The 50 Most Awesome Things Ever Done by Americans
American history is full of badasses. This country was built on the bones and fists of men and women who ate up pain and pissed out star-spangled banners. Over the last few years, we've been collecting the stories of real Americans who did really awesome things -- at peace, at war, and while being Teddy Roosevelt. Now we present the best of these stories to you, as a way of saying "Happy Birthday, America!"
Steve Buscemi Became Part of the 9/11 Rescue Effort
Steve Buscemi is the go-to actor for when you need a whiny, loudmouthed schnook who always gets his muscular friends to do his fighting for him. He's usually cast as one of two things: a snaky criminal or snarky comic relief. Neither role requires he be a physically intimidating man, only a slightly unhinged one. In short, not badass at all, right?
Wrong. As it turns out, Steve Buscemi isn't snarky, unhinged, or whiny. In fact, he's a goddamned 9/11 hero.
And he always tips 20 percent.
He had the skills for it. Where many actors will wait tables, work as studio go-fers, or perform one of a hundred other degrading jobs while waiting for their big break, Buscemi took the less-traditional route of becoming a New York City firefighter. He did that until 1985, when he started getting gigs that didn't involve running into gigantic open flames on the regular. But he never forgot his roots, and this was never more evident than on September 11, 2001.
Many celebrities "helped" after the terrorist attacks by organizing fundraisers, handing out water and coffee, or recording horrible music that was no less horrible just because it was "for the heroes." Buscemi, again, bucked the trend by going right back into firefighter mode, returning to his old firehouse and volunteering for service. Right alongside the decidedly non-famous crew of FDNY Engine 55, he busted ass for up to 12 hours at a time, shoveling out debris and rubble and pulling survivors out of the wreckage. Countless people who might otherwise have perished can now say, without hyperbole, that Mr. Pink saved their lives.
They later repaid the favor by being literally the only people to go see Burt Wonderstone.
There's a real good chance you didn't hear about this in the aftermath of the attacks, but it's not because the media ignored it. Rather, Buscemi wanted us to ignore it. He refused to talk about it in interviews, simply saying, "these are my brothers." He showed absolutely zero interest in turning his duty into a publicity stunt. That's why there are only a couple of pictures of Buscemi hard at work; here, he's the dapper chap in the upper-left corner.
"Everyone ignore Jim; he's pretending to pose for beefcake calendars again."
After 9/11, Buscemi went back to showing off his crazy eyes on the big screen, but he has never forgotten his firefighting roots, even when it gets him in trouble. In 2003, less than two years after 9/11, Buscemi's old firehouse was deemed useless by the NYC government and was slated to close. Buscemi showed up with a bunch of other firefighters to protest this decision, with the entire group ultimately arrested for their efforts. He continues to support firefighters and their struggles to this day, proving that he only acts because he's too old to work his dream job any longer.
A Homeless Drifter Saves the Life of a Newborn Baby at a Truck Stop
Gary Wilson: mysterious drifter bound for Memphis. Truck stop vagrant or angel? You be the judge after you hear what he did.
Despite having two mannish names, Keaton Mason was a woman, and more pertinent to this story, a pregnant woman in labor. She was on her way to the hospital with her fiance when the baby decided a truck stop was just as good as a hospital to get born in (babies are pretty stupid). This particular baby came out in the usual way -- via stork exiting the vagina carrying a baby -- but she wasn't breathing, because the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. That's bad news anywhere, but at a truck stop, it's kind of the worst.
If they'd just kept going to the next stop ...
Despite having just given birth to a new person, Mason had the strength and good sense to scream for help while her husband-to-be dialed 911. Surely among the worldly drivers and good time girls standing idly by there would be someone who knew what to do -- and there was. A long-haired, bearded man holding a sign that said "Memphis" came forward. The sign wasn't just a trendy suggestion for the new baby's name, it was Gary Wilson's hopeful destination.
"Coincidentally, I was going there for baby back ribs."
While everyone else was freaking the hell out, Wilson freed the cord from the girl's neck and began to rub her back. The first one seemed intuitive, but how did he know to rub her back to get her breathing? Magic? Was he Jesus? Eventually, Gary "Jesus" Wilson took over the 911 call and talked to the dispatcher directly, receiving directions on how to cut and tie off the umbilical cord and get the baby's college fund all set up. For his trouble, the truck stop gave Wilson a meal and a place to sleep. But he was gone by the next morning, taken back up to heaven. Or in the back of a pickup to Memphis, whatever.
Like Michael Landon, but with more hobo stink.
There Was a Time When Presidents Forded Rivers on Mooseback
This picture is real, this scene existed, and yes, at one point in our history, you could have actually voted for this man.
We do not know if this was a publicity stunt, a routine hunting incident, or seriously how our beloved President Theodore Roosevelt used to ride to work every day. All we know is that it was taken during the 1900 presidential election campaign, and as far as we are concerned, it virtually guaranteed William McKinley's re-election for as many terms as God gave him.
On that note, President McKinley was dead a year later.
Mr. Rogers Gets Money from a Cynical Congress by Being Mr. Rogers
Generations of Americans grew up with PBS and shows like Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, but the whole network came very close to dying an early death. In 1969, President Richard Nixon proposed halving the funding for the newly formed Corporation for Public Broadcasting, because why should there be such a thing as kids' programming that isn't one long barrage of advertisements for toys and snack food? The U.S. Senate held hearings to decide the matter, and someone was going to have to convince them to keep the funding in place, rather than use it to buy, say, part of a new B-52 bomber. Good luck, sucker!
During the hearing, a then-unknown kids' show host named Fred Rogers stepped forward to give a statement on behalf of the philosophy behind his show and the channel in general. Mr. Rogers, being Mr. Rogers, didn't get emotional or worked up over it; he just calmly sat down for six minutes to have a heart-to-heart with the Senate about feelings and imagination.
"We deal with such things as the inner drama of childhood. We don't need to bop someone over the head to make drama over a scene; we deal with such things as getting a haircut or dealing with brothers and sisters ... I give an expression of care each day to each child."
At the beginning of the speech, Senator John Pastore seems impatient, even making fun of Rogers in the first couple of minutes. But at the end, after Rogers shares a little song that he wrote, Pastore says, "I'm supposed to be a pretty tough guy and I'm getting goosebumps for the first time in days ... looks like you just earned your $20 million."
And what happened then? Well, in D.C. they say that Pastore's small heart grew three sizes that day ...
That would not be the last time that Rogers would do something like this. In 1984, when the Supreme Court was considering outlawing home-recording technology, they decided not to at least partly because Rogers was worried that taking away VCRs would make it so that some kids who couldn't watch his show at the scheduled time wouldn't be able to watch it at all. The court thought that made perfect sense.
Then, when Burger King ran a commercial with a parody look-alike named "Mr. Rodney" in 1984, Rogers asked them to stop. The senior vice president of the company pulled the $15,000 ad without a second thought, saying, "Mr. Rogers is one guy you don't want to mess with ... hopefully now we have peace in the neighborhood." Can we doubt at this point that Rogers was some kind of sorcerer?
"I have some experience with getting kings to do what I want."
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.
Andrew Jackson Beats an Assassin With His Cane
Richard Lawrence blazed his own trail as the first person to attempt to kill a U.S. president while being crazier than a bag of agitated cobras injected with some sort of ... crazy serum. For cobras.
In his youth, Lawrence lived a quiet life as a painter. Then he quit his job, donned a fancy cape, grew a mustache, and told everyone who would listen that he was King Richard the Third of England.
"Hey, guys, I'm king now, OK? Here's a sketch I did of my sweet crown."
