies to the Polish during the Warsaw Uprising in September 1944. Under heavy fire, their plane was destroyed, and Shook was wounded. Though he and another crewmate were able to parachute out, they became prisoners of war. The people of Lomianki, Poland, were so grateful for the aid Shook and his fellow Army Air Forces team had tried to bring that in 1993 they named the streets of their town after Shook and the other crew of that B-17 bomber.
Born in the small town of Knox City, Laverne Parrish was serving as a medical aid man with the Army in the Philippines in 1945. During a battle, he pulled five wounded men to safety and treated 12 more while exposed to heavy enemy fire. Altogether he treated 37 men over the course of the battle. He continued to give aid to the wounded until he was killed by a mortar shell. He received the Medal of Honor for his actions.
Pfc. Donald Ruhl, a Marine from Columbus, fought at the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II. He received the Medal of Honor after braving gunfire and mortars to rescue a wounded soldier, carrying him out of the line of fire and 300 yards to an aid station. He died shielding fellow Marines from a grenade. A cemetery in Wyoming is named for him.
Charles Hagemeister trained as a battlefield medic in Vietnam. As he crawled through enemy fire in March 1967 to treat wounded soldiers, the Lincoln native took a rifle, and shot a sniper and three other enemy soldiers. He then evacuated the injured men. Hagemeister received the Medal of Honor.
Army Sgt. Jon Wright of Lovelock was protecting bomb disposal technicians as they worked in Afghanistan on March 24, 2010, when someone threw a grenade at them. Wright scooped it up and hurled it away before it exploded. His actions saved a nearby sergeant and earned him a Bronze Star.
Staff Sgt. Joseph Conlon of Manchester was fighting as part of an Army Special Forces unit in Vietnam in 1968. When enemy soldiers attacked a command post, Conlon defended the post and rescued wounded soldiers, even shielding one from enemy fire with his own body. Because of rules regarding Special Forces soldiers, Conlon did not receive a Silver Star in recognition of his efforts until 2011.
John Basilone, who grew up in Raritan, was serving as a Marine sergeant during the third month of the Guadalcanal campaign in 1942 when one of his heavy machine guns was severely damaged by enemy fire. Basilone not only maneuvered a new one into position, but was able to repair the other, all while the battle raged around him. Later he procured extra ammunition for his men by going past enemy lines. Basilone received both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross. He later died at Iwo Jima.
Army Sgt. Louis R. Rocco was a long way from his native Albuquerque when he volunteered to help evacuate eight wounded South Vietnamese soldiers in May 1970. He defended his helicopter from enemy fire. When it crashed, he pulled every survivor from the burning wreckage, despite sustaining serious wounds himself. Later promoted to chief warrant officer, Rocco received the Medal of Honor in 1974.
While attacking a machine gun post near Varennes, France, in World War I, Cpl. Donald Call’s tank took a direct hit from a high-explosive shell. As gas from the explosion filled the tank’s interior, Call got out and took cover nearby. When he realized the officer who had been with him in the tank didn’t follow, he returned to the tank, rescued the officer, and carried him a mile to safety while avoiding sniper fire. The New York City native received the Medal of Honor.
Born as a slave on Roanoke Island in 1880, Capt. Richard Etheridge became the first African American to command a life-saving station for the Coast Guard. In 1896, he sailed into a severe storm with his men to rescue a grounded schooner, the E.S. Newman. Two of his surfmen tied a rope ladder to connect the E.S. Newman to shore and made 10 trips to get everyone aboard to land safely. Etheridge and his team received the Gold Lifesaving Medal. In 2018, the North Carolina Department of Transportation named a bridge in his honor.
Born in Sentinel Butte, Staff Sgt. Jack J. Pendleton was part of Company I, 3rd Battalion of the 120th Infantry Regiment, which arrived in Normandy in Europe on June 11, 1944. By October he had arrived in Bardenberg, Germany. During the battle there, Pendleton led his unit toward an enemy position while ducking heavy enemy fire. Despite sustaining a serious leg wound, Pendleton crawled forward toward the enemy post and drew fire toward himself, enabling others to overpower the German position. He was killed in action and received the Medal of Honor posthumously. The Army named a ship in his honor.
You might recognize the ceremony where President Lyndon Johnson awarded Dayton’s Sammy L. Davis the Medal of Honor—it’s in the film "Forrest Gump" with Tom Hanks’ head superimposed over Davis. The Army private was serving in Vietnam, fighting under heavy fire, when he realized there were three wounded servicemen stranded across a river. Although he couldn’t swim, Pfc. Davis sailed an air mattress across to rescue the three while still dodging mortar fire. Davis was later promoted to sergeant.
Born near Medicine Park, Charles Chibitty wasn’t allowed to speak his native Comanche language at school. As a corporal in the Army during World War II, that same language—and those of other tribes—enabled Chibitty and other Native American code talkers to transmit information that saved lives during the Battle of the Bulge and other conflicts. Chibitty received five campaign battle stars as well as a cavalry officer's saber from his tribe. In 1999, the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes recognized him with the Knowlton Award from the Military Intelligence Corps.
