#2. Yevgeny Khaldei, Combat Photographer Extraordinaire
Yevgeny Khaldei grew up in Ukraine during the Russian Revolution, and as a result saw more than his fair share of horrors. He discovered photography after building his own camera at age 12, and by age 18 he found work with the TASS news agency, where in 1939 he was attached to the Red Army as a combat photographer.
And occasional bear portrait artist.
On the outbreak of war with Germany in 1941, Khaldei was commissioned a lieutenant in the Red Army and sent to Murmansk, where he captured astonishing images like this:
Reindeer were the USSR's 497th line of defense, after Yakov Smirnoff.
He operated more or less in the frontlines for the entire war, snapping images of Russian marines at Sevastopol, the Black Sea Fleet, the Red Air Force and street fighting in Budapest. He soon found himself in Berlin, where he captured one of the most iconic images in history:
Well, this would have been good if it wasn't for the damn Soviet flag getting in the way.
In the course of the war, Khaldei lost almost his entire extended family to the Nazis (he was Jewish), so naturally he held a grudge that eventually came to a head at the Nuremberg Trials, where the Nazis were being tried for war crimes.
Khaldei attended the trials as a frontline photographer, and made every effort to make the rest of Hermann Goering's life as utterly unpleasant as possible. Goering hated him. After all, he was a Ukrainian Communist Jew who wore his Soviet Naval uniform everywhere, and that just ticked every one of Goering's prejudicial hate boxes. Khaldei would constantly hang around Goering and even had an American security officer club him with his baton, resulting in this image:
That's Goering in visible discomfort caused by Khaldei's mere presence.
After the war, Khaldei was constantly dicked over by the Soviets because of his Jewish ancestry. He lived much of the rest of his life in obscurity until the fall of Communism, when his work was finally given some well-deserved recognition.
#1. Francis L. Sampson, aka Father Badass
Father Francis L. Sampson was a Catholic priest who served in WWII as the chaplain for the famous 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division -- a U.S. Army paratrooper unit that wound up being one of the key groups to drop on Normandy on D-Day as part of Operation Overlord.
"What's that? Bagpipes? That's the kind of badassery I can subscribe to!"
He wasn't expected to participate in the fighting because naturally he didn't carry any form of weapon (with the exception of a crucifix, which only works on vampires), so he found a small frontline aid station and began ministering to the wounded. When American units in the area came under attack and had to retreat, the wounded who couldn't be moved had to be left behind. Sampson decided to stay with them, where, despite absurd amounts of danger, he continued to tend to the injured soldiers.
"I'm pretty sure God's got my back on this one."
Unfortunately for everyone, some of the German troops who took over the aid station were Waffen SS and they, being despicable cockholes at the best of times, decided to put Sampson up against a wall and shoot him.
Fortunately, a German Army non-commissioned officer saw what was going on and rescued Sampson, taking him to an intelligence post, ostensibly for interrogation. There he was found to be a priest and therefore not someone the Germans really needed to be threatened by. They let him go, at which point he ran away to join the Allies ... oh, no, wait. He calmly returned to the Nazi-occupied aid station, where he went back to administering to the wounded. The wounded, by the way, now included lots of Germans, to whom he ministered all the same.
"Jesus loves black leather trench coats, but he thoroughly rejects the rest of Nazi ideology."
After the aid station was retaken, Sampson heard of an American soldier whose three brothers had all been reported killed in the same week (although one was actually a POW and survived the war). Moving quickly, he instigated the search for the fourth brother, Fritz Niland. Sampson went out, found him and brought him back to Utah Beach, where he was evacuated back to the States. Does that story sound familiar? It should, because it served as the plot for Saving Private Ryan, where the part of Father Sampson was played by an entire squad of rangers.
"What, no stirring soundtrack? Go back and rescue me again."
Sampson went on to jump with the 101st in Holland later that year, where he was captured again and spent the rest of the war in captivity. Then he got out and ... went right back to war, jumping into Korea. When that was over and Vietnam came along, he was of course on board for that, too, taking the position of Chief of Chaplains.
What the hell was he going to do, stay home?
Check out more men (and a lady) who were impervious to death in 7 Historical Figures Who Were Absurdly Hard To Kill or, for people who opted to just spit in Death's face, read The 11 Most Badass Last Words Ever Uttered.
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