When folks started to question why a long-deceased British ruler was huffing paint on American soil, Lawrence gave a simple and logical explanation: The American government owed him a vast fortune that he couldn't claim the throne without. He hadn't received the fortune because of, you guessed it, President Andrew Jackson. Oh, and he believed that Jackson had killed his father in 1832 (truly an impressive feat, when you consider that Lawrence's father had never been to America and actually died in 1823).
That's right, a man so sinister that he could kill through space and time needed to be stopped, and ol' King Richard had the gumption to do it.
When Jackson attended a funeral in 1835, Lawrence followed, hoping to kill him and presumably tug his mustache and disappear in a cloud of smoke. He approached Jackson from behind, drew a pistol, and fired into his back at near point-blank range. The gun misfired.
Naturally, being an undead British king warrants carrying two pistols. He quickly drew and fired his second weapon. Same result. By this point others in attendance caught wind of our caped crusader and wrestled him to the ground. President Jackson served up some justice with his hickory cane before actual legal justice was served. Lawrence was found not guilty by reason of insanity and spent the rest of his life in a mental institution.
"I want my crown back!"
What Went Wrong:
Lawrence's pistols are believed to have misfired due to high humidity, and thus he was thwarted by bad weather. This means either he brought extra shitty pistols or wars back then had to be postponed every time it rained.
On top of that, Jackson was an avid duelist, so it can be assumed that he had long conquered his fear of guns, bullets, and people firing guns loaded with bullets in his general direction. This is not the type of man you try to assassinate on impulse. Not unless you like the feeling of a hickory cane on your ass.
Neil Armstrong Piloted a Spaceship While Unconscious
The early '60s were a bad time to be an American rocket scientist. The Soviets were boasting a track record that kicked U.S. ass on all fronts, from Laika the Space Dog to Yuri Gagarin. Now both space powers had set their sights on the ultimate goal -- the moon. And the message from upstairs was clear: NASA damn well better not screw up this one.
"OK, so what if we launched a giant cube into space?"
The biggest problem with the moon leg of the space race wasn't getting there -- that was, more or less, just a matter of thrust. The problem lay in how to get there and back again in one piece. NASA had managed to figure out the best way to accomplish this: the lander system, which involves a light, spiderlike mini ship that leaves the spacecraft to handle the delicate landing business while the craft itself hangs around in orbit. Then the lander docks back in, and voila! Everything is parades, promotions, and propaganda victory.
That was the theory, anyway. It turned out that managing to connect two vessels traveling at thousands of miles an hour, in outer space, is far from easy. But the clock was ticking, so they got to practicing.
In 1966, NASA sent astronauts David Scott and Neil Armstrong (yes, that Neil Armstrong) on a mission called Gemini 8. Their objective: complete the first-ever space docking by joining with a previously launched unmanned craft called the Agena.
This is either a rendering of the docking sequence or space pornography.
The mission went swimmingly. Six hours after launch, Scott and Armstrong had successfully docked with Agena, and everything was going good.
That is, until the death roll started.
After 27 minutes of post-docking relaxation, Scott happened to glance out of the window and noticed that everything was spinning. A software glitch had caused Agena's thruster rockets to malfunction, and they were firing away like a drunken cowboy. Unimpressed by this potentially life-threatening problem, Armstrong calmly balanced Gemini's own thrusters to stop the roll until he could turn off Agena's.
Armstrong, seen here smiling at his old friend Certain Fiery Death.
This fixed the problem ... for a few seconds. The roll started again, more furiously than ever. Realizing that their spacecraft was in danger of breaking apart, Armstrong undocked and moved away from the troublemaking Agena, yet somehow the spinning only increased.
Shit like this happens in space travel every once in a while, and it's usually fixed with a quick "Houston, we have a problem." However, Gemini 8 was temporarily out of radio contact at the time, which prevented the control center from telling them the plot twist: It was the Gemini's thruster that was malfunctioning all along.
"Our best estimate is that you are between 95 percent and completely fucked."
The barrel roll got faster and faster, to the point where they were going at one revolution per second. It was more than fast enough to cause Scott and Armstrong to get dizzy and lose track of the location of Earth. This is widely thought to be the worst thing you can lose track of as an astronaut.
At that point, Neil Armstrong decided he'd had enough of space's shit. His vision blurred and, at the brink of going unconscious, Armstrong somehow managed to shrug off the effects of the insanity carousel enough to figure out the real problem and fix it like a boss. He turned off the malfunctioning thrusters and initiated early re-entry, which brought the aircraft back under control and allowed the astronauts to regain their bearings. One relatively uneventful emergency landing later, the battered and bruised spacemen were safe and sound -- and Command Pilot Neil A. Armstrong had added a good 10 inches to his Space Dong.
This didn't hurt him later in life.
Gloria Richardson Doesn't Give a Damn About Bayonets
In 1963, Gloria Richardson lived in Cambridge, Maryland, a town so divided that a street called Race Street literally kept blacks on one side and whites on the other. No word on where everyone else lived, but we're guessing it was "Not White Lane" or the alley behind Hooker Town. Even though Cambridge had a terrible record at race relations, it was held up as a model of "separate but (winky eye) equal" to the rest of the country. Which was weird for local African-Americans when they couldn't get hospital care, jobs, or representation in government.
"Whaddya gonna do about it?"
Gloria Richardson led the Cambridge protests to make things right. The thing to remember here is that in 1963, lots of cities around the country were fighting for desegregated restaurants and theaters and tree forts. Participating in a sit-in was as common as changing your Facebook avatar to support favorite causes today, only you were actually leaving the safety of your private home and using your own physical body as the symbol for progress while men with guns arrested and beat you. So it wasn't the same at all, really. Sorry I made the analogy.
What was different about Richardson was that when the white establishment reached out to her to find a nice, safe middle ground between the blacks and the whites, she said "No thanks" and kept going with the protests. Robert "Effing" Kennedy himself summoned her to the White House to hash things out with white leaders of the town, and she ended up refusing to vote on the proposal they wrote together. Basic rights weren't up for a vote, in her eyes. What's next, voting on whether or not people could marry? Crazy, right? She put it this way:
"A first-class citizen does not plead to the white power structure to give him something that the whites have no power to give or take away. Human rights are human rights, not white rights."
Long story short, the protests continued and the National Guard/Bayonet Brigade was deployed to Cambridge. And that's when we got this picture of Richardson treating Fatty Buttbuckle's bayonet like it's got an invisible dirty diaper at the end of it, and she's the only one who can see it.
Worst superpower ever.
Richard and Angela Moyer Wrestle a Bear in Their Living Room
Richard Moyer of Perry County, Pennsylvania, was letting his dog back in the house at 3 a.m. when a bear plowed right through his patio door and tackled him.
Maybe the bear had once given him an expired coupon.
To reiterate: He wasn't out hunting furry threshers to prove his manliness, or camping in bear-village, or even taking the highway to the Grizzly Zone. He was standing in his home, his place of safety, sleepily calling for his dog to finish pooping, and then he was under a bear.
Hearing the commotion, Angela Moyer walked out, presumably to see what that damn dog was doing now, and found her husband trying to put a headlock on a super predator. Angela, whom we officially proclaim the undisputed queen of rolling with it, distracted the bear and got it off her husband. Unfortunately, bears are generally distracted from a meal only by other, more insistent meals -- so it immediately tackled Angela instead, and dragged her outside.
"Dammit, Angie, I said I've got it!"
Richard did not want to start dating again. Ugh, paying for all those dinners, and that first date nervousness, and now there's, like, texting protocol and stuff to deal with, right? No thank you to all that; he'd rather chase a bear into his yard and keep the fight on. Eventually, even the bear couldn't believe this shit was happening and checked out of that mess. In the end, Richard and Angela survived despite suffering serious wounds.
Oh, and because we know our audience, here's the most important bit: The dog made it out OK too.