It made headlines around the world when Oregon National Guardsman Spc. Alek Skarlatos and two of his friends tackled and disabled a gunman in 2015 on a train from Amsterdam to Paris. While U.S. Air Force Airman Spencer Stone wrestled the gunman, Skarlatos grabbed the gun and used it to knock out the man. Skarlatos, a Roseburg native, received the Soldiers Medal for non-combat heroism. The incident has been made into a movie called “The 15:17 to Paris.”
In February 1945, Army Air Forces Capt. Robert Trimble undertook a dangerous mission to rescue American prisoners of war while sidestepping Soviet allies who were obstructing all attempts to do so, suspecting the POWs to be spies. The Camp Hill native, who had already completed 35 bombing runs over Germany, saved numerous POWs as well as at least 400 French women. He received the Bronze Star from the Americans and the Croix de Guerre from the French.
When Oliver Hazard Perry faced a British fleet on Lake Erie on Sept. 10, 1813, he was up against the best navy in the world. Though his ships were badly battered and many of his men wounded, Perry followed his motto, “Don’t Give Up The Ship,” and managed to break the British lines with courage. The victory was a turning point for the Americans in the War of 1812. The South Kingstown native was promoted to captain after the battle.
Navy SEAL Michael Thornton, born in Greenville, saved the life of his senior officer, Lt. Thomas R. Norris when an operation in Vietnam went wrong. Massively outnumbered, he carried Norris to escape via water under heavy enemy fire, even giving Norris his own life jacket. Thornton received many honors for his service, including the Medal of Honor.
In 1971, Michael Fitzmaurice of Iroquois was in a bunker in Vietnam with three fellow Army soldiers when three grenades landed beside them. Fitzmaurice grabbed two of them, launching them out of the bunker, then wrapped the last one in a flak jacket. Though his friends escaped serious injury, Fitzmaurice wasn't as lucky, with numerous shrapnel and other wounds. He received the Medal of Honor in 1973. In 1998, a state veterans' home was named after him.
Called “the greatest civilian soldier” of World War I by Gen. John Pershing, Alvin York grew up in a log cabin in Pall Mall. York, famously portrayed by Gary Cooper in a 1941 film, faced fierce German machine-gun fire behind enemy lines with his small squad during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in 1918. Attacking alone, he managed to turn the tide of the fighting and eventually captured 132 Germans and killed two dozen others. He received the Medal of Honor in 1919.
Master Sgt. Raul Perez “Roy” Benavidez had 16 years of military experience behind him when he jumped from a helicopter into heavy fire to help extract a Special Forces team in Vietnam. Though Benavidez sustained several wounds, he managed to take charge of the situation to get the survivors to an evacuation helicopter. For saving at least eight men and the classified information they carried, Benavidez received the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Navy named a ship after him in 1999.
As a Navy hospital corpsman, George Wahlen of West Ogden tended to wounded men in the Pacific theater during World War II. After sustaining an eye injury from a mortar shell, he continued to treat 14 wounded soldiers under constant fire. Later, he also kept treating people on the battlefield after shrapnel broke his leg. For his actions, he received the Medal of Honor. After serving in the Navy during the war, Wahlen spent two decades in the Army.
The pride of Montpelier, Commodore George Dewey led the American fleet during the Battle of Manila Bay in the Spanish-American War, sinking every opposing ship with no American deaths. The battle was one of two American naval victories in the war. He later became admiral of the Navy. A monument honoring him stands in San Francisco.
Not every hero fires a gun. Desmond Doss, whose story was dramatized in the 2016 film “Hacksaw Ridge,” was a conscientious objector who served as a medic and did not carry a weapon. He faced hostility from men who served with him in the Army, but changed their minds with his service during the Battle of Okinawa. The Lynchburg native treated serious battlefield injuries under constant enemy fire, even using a rifle stock as a splint at one point. Doss received the Medal of Honor in 1945.
Navy medical corpsman Robert Bush faced a struggle saving the lives of his fellow servicemen at the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. The Tacoma native braved heavy fire to deliver plasma to a wounded Marine with one hand while at the same time returning fire with the other hand. He lost an eye due to injuries he sustained in the battle. He received the Medal of Honor and the Robert E. Bush Naval Hospital in California and the Bush Health Care Clinic in Okinawa are named for him.
You might know Chuck Yeager as a test pilot from the film “The Right Stuff.” The Myra native earned a Bronze Star for a daring escape after being shot down flying over France in 1944. He eluded capture for more than three weeks. Yeager turned up in Spain after 25 days, having also helped another injured airman on his way there. He later became the first pilot to fly faster than the speed of sound.
Kenneth Stumpf was leading his Army squad on a search and destroy mission in Duc Pho, Vietnam, when three of his men were wounded. Under heavy fire he made three runs to rescue the casualties, then destroyed a machine gun with hand grenades. The Neenah native received the Medal of Honor for his actions the next year in 1968.
Casper native Maj. William Adams flew a helicopter for the Army during the Vietnam War. In May 1971, he was attempting to rescue three injured comrades and under heavy fire, he picked up the wounded men. Adams’ helicopter sustained serious damage. Although he attempted to land, the helicopter exploded, killing him. He received the Medal of Honor posthumously for this rescue attempt.