The 5 Most Badass War Heroes Who Never Held a Weapon
The pen, they say, is mightier than the sword. What they neglected to tell you is that, more often than you'd think, quite a few things are mightier than the pen. Things like bagpipes, crosses and sometimes just a really magnetic personality.
Just ask ...
Bill Millin, Bagpipe Warrior
In the olden days of war, it was traditional for the parts of the British Army that came from Scotland and Ireland to fight accompanied by a guy playing the bagpipes. By World War II, the bagpipes were restricted to rear areas, and even then it was to be limited to when nobody was doing anything of great significance or when a member of the royal family arrived somewhere. However, Simon Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat, decided that those rules were for the English, and since he was Scottish (and at least slightly crazy), they didn't apply to him.
They knew not to argue unless they wanted a broken Scotch bottle in their face.
So, he ordered his piper, Bill Millin, to go ashore on one of the main landing points for the invasion of Normandy and wail on a set of bagpipes. Once on the beach, Millin calmly walked up and down at the water's edge, playing while carnage exploded and people died all around him.
"The only way to break their lines is a stirring rendition of 'Danny Boy'."
After he had finished one tune, Lord Lovat (who was dressed in a monogrammed turtleneck sweater and armed with his grandfather's hunting rifle -- did we say he was insane already?) actually called out a request for another song, which Millin then played. After the beach was secured, Lord Lovat once again ordered Millin to play for the commandos inland so they could assault even more German positions to the sound of the pipes.
"Funny ... the way you're playing that sounds like a high-pitched scream."
With other soldiers frantically gesturing at him to find some cover and just really having a war all over the place, Millin walked slowly and bolt upright, playing "Blue Bonnets Over the Border." Millin later talked to some of the Germans who had been captured to ask why they never shot him, and discovered it was because they thought he had gone mad.
War is hell.
And if anyone's harboring any ill thoughts toward Lord Lovat for basically risking his own man's life for what were ostensibly the most fuck-stupid reasons imaginable, it's probably important to note that Millin played the pipes at the Lord's funeral after his death in 1995. So clearly he was OK with the way things went. For some reason.
"It was the greatest damn gig I ever did."
Matvey Kuzmin, the Unarmed Old Man Who Screwed an Entire Nazi Battalion
When the Nazis invaded Russia in 1941, Matvey Kuzmin was in his 80s and had lived through more than any of you reading this can be asked to imagine. Kuzmin, a peasant, lived in a tiny tumbledown cottage deep in the forest. He had refused to join a kolkhoz (collective farm) and made a living as a hunter, which earned him the nickname "Biriuk" ("lone wolf"). So he had no reason to like the Soviets at all, seeing as they made him live in a tiny shithole of a house in the woods because he wouldn't join their stupid farm.
Their commie farm, no less.
When the fighting of WWII reached Kuzmin's hovel in February 1942, the Germans came and offered him food, fuel and a new hunting rifle if he could show them a path through the woods to the rear of the Soviet positions.
So here was a chance for one man to have a huge impact on the war -- to literally guide the Nazis to a surprise attack on the Soviets who had made his life hell. He took them up on their offer.
"Heads, I help the genocidal madmen. Tails, the psychopathic Marxist control freaks. Edge goes to China."
But Kuzmin, apparently feeling the Nazis were at least marginally more evil than the Soviets, sent his son ahead in secret to tell the Red Army to set up an ambush in a particular spot. Then Kuzmin, at age eighty-freaking-three, led the Nazis on a march through the forest, stomping through several feet of snow. They marched, and they marched, the old man taking the Nazis on a route that would leave them exhausted. Did we mention he was 83?
"Go inform the troops, and then make me a cocoa. I'm late for my nap."
Kuzmin finally lured the entire German battalion to a stagnant bog where the Red Army had set up a trap. The Russians opened fire, ripping through the German unit. Realizing the old man had screwed them, what was left of the Nazi battalion scattered and fled into the woods.
In the ambush, Kuzmin was shot dead by a German officer. He was buried three days later with full military honors, attracting the attention of a reporter for the Soviet propaganda newspaper Pravda. When the reporter wrote about what happened, Kuzmin became a Russian patriotic legend. Kuzmin is the oldest person to have ever been named a Hero of the Soviet Union, and a statue of him still stands today in the Moscow Metro.
It informs the guard that you have no ticket, then leads you to the wrong platform.
Krystyna Skarbek Knew the Jedi Mind Trick
Here is where we find out there is no more powerful weapon of war than bullshit.
At the outbreak of war between Germany and Poland, a Polish countess named Krystyna Skarbek fled from her home and found work with the British Secret Intelligence Service (the same one James Bond works for). She was sent to Hungary, where she operated in a spy ring that smuggled intelligence reports and even a top secret Polish anti-tank rifle from Europe. In short, she was living as different a life from that of a countess as you can get.
Although she could sure win a lot of polo matches with this thing.
In January 1941, Skarbek and fellow spy Andrzej Kowerski were arrested by the Gestapo. Skarbek bullshitted the Germans into letting them go by biting her tongue until it bled and then convincing them she had pulmonary tuberculosis (or was insane -- either way, probably best to not have her hanging around anymore).
Clearly, this woman had a gift.
A frothing, blood-flecked gift, but a gift nonetheless.
In 1944, Skarbek was sent to France in preparation for the liberation of Europe. Upon her arrival, she proceeded to wipe out entire battalions at a time. Not with sabotage or guiding bombers to their position, but by convincing them to disable their guns and desert their stations. What did she say to them? Who knows? The woman could talk the shit back into a bear. One story claims that a German patrol sent a guard dog after her, and she convinced the dog to stay with her instead. Seriously.
She persuaded this kitten to breach the Siegfried Line.
Later, prior to the little-known Allied landings in the South of France known as Operation Dragoon, three Allied spies were captured and were going to be executed. Skarbek swung into action. She met with two Gestapo officers named Albert Schenk and Max Waem, and in three hours she convinced them that she was a British radio operator. She went on to say that she was the wife of one of the captured men, she was the niece of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery (the British Army officer who planned D-Day) and that she had the power to have Waem executed for war crimes after the war or to guarantee his safety if he let the men go. Terrified, Waem let them go, though he was mysteriously murdered not long afterward.
Her "Deception" medal is the one disguised as a giraffe.
Her story and personality reportedly would later serve as the inspiration for two James Bond characters: Vesper Lynd and Tatiana Romonova. So Hollywood interpreted "most persuasive soldier ever who happened to be a woman" as "woman who must have had great boobs."
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.
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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