"Oh man, you guys gotta check this out! I was over there pooping and I found this -- Jesus, what the hell happened to you two?"
Private Desmond Doss: Half Rudy, Half Rambo, All Pacifist
From his 1942 enlistment in the U.S. Army, Desmond Doss was a living contradiction. He was a Seventh Day Adventist pacifist there voluntarily, but even under direct orders, he refused to so much as hold a rifle. He did have the excuse that he was going to be serving as a field medic, but his commanding officer still tried unsuccessfully to get rid of him through Section 8. Doss also refused to work on Saturday, so he had to make up for it throughout the rest of the week.
The Army was not the gentle and accommodating organization we know and love today, and all of this being a special snowflake stuff did Doss basically no favors. While praying, his comrades would chide and throw shoes at him. One of his comrades even told him that when the troop went into battle, he would shoot Doss himself.
"Just not in the mustache."
Then came the May 1945 Battle of Okinawa. Doss and his group in the 307th Infantry were forced to climb a 400-foot cliff to attack entrenched Japanese troops. Once there, they received heavy resistance. This is where Doss went the pacifist version of totally berserk. According to his later citations, at one point Doss ran "through a shower of grenades to within eight yards of enemy forces." Over the course of the next two days, Doss provided medical services and pulled soldiers to safety, and was credited with saving the lives of 75 wounded, including the soldier who had threatened to kill him.
"P.S. Sorry about that. It was war, you know?"
On the second day, one of those grenades finally got him and severely wounded his legs. Doss dressed the wounds himself and then waited five hours for someone to come and get him. When they did, en route to the field hospital under tank fire, Doss gave up his stretcher and told his bearers to carry another wounded soldier instead, which is about the point where you stop being a "war hero" and start being a "show off." The universe rewarded his willingness to abandon his cot by hitting him in the arm with a bullet when someone else tried to carry him from the field. Doss then broke his private vow to never pick up a rifle and tied one to his arm as a splint, thus becoming the world's only badass Mega Man cosplayer, if one of the less accurate ones.
Doss crawled several hundred yards to the field hospital from there, and for his over-the-top heroism, he became one of only two conscientious objectors in American military history to win the Medal of Honor, which his tragically sincere religious conviction probably prevented him from using as a ninja throwing star.
However, the Bible doesn't say anything about chakrams.
James Riley Shoots an Entire Saloon and Vanishes
James Riley was an 18-year-old kid stricken with tuberculosis, meaning the guy could barely get out of bed without vomiting up a gallon of lung tissue like Val Kilmer in Tombstone. But when his mentor was gunned down in front of him, the sickly young Riley managed to perforate the four ruthless bastards responsible in a matter of seconds, all for the sake of righteous revenge.
And what is now known in the psychiatric world as a "blood boner."
You see, Riley had been taken under the wing of a policeman named Mike McCluskie, who taught him how to shoot and, presumably, how to chew tobacco and whistle at busty corseted women. In 1871, McCluskie was cornered in a saloon by four gruff Texans looking to settle a score, since McCluskie had killed a friend of theirs (probably while fulfilling his duties as a police officer, but this was the Old West, so it's really anyone's guess). The four cowboys unloaded on McCluskie, chewing him up into a pile of pulpy red mist as Riley looked on in horror.
However, instead of hacking up the rest of his lungs in terrified spasms like some knee-knocking wiener, Riley stood up to face the four armed men who had just killed his only friend and proceeded to unleash a storm of Pacino-esque fury on McCluskie's killers, eliminating two of the men and severely wounding the other two (and killing two bystanders in the process). When the smoke in the saloon finally cleared, Riley was gone, never to be seen or heard from again.
Least of all by the surviving bystanders, all now permanently blind and deaf.
That part isn't legend, by the way -- immediately after avenging his friend's death, James Riley walked out of the saloon, into the desert, and freaking disappeared. Nobody knows where he went or where and when he died. He's like a gun-slinging phantom.
Abraham Lincoln Led a Bumbling Backwoods Militia (and Wrestled Them)
Before he was given the task of crushing the Southern rebellion, Abraham Lincoln volunteered to help crush a Native American rebellion back when he was 23, during what was called the Black Hawk War. It took place in 1832, after a group of Native Americans crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois to reclaim their land from white settlers and had almost nothing to do with the professional hockey team of the same name.
It was named after the Kickapoo twin-engine chopper.
In response, the government scrambled to put a militia force together, and Honest Abe was voted company commander of his band of volunteer soldiers. Although Lincoln was proud of being entrusted with this command, it was reported by the men that the appeal of electing him as their officer was that they were able to do whatever they wanted. Serving under Abraham Lincoln was apparently less like Full Metal Jacket and more like Our Gang and/or The Goonies.
For example, like most modern-day rural militias, Lincoln's company never saw actual combat. But they did spend plenty of time drinking all of their whiskey supplies, which was something they used to issue to soldiers because conventional wisdom has worn many strange masks over the centuries. When Lincoln's troops ran out of their own booze, they teamed up with a neighboring company to use tomahawks and buckets to raid the officers' stockpile of wine and brandy.
When Abe awoke, he discovered that someone had shaved his mustache.
Lincoln tried to call his men into formation the next morning, but they were nestled peacefully beneath a hazy cloud of sleepy booze farts and didn't manage to crawl out of bed until after 10 o'clock, by which time the rest of the militia companies had already left them far behind. Lincoln's troops managed to march about 2 miles before simply giving up and going back to sleep to cast off the rest of their hangovers. Lincoln was arrested and forced carry a wooden sword for two days as punishment, because old-timey justice was occasionally hilarious.
Despite the fact that his men made almost no effort to listen to anything he said, Lincoln still had a blast being a militia captain because he got to engage in impromptu wrestling matches with the other soldiers. And if there was one thing Abraham Lincoln loved, it was kicking people's asses. He gained a reputation as the best wrestler in the army, because apparently they just wrestled all the time instead of actually trying to quell the Indian rebellion they had been mustered together to pacify. Abe lost only one of his completely insane wrestling matches, to a man named Thompson, a soldier from a different company whom he battled for the right to choose the best camping spot, according to an actual historical document containing the sentence, "At last the man got the crotch lock on Mr. Lincoln."
The Construction Worker Who Dove Under a Subway to Save a Man
Wesley Autrey was a 50-year-old construction worker and Navy veteran living in New York City.
Autrey was waiting on the subway platform with his kids when a man named Cameron Hollopeter (which is the porniest name since Big Dick Gigglefist) fell to the floor and began convulsing. Autrey and two other bystanders went to Hollopeter's aid and brought him back to his feet -- which is exactly what you don't want to do. Sure enough, Hollopeter took a few steps and fell right off the platform and onto the tracks below just as the train started to roll in, setting the scene for a spectacular obituary.
"Cameron Hollopeter: Lived fast, died at about 63 mph."
With no real plan in mind, since the seconds it would take to develop a plan would be just enough time for Hollopeter to be erased by the train, Autrey jumped onto the tracks, not wanting his two daughters to witness the horrific squishing of a human being. At first, he tried moving Hollopeter back onto the platform, but the man's convulsing hadn't stopped, making him impossible to lift out of harm's way in time. Luckily, a narrow trench in the center of the rails caught Autrey's eye.
It was little more than a shallow drainage gutter and probably didn't look anywhere close to big enough to shelter a man from a speeding train that was about to come roaring overhead. Autrey, of course, didn't have time to get out his measuring tape, so he just rolled Hollopeter into the trench and laid on top of him to try and keep him from flopping around. There was nothing else for him to do but hope the combined height of his body on top of Hollopeter's would be low enough to miss being fatally shaved off like Italian ice.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet No. 1 on Cracked's list of "Worst Times to Pop a Boner."
