6 Unassuming People Who Casually Saved Hundreds of Lives

#3. British Girl Saves Hundreds from Tsunami by Remembering Geography Lesson

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When you were in school, how long did you remember something after the lesson was over, especially once you got into Christmas break? Shit, we couldn't even remember what school we went to once Christmas vacation hit.

Stockbyte/Digital Vision/Getty Images
In summer, we'd forget two years of lessons. September to November was spent relearning the names of the months.

So we have to give major props to 10-year-old Tilly Smith of England, who not only remembered something during Christmas break that she had learned in school two weeks earlier, but used that info to save a bunch of people from total annihilation.

Tilly and her family were on vacation in Phuket, Thailand, when the ocean started acting funny. Not "funny ha ha," but funny in that it was bubbling up and hitting the shore a little closer with each wave. Everyone else on the beach was dumbstruck by curiosity, like the ocean was showing them a magic trick or something. But Tilly knew better. Only two weeks prior, she had learned about tsunamis in her geography class. Recognizing that the ocean was getting really pissed off, Tilly frantically told her parents that a tsunami was on its way. Since 10-year-old girls tend to be knowledgeable only about whatever today's equivalent to the Care Bears is, her parents were initially skeptical.

Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images
"Yes, dear. World capitals are fascinating. Or whatever it is you're babbling about."

But Tilly was persistent and continued to make a scene, so her parents finally gave in and headed for higher ground. On their way, they mentioned their suspicions to a security guard, because British people are polite like that. About 100 beachgoers cleared out, and the tsunami soon raged in. It ended up taking about a quarter-million lives in 13 countries, but zero point zero lives on Tilly's beach.

For her heroics, Tilly received the Thomas Gray Special Award from Second Sea Lord Vice-Admiral Sir James Burnell-Nugent. We were just going to say that she received an award, but we had to let everyone know that "Second Sea Lord Vice-Admiral Sir" was an actual title a human being could attain.

via BBC
It still doesn't beat the title of "Kickass Girl Who Saved Her Family and a Bunch of Strangers from Dying Horribly."

#2. Doctor Performs 30,000 Surgeries Inside War Zones, for Free

HBO

Of course, every doctor is a life saver -- especially one like Gino Strada, who specializes in heart and lung transplants. Last time we checked, those were major inside parts, so Strada already has a leg up in the saving lives department. What makes him interesting isn't his specialty or the fact that he kind of looks like the Dos Equis guy ...

Giles Duley
"Stay thirsty, my friends. Drinking before surgery risks pulmonary aspiration."

... it's that he is a surgery machine operating in the grittiest, toughest parts of the world. Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Cambodia -- all for free and all for victims of war. Oh yeah, we forgot to mention that all of Strada's 47 nonprofit medical facilities (he is the founder of Emergency USA) are set up in war zones. Again, this fact alone would be impressive, but good-hearted doctors volunteer all over the world all the time. What makes Dr. Gino stand out? In his 25 years of volunteering, he has performed an astounding 30,000 life-saving surgeries. For those without a calculator handy, that averages out to over three per day.

BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images
For health reasons, try to transplant a heart after every meal.

When no one else would touch the Taliban, Strada negotiated with them to get a hospital behind their front lines. And these aren't just ramshackle hospitals -- Strada's medical centers in Sudan are so clean, they have a lower infection rate than hospitals in the U.K. and United States. And while Strada has personally operated on about 30,000 patients, his foundation has served 5 million over the last 18 years. When asked if he'd like to go home to Venice and relax now that he's put in his time for humanity, he answered, "I'm a surgical animal. I like to be in the operating room."

#1. A Security Guard Predicts 9/11, Helps 2,700 People Escape

Carol M. Highsmith

One thing that is easily forgotten about the 9/11 attacks is that they could have been so much worse -- the people who perished in the Twin Towers made up a fraction of the total who worked there. Well, part of the reason so many made it out is because one guy knew it was coming. He was a regular old security guard for financial firm Morgan Stanley, and his name was Rick Rescorla.

Rick Rescorla Memorial 
A regular old security guard who'd served in military and law enforcement on four continents.

When we say "he knew it was coming," we're not getting into conspiracy territory here. Remember, September 11 wasn't the first attack from extremists on the World Trade Center -- in 1993, a bunch of those yahoos tried to bring the towers down with a truck bomb in the towers' garage. They were obviously unsuccessful, but they left an impression on Rescorla, who by the way had actually approached the city of New York about the WTC's security weaknesses before the 1993 bombing but was told in no uncertain terms to mind his own business.

So, when Rescorla was promoted to director of security for Morgan Stanley (i.e., most of the South Tower) in the mid-'90s, he decided to prepare for what he felt was another likely attack. Rescorla, who was a former Army colonel and Vietnam veteran, used his military background to construct his own evacuation plan, which he insisted on holding a drill for twice a year. By the way, this was in 1997 -- four full years before 9/11.

Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images
The rest of us were just preparing for the next century by hoarding items we could later list as "'90s stuff."

So when the first plane hit the North Tower at 8:46 a.m., Rescorla jumped into action. Despite inexplicable orders to NOT use his evacuation plan, Rescorla gave The Man a big giant "fuck off" and got people the hell out of there. By the time the second plane hit the South Tower at 9:03 a.m., only 17 minutes after the first attack, Rescorla had gotten 2,700 people out of the building calmly and safely. Only 13 people died under Rescorla's watch.

Sadly, one of those people was Rescorla himself -- he had gone back to look for stragglers. In a moment straight out of Hollywood, reports say that he was able to call his wife and tell her goodbye. So how do you remember a guy like that? Well, the History Channel produced a documentary about him called The Man Who Predicted 9/11, and the San Francisco Opera produced a piece called "Heart of a Soldier." Oh, and a statue of him as a soldier was unveiled. So that's pretty cool.

Rick Rescorla Memorial
Even if it does kind of imply that he forced the evacuation at the point of a bayonet.


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Related Reading: If you're looking for more incredible life-savings, watch this dude duck his way out of vehicular manslaughter. And did you know Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov saved all of our lives from nuclear fire? He totally did. Ready for animals saving people from certain death? Click away.

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