One thing's for sure -- we love us some war heroes. And we like to think that when our men and women on the front lines go the extra mile for their country, they'll get all the medals and accolades they deserve.
Unfortunately, due to bureaucracy, petty politics or just good old-fashioned racism, this is not always the case. Just look at ...
6The Free French Army
After the French government fell to Germany in World War II, the biggest problem for the French resistance was scraping together enough soldiers to build a halfway effective army. When it became clear that the actual French weren't interested in making too much of a fuss, Gen. de Gaulle decided to reach further afield, bringing in fighters from the French territories in Africa.
He loved two things in life: tiny mustaches and giant microphones.
These were some pretty hardcore colonial fighters who earned their stripes fighting various insurgencies throughout Africa, and with a mix of African, Arab, Tahitian and white French officers, the army was like a kill-happy United Colors of Beneton.
All you need is love. And Nazis to fight.
De Gaulle's new Free French Army kicked an epic scale of ass that you don't usually associate with the French. And that's really not so shocking when you consider that up to 65 percent of the French army were "French" only in so far as whatever African province they came from had been conquered by the French Empire. Even so, they laid down their lives for a chance to march straight into Paris and kick Hitler in the balls.
How they got screwed:
The Free French Army fought victory after bloody victory right up to Paris' doorstep, and they were ready and willing to march in and liberate the capital, with a little help from their American and British allies. Unfortunately, their allies said, "Hell no. Not with all those darkies."
This was a time in history where blacks and whites were still segregated in the American military and forbidden from fighting together. The Allies had an image to uphold, after all -- better for the people to watch Paris liberated by square-jawed, chiseled Aryan superheroes than a ragtag bunch of African natives and Muslims. Before de Gaulle was granted permission by America to take back his own country, he had to scramble to find enough white people to replace anyone in his army who failed the melanin test.
Whoa now. Can't have this guy in battle-scarred Nazi-held Paris.
Of course, that had been de Gaulle's entire problem in the first place. His ultimate solution was to borrow a whole bunch of Spanish soldiers, dress them in berets and pencil mustaches and hope nobody would notice. In the meantime, the Africans were sent home without any of the glory, but at least they enjoyed the benefits of having served -- that is, until 1959, when the French inexplicably cut off their military pensions and tried to cover up their role in the war.
When mysterious "concentration camps" started appearing in Poland during World War II, one agent of the Polish resistance, Witold Pilecki, thought it would be wise to find out what the hell was going on. Despite the opinion of his superiors that he was "balls insane," Pilecki decided to investigate personally, by deliberately getting himself arrested by the Nazis. The camp he wanted to infiltrate was called "Auschwitz."
Yes, that Auschwitz.
They needed to set up an entire second camp for his balls.
For the next two and a half years, Pilecki smuggled intelligence out of the Germans' all-time most notorious death camp, stoically reporting on the horrors of Auschwitz like he was reporting the goddamn weather:
"We were slightly sprinkled by cold water. I got a blow in my jaw with a heavy rod. I spat out my two teeth. Bleeding began. From that moment we became mere numbers -- I wore the number 4859."
Pictures of Auschwitz don't really belong on a comedy site. Here's Teddy Roosevelt riding a moose instead.
After realizing that the Allies were just sitting on their hands about the whole Nazi death camp situation, Pilecki escaped the camp in 1943. But although infiltrating and escaping Auschwitz both individually qualified him as the most badass person in Europe, Pilecki went back to go another round with the Gestapo, fighting in the Warsaw Uprising, after which the Nazis threw him right back into another concentration camp.
How he got screwed:
Like many countries in Europe, Poland was so scarred and horrified by their run-in with fascism that it overcompensated after the war and went full communist. You'd think Pilecki would have earned major brownie points for the work he did fighting the Soviet Union's mortal nemesis, but the problem was that Pilecki was not a socialist sympathizer, suspecting that the only difference between Hitler and Stalin was mustache-width.
Marxism gives hair more body!
So he went right back to Poland to continue his hobby of infiltrating and researching horrific, murderous regimes. The Polish Soviet government decided that this was especially not cool, and they swiftly arrested their greatest war hero and gave him three death sentences, we imagine because they rightly suspected that killing him once would not be enough to stop Witold Pilecki.
Right up until the Soviet Union collapsed in the 90s, even mentioning the name of the guy who exposed the Nazis' villainy was enough to get you shot in Poland. They've recently repealed this policy and named a street after him, though we think they probably should go ahead and rename the whole country "Pileckiland."