The train's operator saw them lying right there between the tracks and hit the brakes, but the subway didn't come to a full stop until two cars had passed over them. To the witnesses on the platform (most notably Autrey's young children), it appeared that the two men locked in a life-or-death man-hug had most likely been crushed.
But amazingly, they were alive. The train cleared the men by about 2 inches -- close enough that grease from the underside of the train stained Autrey's hat.
"Would I do it again? No way, I was dumb. That was my favorite hat."
Autrey was honored by every politician in the immediate area and showered with rewards, which included a trip to see Ellen DeGeneres and $10,000 directly from Donald Trump. Through it all, Autrey remained humble, and like Rocky in whatever sequel you're thinking of, he kind of grew disillusioned with the whole hero thing.
"Disillusionment" here bears a striking resemblance to "pimping."
Miss America 1944 Will Shoot Your Ass
There's a laundry list of reasons why Miss Venus Ramey -- better known as Miss America 1944 and one-time Bond-girl candidate -- is a total badass. For starters, she was the first redheaded Miss America, the first Miss America to be photographed in color, and the only Miss America whose name graced the most successful B-17 "Flying Fortress" of World War II. Protected by a crude painting of her namesake's bosom, the Venus Ramey flew 68 missions without losing a man.
Helping keep morale perky.
But none of that comes close to the most badass chapter in the saga of Venus Ramey, which would come six decades later. In 2007, four men decided to rob a tobacco farm in South Central Kentucky. The now-elderly Venus noticed the robbery right away, but rather than call the police, this 82-year-old beauty pageant veteran grabbed her .38 and her walker and stepped out into the cold night to deal justice.
Kindly old justice.
Ramey confronted the men, who piled back into their car and tried to escape. But Venus wasn't having any of their crap; she braced herself against the walker, using it like the chassis of a howitzer, and calmly shot all four of their tires out. She then held the men at gunpoint and flagged down a passing driver. Only then, with the situation well in hand, did she call the police.
Who probably also surrendered to her.
Related: 6 Old People Who Could Kick Your Ass
Samuel L. Jackson Was an Outlaw Civil Rights Crusader
Being more pimp than the characters you play is easy when your most famous character is, say, a belligerent office worker. Not so much when you're best known as Jules Winnfield, paid assassin and B.A.M.F. Just the badassery it takes imagining the kind of life that would out-awesome Jules is a feat in itself. Your brain grows a Jherifro and starts threatening your other organs with violence in the effort. So for us to say that the real Samuel L. Jackson is more hardcore than Jules Winnfield, you know we've got to have some big guns to back it up.
Most men look foolish with a wallet like that. Jules just looks honest.
Jackson was a militant member of the Black Power movement. And kind of a terrorist.
When we say "militant," we're not just talking about beret wearing and outstretched fist posing. We're talking about the definition of "militant" that involves weapons and violence. Like many others in the 1960s, Jackson started out on the Jedi/MLK side of the civil rights movement. But after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Jackson switched to the dark side -- the side that decided peaceful integration with whitey was off the table.
In 1969, Samuel Jackson and his angry buddies held members of the Morehouse College Board of Trustees hostage in exchange for changes in the college curriculum and school governance. Apparently, kidnapping people to get what you want is kind of effective, because Morehouse actually did initiate some of the captors' ideas.
You expected them to say no?
Jackson and crew were, of course, expelled. But that was OK, because Jackson used his time away from college to go to Black Panther University with Honorary Prime Minister Stokely Carmichael as his professor. And that was when the FBI started investigating Samuel L. Jackson and family, which thoroughly spooked Jackson and motivated him to get back on the straight and narrow.
At least until he got addicted to crack, but that's a story for another day.
Specifically, the day corporate approves our "Better Living Through Crack" ad campaign.
Jim Bowie Was Immune to Blades
James Bowie is a 19th century American pioneer and frontier legend. The world-famous bowie knife is named after him -- which is appropriate, as he was known to have a 9-inch hunting knife on him at all times, just in case. And with Bowie, those "just in case" situations came up a lot.
"That's why I always wear my business tie."
For instance, one day Bowie was serving as an aide to one of two opposing duelers. The actual duel was a pussyfooted thing that got resolved with a handshake. Naturally, this being the Wild West, the lack of Eastwoodian antics disappointed the audience, which promptly got rowdy and started breaking stuff. In the ruckus, Bowie was shot in the hip. Unfortunately for his random shooter, Bowie saw where the shot had come from and instantly launched himself at the man.
Panicked at the frontier hellbeast charging at him, the shooter emptied his gun at Bowie, hitting him three times. He then bashed the still-attacking Bowie on the head with the gun itself. This finally took Bowie to his knees ... temporarily.
Just long enough for him to remember that he was a T-1000.
Seeing Bowie down, the nearby Major Norris Wright (an old rival of Bowie's, who once got into a fistfight with him after denying Bowie a bank loan) saw his chance to rid the planet of Bowie once and for all. He fired, but missed. The wounded Bowie noticed, shot back, and hit Wright. This is when Wright, who we were totally picturing as Dick Dastardly even without this next part, drew his cane sword and plunged it into Bowie's chest.
Jim Bowie, in happier days, fighting a bandit while nailed to a log.
Bowie went down, as men pierced by swords are wont to do. However, the blade sat tight in his chest. The gloating Wright couldn't wiggle it out, so he put his foot on Bowie's chest to pull out the sword. That was just the opening Bowie (who apparently had treated the whole "he's wiggling a sword in my chest" thing as little more than an elaborate ruse) had been waiting for.
He grabbed Wright's leg, dragged the screaming man down, and disemboweled him with his trusty hunting knife ... while the poor man's cane sword was still very much stuck in his own chest.
The fight, known later as the Sandbar Fight, made Bowie's name and guaranteed him and his knife a place in the pantheon of Wild West icons.
Later in life, when James Black created the famous version of the bowie knife made legendary by the fight, Jim adopted one ... and tried it out by killing three assassins who jumped him. He would probably still be walking the Earth and swinging big blades at bankers if he hadn't happened to be in the Alamo when being in the Alamo was a really bad idea.
Young Richard Nixon Opened a Casino Bar in the South Pacific During World War II
When Richard Nixon was in his late teens, he worked at a carnival in Prescott, Arizona, running a less than legal gambling game called the wheel of fortune, where participants could pay to spin a wheel for real cash prizes. But where most folks grow out of that kind of teenage mischief once they reach adulthood, Nixon would ride his love of illicit gambling right to the Oval Office. When he joined the American war effort in his 20s, he brought his love of gambling with him to the South Pacific, where he set up his own bar to hone his poker skills.
Thus earning him his famous nickname, "Sneaky Ricky."
We have no idea how Nixon managed to find the time to construct and operate an island casino bar, because we're reasonably sure that enlisting in the Navy in World War II meant the majority of your time would be spent hunting Japanese submarines and not living out the plotline of a 1960s war sitcom. Either way, Nixon was clearly already in the habit of doing whatever the hell he wanted and didn't give one whistling dolphin anus what anyone else thought.
To give you an example, he was so committed to his poker games that he turned down an invitation to have dinner with Charles Lindbergh when the famous hero pilot/racist stopped by the island because it overlapped with one of his nightly money-winning contests. Winning $50 from a bunch of drunken sailors was more important to Richard Nixon than meeting one of the most famous people in the world, because he was Richard goddamned Nixon and there was gambling money to be made. Keep in mind, he was doing this all in a bar he had opened himself at age 29 on an island in the South Pacific during the biggest global war in history. We really can't stress that enough.
Something about the island made people stop fighting and just chill.
So Nixon was like Paul Newman in The Hustler, if that movie had been about a satchel-faced poker player instead of a handsome pool shark. He made so much money from his nightly winnings (possibly as much as $10,000) that he was able to use them to finance a huge chunk of his first congressional campaign, which got him on the path to the White House.
