6 Unassuming People Who Casually Saved Hundreds of Lives
For some people, saving lives is just part of their job description. For others, holding the door for a fellow human being is an accomplishment worthy of Mariah Carey's 1993 classic "Hero" and a 21-gun salute. The people on this list fall into a third category. They're the ones who went above and beyond, sometimes sacrificing themselves in the process.
Police Officer Prevents Hundreds from Jumping Off the Golden Gate Bridge
We know what you're thinking. "This guy's a cop, isn't that what he gets paid for?" OK, how many cops dedicate their time to painstakingly listening to people's darkest troubles for hours at a time, all to prevent them from killing themselves? And how many of those cops have done this hundreds of times? Only one: California Highway Patrolman Kevin Briggs.
Either this guy gets off on the smell of suicidal despair, or he really is a genuine hero.
For 22 years, Briggs has patrolled Marin County's highways, and part of his beat includes the Golden Gate Bridge. The Golden Gate Bridge is famous for two things: letting you know that Full House was based in San Francisco, and being the top suicide destination in the U.S. We're not sure if those two facts are related.
Have you ever been so good at a job that your co-workers call you in on your day off? Briggs is that good, too, only when he comes in to work, it's to keep someone from jumping to their death off a bridge. Briggs estimates that about twice a month he talks someone out of jumping -- so every 14 days or so he's going through a life or death emotional roller coaster.
Twice as tough as an emotional monthly cycle (lycanthropy).
So what does he say that's so magical? Getting the other person talking about things they have to live for helps. And if that doesn't work, Briggs can bring up the time that he beat cancer (because of course he did). In his 22 years on the force, only one (ONE) person has jumped on Briggs' watch. Not even Batman can boast that kind of success rate. Briggs' tireless efforts have earned him the nickname "Guardian of the Golden Gate."
And if you're not feeling good about humanity yet, keep reading. In 2005, someone snapped a shot of Briggs talking to Kevin Berthia. Hands in his pockets, head down, feet teetering on the edge -- this 22-year-old new dad was done with life. Briggs talked Berthia into giving the world one more chance. Eight years later, Berthia was not only still alive, but on hand to thank Briggs in person for saving his life.
Berthia fathered two children after the suicide attempt. One will cure all cancers; the other, AIDS.
Personally, we would have picked a different background picture, but whatever. It's still a happy ending.
British Spy Saves Thousands of Jews During the Holocaust
Quick: Who saved the most Jews during the Holocaust? If you said Oskar Schindler, then we are actually a little proud that our readers took a break from perusing Cracked long enough to watch a meaningful and artistic film. Oh, and you're also totally wrong. Schindler saved about 1,200 Jews, and don't get us wrong, it was a very brave and caring act. But a British spy has him beat by about 9,000.
Legend has it that he smuggled at least five families out in his eyebrows.
His name was Frank Foley (not exactly the coolest and most exotic name for a British spy). But he must have had a really cool undercover gig, right? Like he beat the Nazis at poker to win the Jews' freedom or something? Actually, his cover was a boring desk job: working as a passport officer for the British Embassy in Berlin. But being a passport officer was actually perfect. Foley was fully aware of the Jews' treatment by the Germans and didn't care for it one bit, so he began to forge passports and tweak visas so Jews could get to anywhere that wasn't under Hitler's rule. He even entered concentration camps to issue visas and travel documents to whoever he could save. And all these shenanigans were done without diplomatic immunity.
It was more intense than even the craziest border control agent video game.
In the end, it's estimated that Foley saved upwards of 10,000 Jews from certain death. So where's his Oscar-winning movie? Well, very few people knew who had helped them escape, and those who did kept their mouths shut so they wouldn't get deported back to the country that just tried to kill them. Not to mention that what Foley did was illegal, and being a spy meant his missions were confidential. So Foley's story remained quiet for the rest of his days, and he wasn't acknowledged by the British government for this bravery until 2004, almost 50 years after his death.
Engineers on the Titanic Sacrificed Themselves to Allow More People to Escape
The 1997 James Cameron movie about the Titanic (we don't remember the title) makes a big deal about the band that kept playing as the boat sank. But while the orchestra was playing "Alexander's Ragtime Band" or "My Baby's Got the Cholera" or whatever else people played in 1912, you might have noticed that the lifeboats were lowered by electrical winches, and the interior lights stayed on for an awful long time for a boat that was going vertical. Unless the Titanic had the longest extension cord in history, the credit for all that electricity goes to the engineers.
Or else black, flooded corridors would have claimed everyone. An even bigger tragedy, but arguably a cooler movie.
Yes, the same engineers that Cameron shows for about a minute when the iceberg hits and barely shows again when the water finally shorts out the power -- they're the real heroes of the whole shebang. While everyone else was trying to get the hell off the ship, the engineers and the boiler room guys kept working, eventually giving the Titanic 45 more minutes of light and power so more than 700 people could find their way out.
Meanwhile, you're praying for 45 more minutes of battery time because you're too lazy to get the power cord across the room.
Oh, and like their musician friends up top, all the power guys went down with the ship. We can't fully blame James Cameron for not being able to squeeze that minor detail in. It's not like the movie was three goddamned hours long or anything.
British Girl Saves Hundreds from Tsunami by Remembering Geography Lesson
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.
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.
"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.
It still doesn't beat the title of "Kickass Girl Who Saved Her Family and a Bunch of Strangers from Dying Horribly."
Doctor Performs 30,000 Surgeries Inside War Zones, for Free
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 ...
"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.
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."
A Security Guard Predicts 9/11, Helps 2,700 People Escape
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.
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.
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.
Even if it does kind of imply that he forced the evacuation at the point of a bayonet.
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.