#2. A Wehrmacht Troop Helps Americans Rescue French Prisoners
In May 1945, toward the end of World War II, a company of the American 23rd Tank Battalion was tasked with securing Castle Itter in Austria and rescuing the high-profile French prisoners held therein. The company was led by the cigar-chomping, whiskey-drinking, all-American badass Lt. John C. "Jack" Lee Jr., who found himself taunting the Gods of Movie Cliches by going on one final big mission right before the war was about to end, which he was more than happy to oblige.
Stephen Harding/Norwich University
Before he left, for good measure, he smashed a mirror into 13 pieces. With his smile.
En route to the castle, the team came across their first obstacle when they ran into a group of Wehrmacht soldiers, or as Lee probably referred to them, target practice. To his disappointment, though, the Germans not only surrendered to the Americans, they outright joined them. Their leader, Major Josef Gangl, talked to Lee and immediately volunteered his soldiers to assist with the extraction of the French prisoners held in Castle Itter, even disarming a bridge bomb for the U.S. troops along the way. Now, it's important to note that Gangl was prooobably only doing this to earn some Brownie points with the Allies after realizing that he was wearing the wrong-colored uniform just as the war was wrapping up.
Nonetheless, Lee accepted his help and the alternative history buff's wet dream set out for the castle. Once there, however, they found A) the castle abandoned by the guards, and B) themselves in the crosshairs of the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division sent to the castle to kill the prisoners. Lee, his handful of men and one tank were now forced to defend the castle from one of the most elite German fighting groups ever. They also had to deal with Gangl's soldiers, who by then were already sharpening their bayonets to slit the Americans' throats when they weren't looking, right?
Or at least adding a new "fun" room to the castle?
Wrong. Showing way more trustworthiness than you'd expect from a Nazi, Major Gangl and his men decided to uphold their commitment to the Americans and fought side by side with them. As the SS troops began pouring out of the woods trying to storm the castle's gates with machine guns and antitank rockets, the Wehrmacht unit quickly took up defensive positions and fired upon their fellow Germans. And when they ran out of bullets, they retreated to the castle keep, ready to fight bayonet to bayonet, hand to hand until the last man fell, simply because they had given their word.
Thankfully, just as the attackers readied for the final push into the castle, an American relief force arrived and eliminated the remaining SS. When the smoke cleared, several Wehrmacht soldiers were dead, including Major Gangl himself. Hey, if doing the right thing didn't come with some risk, we wouldn't make such a big deal out of it. Still, we should finish this up on one with a happier ending ...
#1. Hasan Jusovic Pulls a Reverse Anne Frank on Aco Nenadic
On May 2, 1992, during the early stages of the Yugoslav Wars, which would turn out to be one of the most brutal conflicts of the 20th century, the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) attempted to take over the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. They failed and were eventually brought down by the Bosnian Territorial Defense in what came to be known as the Dobrovoljacka Street attack. When the fighting ceased, dozens of Serbs were dead, and the soldiers who survived were forced to march to a makeshift prison, with the 19-year-old Aco Nenadic among them.
All the non-makeshift prisons were already destroyed. Nice going, war.
But as Nenadic was being escorted, he was approached by a Bosnian soldier who whispered to him, "Don't be afraid; just keep quiet. As long as I'm here, you will stay alive." After overcoming his initial, terrified assumption that he had unwillingly just acquired a new boyfriend, Aco Nenadic suddenly realized that he was talking to his old friend Hasan Jusovic.
Jusovic and Nenadic actually used to serve together in the Yugoslavian army, but when the country's various republics began fighting for sovereignty, Jusovic knew he had to go and fight with his fellow countrymen, so he devised a plan to desert into Bosnia. Risking a court martial, Nenadic helped Jusovic escape, saying goodbye to his friend for the last time, or so he thought.
We no longer see anyone we knew as teenagers, and we weren't even in a war, technically.
When Jusovic saw that his old buddy was among the captured Dobrovoljacka Street soldiers, he knew he had to save him. When they got to the prison, Jusovic convinced his commanding officer to release the Serbian soldier to him, explaining that he owed him a favor. Nenadic then went on to live with Jusovic and his family for the next month pretending to be Muslim, while the JNA continued to bomb the ever-loving crap out of the surrounding area. Taking into account the ethnic cleansing of Muslim Bosnians (like Hasan) that was already on its way back then, this would be like a Jewish family hiding a German soldier in the middle of World War II.
In the end, Aco Nenadic managed to escape into Serbian territory, survived the war, and eventually reunited with his friend 17 years later.
Related Reading: For more of War's lighter side, read about these deadly weapons being used to save the world. Old C-130s are planting trees instead of bombing cities! For more uplifting stories, click here. You'll read about the soldier who braved gunfire and artillery JUST to prank some marines. Last, curl up with some heartwarming stories of combat.