College Student James Monroe Ransacked the Governor's House
When 16-year-old James Monroe was attending the College of William and Mary in 1775, one of the most popular extracurricular activities for the young student body was to harass the local British governor in the name of the impending American Revolution. As opposed to the type of civil disobedience that currently takes place at William and Mary (which consists mostly of purchasing licensed merchandise from a movie by the Wachowskis and reblogging things), Monroe and his buddies would march around on the college green deliberately trying to provoke the stationed British soldiers.
They'd dance beside the signs reading "Keep off the grass."
And because there were no panty raids in 1775 (largely due to the fact that women were forbidden by law to come anywhere near an institution of higher learning), Monroe led his colonial Animal House on a raid of the next best thing -- an enormous stockpile of weapons from the governor's mansion.
See, the colonies were scant months away from full-blown war with England, and tensions were pretty high. So the royal governor of the Colony of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, thought the best way to keep the peace in the little slice of stolen Powhatan land the crown had tasked him to protect was to keep a goddamned arsenal on display in the Governor's Palace at all times. This seems to suggest that Lord Dunmore's appointment was largely political, and not at all related to any demonstrable ability to govern things.
He thought the guns were pretty.
Anyway, when the militia fighting started to get serious, Lord Dunmore packed his royal bags and got the hell out of town, abandoning his mansion with everything still left inside (although he presumably stopped at a few local taverns to spread the word that it was haunted in order to keep it safe from plundering colonists). Monroe saw his opportunity for the biggest college prank ever and raided the palace, loading up around 200 muskets, 300 swords, and 18 pistols that were delivered directly to the local militia.
Again, these were all weapons that Lord Dunmore just left behind in his house like stacks of old Pokemon cards (see "terrible governor," above). Monroe dropped out soon after to join the fighting and never did earn his degree, which didn't stop him from achieving the highest office in the land, in case you were wondering how little college matters (answer: not at all, if you are sufficiently ambitious and/or insane).
Ross Perot Goes A-Team on Iran
The Iran of the 1970s wasn't at all like the Iran we know today. The ruling government was massively corrupt, the citizens were threatening to rise up, and all involved parties basically blamed the United States for their troubles. OK, so we take that first sentence back.
This guy's name is probably Bahmoud Bhmadinejad.
Unsurprisingly, American corporations doing business in Iran were popular targets for aggression. Two executives working for U.S.-based electronics firm EDS, Bill Gaylord and Paul Chiapparone, learned that the hard way when they were taken into custody on trumped up (probably) bribery charges and thrown in jail on December 28, 1978.
Fortunately, their employer was this 5'6" tower of badassery ...
Yep, that's former presidential hopeful and all-around adorable crazy old man Ross Perot, and he does not take kindly to his employees being taken into custody. After lobbying the American and Iranian governments to free his captured executives to no avail, Ross Perot did what any of us would do: He used his network of old military buddies to form a strike team with the intent of freeing the hostages without any government help.
We're going to repeat that last part again with added emphasis, just so it sinks in: Ross Perot used his network of old military buddies to form a strike team with the intent of freeing the hostages without any government help.
Tuesday night at Perot's local Waffle House.
Perot managed to gain entry into Iran by posing as a journalist, at which point he immediately decided cover stories are for bitches and went straight to the Iranian government to give them one last chance to remedy the situation before things got awesome. They ignored his demands. Things got awesome.
While Perot was negotiating in Iran, 60-year-old Colonel Arthur D. "Bull" Simons, a shadowy operative who was already famous for leading a number of raids and assaults while serving with the American Special Forces, was assembling a team of men and smuggling them into Iran. But first, they spent a few weeks storming a mock-up of the Tehran prison where the EDS executives were being held. How did they know what the prison looked like? Ross Perot cased the joint, that's how.
Dramatization (may be inaccurate).
When they arrived in Iran, all their weeks of practicing the raid on the Tehran prison mock-up went to shit. The Americans had been moved to Qasr Prison, one of Tehran's largest and best fortified jails. Faced with the prospect of having the entire mission go down in flames, Perot and company again did what any of us would do in that situation. Shit their pants and flee the country, you ask? No, instead they had an Iranian EDS employee named Rashid start a freaking riot and lead the ensuing mob right to Qasr Prison. There, Rashid stoked the crowd's anger until they stormed the prison and freed all of the inmates.
"Sometimes your government are complete assholes, and that makes me think unkind things about your culture! ATTACK!"
At that point, Colonel "Bull" Simons moved in, swooped up the two executives and proceeded to get everyone out of the country. The team used Rashid as a guide and quickly made their way to Turkey, where they boarded a plane and bid adieu to the total chaos that Iran was turning into.
From start to finish, the entire operation took less than two months. Meanwhile, the Iran hostage crisis erupted shortly thereafter and dragged on for an excruciating 444 days. Damn. Are we sure Ross Perot shouldn't have been president?
The guy's got some moves.
Richard Marcinko Was Too Badass for the Navy SEALs
Richard "Demo Dick" Marcinko started his career just as badass as he left it. A Navy teletype operator in Italy, he made several requests to transfer to UDT (Underwater Demolitions Training) but was repeatedly denied. So he used the "Br'er Rabbit" method and simply punched someone in the face, for which he was naturally punished -- by being sent to UDT.
He looks like he could stop trains with his face.
During Marcinko's time with UDT and later as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam, he and his band of marauders became such a problem for the Vietcong in his area of operation that a 50,000 piaster reward was offered for his head. In a career that eerily resembles the Rambo franchise, he was highly decorated in Vietnam and then went looking for other conflicts to sort out in places like Cambodia. There is even a story about him body-surfing behind a military patrol boat while under enemy fire. Seriously, he really did that shit.
Kilgore was real.
Marcinko became so elite in the Navy SEALs that they started having to invent new, more elite teams just to find somewhere to put him. Eventually, he wound up commanding something called Red Cell -- his job was to fly around the world, attacking and infiltrating the U.S. military's own bases, in order to test their security and show how the military would cope if the enemy had somebody like Marcinko on its side.
How He Got Screwed:
Ironically, Red Cell was so good at what it was being paid to do that it embarrassed the shit out of a military that, as it turns out, couldn't cope at all against it. And Marcinko took his job dead seriously, kidnapping high-ranking personnel and even their families, "mildly torturing" them to get nuclear codes and wound up kidnapping one admiral twice.
Red Cell, moments before ambushing President Ronald Reagan on vacation in the Hamptons.
It wasn't long before a bunch of bruised, disgruntled commanders decided to have Marcinko railroaded out of the military, if only so they could sleep a full night again without him swinging through their windows like Batman.
Naval Investigative Services spent a reported $60 million on an investigation to find something -- anything -- to pin on him. Their investigation fell flat, making fools of them yet again, so even after Marcinko retired, they kept going after him in an effort to find anything that would stick. The FBI eventually did convict him on trumped-up charges and sentenced him to a year in some minimum-security prison, but he used that time to write a No. 1 bestselling autobiography, Rogue Warrior, which embarrassed the hell out of the military again.
Some (read: all) of you are probably more familiar with the Xbox adaptation.
Demo Dick is currently forbidden by law from writing any more about the military, so he now exclusively writes popular "fiction" about the adventures of an elite badass who is totally not him embarrassing a bunch of pussies who are totally not the U.S. Navy.
Jim Thompson: POW and Legendary Badass
Jim Thompson was just a store clerk until he decided he could probably impress more girls by telling them he was a Green Beret, which he became.
During the Vietnam War, Thompson was captured and held as a prisoner of war, at which time he was beaten and tortured. The time we're speaking of, by the way, was a period of nine years, giving him a pretty bittersweet record for being held as a POW.
His plane was shot down in 1964, with Thompson taking a bullet and breaking his back in the process. Surviving that part would have been enough of a harrowing story for most people to tell for the rest of their lives, but it was a long way from over for Jim.
After being captured, Thompson was held in a jungle camp and jammed into a wooden cage too small for him to sit up or fully stretch out. For months his captors wanted him to sign papers saying that he was treated well. Thompson told them to fuck off and in return was beaten and tortured some more. At some point, probably because his voice was sore from telling them to fuck themselves, he finally signed.
Actual photo (of Christopher Walken).
As a reward, he was moved into solitary confinement for four years. He was finally moved into a prison with other prisoners, which was great, except that the beatings and torture continued, which pretty much blew. At one point during his captivity, he became so weak that he suffered a heart seizure. Realizing he needed his heart to live, Thompson survived that scare and even managed to escape five times.
The time took its toll on Thompson, though, and it looked like Death would win this one. Another prisoner who saw Thompson reported that he thought the enemy had placed a corpse in the cell next door. However, Death forgot the fact the Thompson was a Green Beret, and he held on until he was finally released in 1973. He weighed 90 pounds.
Thompson unfortunately succumbed to death shortly after his release. And by "shortly" we mean 30 years later, of natural causes, in Florida.
Related: Did Kenan Thompson Revive Nickelodeon's 'All That' Character, Pierre Escargot, At The Golden Globes?
Jimmy Stewart Took a Break from Acting to Bomb the Germans
Jimmy Stewart was America's Everyman, the Tom Hanks of his day. The star of It's a Wonderful Life garnered a reputation as a loveable scamp who always tried to do the right thing. His positive karma was such that President Harry Truman once declared, "If Bess and I had a son, we'd want him to be just like Jimmy Stewart."
"Though if he ever sported that goddamn cowlick, we'd disown him."
While many of his later roles were darker in tone (he did several Hitchcock films and played a troubled trial lawyer in Anatomy of a Murder), the public's perception of him remained that of a swell guy who wouldn't have harmed a fly, mainly because he didn't have the strength to do so.
Except he did; Jimmy Stewart was an extremely decorated war hero, with a military career spanning three goddamned decades, from 1940 to 1968. That's right -- before Pearl Harbor made fighting Japan the cool thing to do, Stewart had made history as the first major American actor to join the war effort. And if you think this was just some PR stunt so he could get some easy street cred with middle America, think again.
Every time a bell rings, Jimmy kills another Nazi.
See, Stewart would have had an easy excuse to avoid any actual danger -- he actually failed the Army's height and weight requirements when he tried to enlist. But he was determined to fight for his country and decided to do so as a combat pilot. He swiftly gained 10 pounds, joined the Army Air Corps, and logged more than 300 hours of flight training, just to prove he could do it. Even then, he had to constantly fight to get anything but an instructor or desk job, both due to his age (he was in his 30s) and his superiors not wanting to risk a beloved celebrity getting blown to bits on their watch. But he kept pushing and eventually was deployed to active duty over England. He quickly established himself as his squadron's leader, due to equal parts bravado, expertise, and conveniently having more Oscars than anyone in the room.
Stewart led many bombing runs on Nazi factories and military production centers and led a squadron of bombers in the Battle of Berlin, which would later be referred to as "Black Thursday," due to the excessive number of American casualties suffered. All of this led to an impressive chest of medals by the time he was mustered out of active duty in 1946, due to the war ending and him being damn near 40.
"This commemorates your bravery, dedication, and how cool you were when I asked for an autograph for my niece; she totally loves you."
But Stewart didn't just win a war and then go home to play pretend for the rest of his life. No, he remained in the Air Force Reserve for an additional 22 years, worked on a military base during the Korean War, and even flew a non-combat mission in Vietnam. By the time Stewart finally retired, he had reached the rank of Brigadier (one-star) General. Ironically, he only appeared in a couple of war movies (The Mountain Road and Malaya) as he claimed they were "almost never realistic." Also, let's face it: After conquering the military for real, merely pretending to do so would've been too damn boring.
Lyndon Johnson Was a Dong-Waving Sex Machine
Lyndon Johnson took over as president after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and today most people know him as the president who made Vietnam happen (he being the one who really escalated the conflict). He wasn't terribly popular and had his share of scandals.
That drink in his hand is pretty much straight Everclear.
But at the time, he did have a reputation for getting things done. When he wanted something passed, he'd badger the shit out of everybody to get it, so much so that people came to call his relentless lobbying "the Johnson treatment." We bring that up because after reading this, you're going to picture something else entirely anytime someone threatens you with "the Johnson treatment." Something much worse.But You Didn't Know ...
Johnson was a sexual beast, and also fond of (literally) waving his dick around.
"Ford's economics are the worst thing that's happened to this country since pantyhose ruined finger-fucking."
While other unfaithful presidents were satisfied with little affairs here and there, Johnson's bevy of babes was referred to by his male aides as a harem (he was said to be jealous of Kennedy's womanizing ways and wanted to top him). Johnson would make passes at secretaries, and it was known that any who accepted would be promoted to private secretary, two words that in this context should probably have air quotes around them anytime they are uttered. By the time he was done, virtually all of his secretaries, plus his two mistresses, got the Johnson treatment.
He then tasked the Secret Service with keeping his philandering from his wife, but it obviously did not do a good job at that. His wife had full knowledge of everything and sometimes even supported it. At parties, he would make obvious passes at girls right in front of his wife. One of the girls who stayed over at his place got awakened in the middle of the night by Johnson holding a flashlight and saying, "Move over. This is your president."
Which goes down in history as the second-greatest pickup line ever, losing just barely to "Hello, I'm an astronaut."
As for waving around his cock (a little extension of him that he had affectionately nicknamed "Jumbo"), he was said to piss in public whenever he felt like it, and if anyone dared confront him, he would whip his dick around and challenge the poor sap with "Have you seen anything bigger than this?"
No wonder his wife was cool with it.
She wasn't down with the mullet, though.
Related: Reminder: You're More Likely To Be Struck By Lightning Than Get A Blood Clot From The Johnson & Johnson Jab
NASA Rocket Scientist Creates Something Even More Incredible
We assume that the fine folks at NASA spend all day working on warp drives and teleporters and such, because we are woefully ill-informed adult-sized children. But still, we figure they're occupied with important science stuff way above our pay grade. Like engineer Lonnie Johnson: He spent his days working in NASA's jet propulsion lab in Pasadena as part of the team that built Voyager, Galileo, and the Mars Observer spacecraft. He helped test the stealth bomber and developed new systems for nuclear reactors. It's like he was always destined for genius level work: When he was a teenager, he designed his own robot sidekick.
But then you go ahead and check his Wikipedia page. It barely mentions NASA, instead choosing to focus on other, much more important accomplishments, like a really, really effective toy squirt gun.
"He filled it with acid! RUN!"
Johnson's major contribution to society came in 1982 while he was screwing around at home working on something silly and trivial, like a new type of heat pump. Heat pumps normally use Freon gas, but Johnson was trying to make one that worked off of water alone. When he switched on the pump, water fired out and slammed into the shower curtain with way more force than he had expected, and the idea of heat transfer suddenly seemed a whole lot less interesting than shooting some poor son of a bitch right in the face with it.
So Johnson turned his new pumping system into the Super Soaker, and Larami Corporation marketed it with the slogan "Wetter is better" (a suspiciously adult slogan for a children's toy). The product brought in nearly a billion dollars after a decade of sales, and Johnson used that money to do the responsible thing: That one silly invention has helped his research company develop new methods for generating electricity from heat and more efficient ways to store energy in batteries. And, most importantly, he created a device that beeps when your baby pees.
So you know when to run away from it.
Reverend Newton Single-Handedly Stops a Violent Mob
In the 1970s and '80s, you probably wouldn't have expected that Los Angeles area reverend Bennie Newton would go on to perform a badass nonviolent act. This was because prior to his arrest, Newton was an armed robber, a drug dealer, and a pimp.
He dropped the loth for the cloth.
But then he was arrested and reformed, creating the Light of Love Ministry, as well as a company to help fellow ex-convicts get their act together. That company happened to be a carpet cleaning service, because real life is not above using contrivances straight out of some shitty Lifetime movie. And then, the LA riots happened.
In 1992, Newton was on his way to a peace rally. The police officers accused of beating Rodney King had just been acquitted, spurring the week-long race riots that would result in more than 50 deaths and 2,000 injuries.
And a Sublime song.
Newton ran into a particularly bad mob that had taken Guatemalan immigrant Fidel Lopez from his truck and robbed him of $2,000. Lopez was then hit in the head with speakers that nearly tore his ear off, kicked, and stripped, and he endured his genitals being spray-painted black. On top of all that, he was doused with gasoline, presumably to be set on fire. In other words, it was ministerin' time.
The Bible-wielding Newton, calling on his theological training, threw himself onto the soon-to-be-set-alight Lopez and shouted "Kill him, and you'll have to kill me, too!" The crowd was unwilling to murder a reverend on top of an immigrant, because even mobs have standards. Newton escorted Lopez to his truck, and, when no ambulances would risk driving out through the riot-ridden streets, drove Lopez to the hospital.
"Jesus! Do I have to do everything around here?"
Lopez and Newton stayed in touch, and when Newton was suffering from leukemia, Lopez often visited him at his bedside. The reverend passed away a year later, so we guess you could say that the LA riots turned out to be the final act in Newton's comeback story ... and you have to admit, it's not bad.
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.
Gordon Cooper MacGyvers a Spaceship Landing
The Mercury Program was the first manned U.S. space program. And when we say "manned," we of course mean "There was a guy sitting in there while the fully automated spacecraft took care of everything." As NASA was still finding their groove with manned spaceflights, they wanted to make sure that as little as possible could go wrong by human error. So they made everything so automated that the astronauts had little to do with anything other than, well, staying put and shutting up. Hence the less-than-flattering nickname of the astronauts involved: "Spam in a can."
Of course, that shit was over the second Gordon Cooper came along.
"If that rocket weren't here, this picture would be NSFW."
Astronaut Cooper was the Spam du jour on Mercury-Atlas 9. It was the program's final mission, and everyone was feeling pretty relaxed, seeing as all the other ones had gone off without a hitch.
NASA launched Cooper into orbit on May 15, 1963, and everything was indeed going nicely ... for the first 19 orbits, anyway. When the 20th came along, Cooper suddenly lost all altitude, orientation and attitude readings. This was bad, but still somewhat manageable. An automated vessel can still operate even if its pilot doesn't quite know what's going on, right?
These guys were all picked because they looked great in aluminum.
Too bad that was only the first part of the problem. During the very next orbit, Cooper lost his entire automatic stabilization and control systems, without which a safe, non-flambeed return to Earth's atmosphere would be, in scientific terms, balls-out impossible.
So Cooper, whose mission briefing had presumably been a mom-at-the-mall-style "Just sit there and don't touch anything," realized he was going to have to calculate the reentry and land the craft without any help from NASA's sophisticated tech. To further make the situation seem like some warped game show, he also noticed that the air inside his capsule was getting full of carbon dioxide.
"Hmm. TIE fighters on my tail, too. What a bore."
Instead of throwing his hands up and demanding to see where the candid camera is because no way can the cards be this stacked, Cooper put on his MacGyverin' hat. Improvising, he made like a 17th century sailor and approximated his position from the star formations. Then, using nothing but his wristwatch, he calculated the time he needed to fire the retro-rockets for reentry. Yes, the fate of an entire spacecraft relied on a wristwatch. And he had to hope that his watch was one of those types that still keeps perfect time in space.
The actual watch.
Upon entering Earth's atmosphere, Cooper found out that his desperation move was just as impossible as it seemed, and promptly burned to a crisp.
Ha, no! He wound up making the most accurate splashdown in the history of the program. He landed only 4.4 miles away from the ship that was picking him up -- microsurgical precision in the "landing screaming from outer space" business.
"We assumed he was dead, like, four seconds after launch."
His accomplishment single-handedly revolutionized the way astronauts were viewed in spacecraft design. And no one ever dared call an astronaut "Spam in a can" again in fear that Cooper would steer a meteorite at them using nothing but a paper clip and a broken yo-yo.
Biagio Sciscione Beats His Disability, Several Burglars
"Crippled" is one of those nasty, absolute words that don't generally leave a whole lot of wiggle room. The point at which your "good days" are the ones where you can use a cane instead of a motorized wheelchair is the point at which most men give up their dreams of being Batman. As a general rule, the ability to stand is a precursor to kicking ass.
Hobbies include jigsaw puzzles and rage.
That's how most people think. And it's also what three would-be robbers felt on the day they tried to snatch a crippled 88-year-old retiree's safe. Biagio Sciscione was minding his own business, thinking about erections past, when a woman from the local church knocked on his door with some questions. While the kindly old man listened to her prattling, two men sneaked inside his house and lifted the safe. They were out the door and almost to their Lexus SUV when Sciscione noticed them.
So here's the match-up:
Three young, fit robbers within feet of a running car.
One 88-year-old man unable to walk under his own power.
Common sense tells us there's only one way that all shakes out. But common sense has never told Sciscione a single thing in his entire life. Veins bulging with adrenaline and Viagra, the retired butcher and World War II vet tossed his cane away and ran to intercept the thugs. He gave the first man "a couple of socks" and wrestled with a female assailant. The burglars, confronted by this raging typhoon of geriatric justice, fled.
Related: 6 Old People Who Could Kick Your Ass
A Middle-Aged Mom Saves an Old Lady from an Oncoming Train
Laurie Ann Eldridge was a 39-year-old single mom working in her front yard garden when she noticed something weird -- her daffodils were blooming early. Also, there was a car stuck on the railroad track near her house. In the car was an elderly woman who thought she was on the road to the mall 60 miles away.
In the same moment that Eldridge noticed Angeline Pascucci stuck on the track, she heard the unmistakable wail of a train coming from around the bend. Suddenly, this peaceful gardening moment was a cliche scene in a terrible action movie. Thanks to the turn in the track, the engineer couldn't see the car stuck on the rails, and Pascucci obviously wasn't in charge of her faculties at that second. So the only person who knew a gruesome tragedy was about to strike was Eldridge.
"It was just like that Denzel Washington movie with the train, Training Day."
It's important to know that Eldridge had a disabling back injury and hadn't run in 10 years, but she sure as hell didn't have enough time to skip her way over to Pascucci -- instinct kicked in, and Eldridge ran. Barefoot. Double unfortunately, Pascucci was so disoriented that this frantic gardener must have looked like a big city carjacker to her, and she wouldn't budge from her soon-to-be demolished car. Would you, if you thought the Sears Elderly Woman's Department was only a few minutes away? Of course not, which was why Eldridge had to reach through the car window, unlock the door, and wrestle the old lady out of her car. The two rolled down an embankment like mismatched lovers in a romantic comedy.
The train came by soon after and slammed the car clear off the tracks. Pascucci was unhurt and presumably grateful. Or confused as shit. Eldridge, on the other hand, took away some severely cut-up feet from all the splinters she'd stepped on during the rescue. She would later receive a Carnegie Hero Fund Award for her heroism and patience with the elderly.
"She showed the type of elder patience unseen since Mark Baker helped his nana set up her Skype account."
Sheriff Grover Cleveland Cleaned Up New York by Personally Executing Felons
Before he earned the dubious distinction of being the only American president to have a Muppet named after him, Grover Cleveland was elected sheriff of Erie County, New York, on a strong platform of vowing to fix up the county's notoriously crime-ridden Canal District. The nearby Ohio River attracted hordes of sailors and transients, who were encouraged by the area's staggering 673 local saloons to make Canal District as close to Sweeney Todd's London as they possibly could. Erie County also had more prisoners per capita than any other county jail in the state of New York, so installing Grover Cleveland as sheriff was presumably the last resort before flying Kurt Russell in on a futuristic hang glider to restore order.
Pictured: The county's courthouse brothel thunderdome.
Cleveland took a hands-on approach to his time as sheriff, so much so that, instead of hiring a contract executioner, which was apparently a job that people put together a resume and applied for, Cleveland personally carried out the hangings of two criminals. He believed it was his "moral responsibility" to perform the executions, rather than forcing someone else to do it for him. It also didn't hurt that strangle-breaking people's necks himself wound up saving his district a little bit of money.
Even in light of this powerful evidence to the contrary, Cleveland was actually the least insane person in regard to executions in Erie County. Before he took office, the Buffalo death penalty scene had enjoyed a "circus atmosphere," with people gathering together on nearby rooftops to enjoy the spectacle of a fellow human being spasming out his last horrifying moments of life while dangling from the end of a rope like a cat toy. Cleveland, on the other hand, put up canvas sheets to block the view of any onlookers and give the condemned a small amount of decency before dropping them through a trap door into oblivion.
So no one could watch. Other than Cleveland, the lucky son of a gun.
After departing the office of sheriff, Cleveland's rivals attempted to thwart his burgeoning political career by dubbing him "the Buffalo Hangman." Instead, Cleveland kept winning elections all the way up to the presidency, because, let's face it, that is an awesome nickname.
Teddy Roosevelt Was the President of Presidents
Checking Teddy Roosevelt's resume is like reading a how-to guide on ass-kicking manliness. He was a cattle rancher, a deputy sheriff, an explorer, a police commissioner, the assistant secretary of the Navy, the governor of New York, and a war hero. Out of all of his jobs, hobbies, and passions, Roosevelt always had a special spot in his heart for unadulterated violence. In 1898, Roosevelt formed the first U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, known as the Rough Riders. Most people already know of the Rough Riders and their historic charge up San Juan Hill, but few know that, since their horses had to be left behind, the Riders made this charge entirely on foot. You just could not stop this man from violencing the hell out of San Juan Hill.
Teddy Roosevelt, a split second before spitting in the invisible face of death and pimp slapping it with his tiny neck-hand.
And don't think that Roosevelt lost his obsession with violence when he became president, or he might just come back from the dead and murder you (and how do you kill a Teddy Roosevelt that's already dead!?!). He strolled through the White House with a pistol on his person at all times, but with his black belt in jiujitsu and his history as a champion boxer, it wasn't like he really needed it.
It wasn't just his war record or the fact that he knew several different ways to kill you that made Roosevelt such a badass. It wasn't even the fact that he kept a bear and a lion at the White House as pets (though that certainly helps). Teddy Roosevelt was a badass of the people. Roosevelt received letters from Army cavalrymen complaining about having to ride 25 miles a day for training, and in response, Teddy rode horseback for 100 miles, from sunrise to sunset, at 51 years old, effectively rescinding anyone's right to complain about anything ever again.
The last thing you saw before a brutal ass-kicking.
Did we mention he had asthma growing up? He did, and after he beat asthma to death, he ate asthma's raw flesh and ran 100 straight miles off the energy it gave him.
Greatest Display of Badassedry:
While campaigning for a third term, Roosevelt was shot by a madman and, instead of treating the wound, delivered his campaign speech with the bleeding, undressed bullet hole in his chest. On the other end of the spectrum, reasons why certain members of the Cracked editorial staff have called out of work over the last year include:
"A stubbed toe."
"There's a spider near the door."
Most Badass Quote:
This quote actually comes from a fellow politician at the time of Roosevelt's death: "Death had to take him sleeping, for if Roosevelt had been awake there would have been a fight." We have no witty commentary for that. That is just straight-up badass.
The Airline Passenger Who Made Sure Everyone But Him Got Rescued
Arland D. Williams was a 46-year-old federal bank examiner with a lifelong fear of water.
Six people, all with fractures to their limbs, managed to swim out of the sinking plane and gather by the tail, where they were pretty much stuck. Heavy ice, which prevented rescue boats from getting involved, was keeping them pinned to the plane, and they were quickly growing too weak to continue holding on to it. A bystander even tried to jump in and swim the 40 or so yards to the survivors, but he wound up passing out like a jackass and having to be rescued himself.
"Leave heroism to the untrained amateurs, you untrained amateur!"
Time was just about up when a rescue helicopter, piloted in near zero visibility, turned up to drop rescue lines down. They pulled out one man and dropped the line to the next, a balding, ordinary guy with "an extravagant mustache," who decided to put the rescue ring into another survivor's hands rather than take it himself, harnessing what is commonly referred to as "mustache power."
Mustache power beats plane pretzel 9 times out of 10.
The helicopter plucked out this second person and dropped the line back down to the mustachioed man. Amazingly, he passed it along again, and then again after that, handing it to the last survivor he could reach (the fifth survivor was saved by Lenny Skutnik, as mentioned in a previous article). When the helicopter returned for a last run, the man was gone -- the plane's tail had shifted and sank, dragging him down with it.
It was only in the aftermath that authorities retrieved his body from the river and identified him as Arland D. Williams Jr. So here's to you, buddy. The rest of us can only hope that in that situation, we'd do the same. And then we can pray that we never have the chance to find out we're wrong.
John Quincy Adams Was a Little Insane
John Quincy Adams was the son of the second U.S. president, John Adams, so they were kind of like the Bush family of their time.
Cheney acted as an adviser to both administrations.
He was widely lauded as the best diplomat ever. Before he became president, he was instrumental in the acquisition of Florida under president James Monroe. He also had a big part in writing the Monroe Doctrine, which was a ballsy declaration that basically told Europe to fuck off.
As president, he was a vocal opponent of slavery and supported education advancement, which could make one think that his failure to get re-elected was due to his simply being too smart -- and too ahead of his time -- for the voting public.
It didn't help that he had Gary Busey Eyes.
But You Didn't Know ...
John Quincy Adams thought the Earth was hollow. He greenlighted an expedition to prove it, at taxpayer expense.
If the venture had been successful, America's Mushroom Reserve would have been secured for generations.
It all started with John Cleves Symmes Jr., a U.S. Army officer who added a "Junior" to his name to distinguish himself from his similarly named uncle and possibly spare him some significant embarrassment.
Symmes spent his entire life advocating his hollow-Earth theory on the literary circuit and gained quite a few followers. True, those were simpler times, but they sure as hell weren't that simple -- the hollow-Earth theory was already known to be utter bullshit. What Symmes proposed was the 1800s equivalent to sending people to the moon to find cheese. He wanted to mount an expedition to silence his critics and also to conduct trade with the mole people.
Unfortunately for Adams, the Mole People and the Crab People went to war shortly thereafter. The resultant conflict came to be known as "America's Secret Underground Vietnam."
Adams approved the expedition, which would venture to the North Pole, where the entrance to the underworld was supposedly located. Unfortunately, the crazy road trip never came to be, as Adams left office before anything could be done. As luck would have it, his successor, Andrew Jackson, was a man who believed the world was flat. Naturally, Jackson promptly canceled the expedition and along with it, dashing of contacting mole people.
Catching a Satellite by Hand
The ability to grasp tools is a definitive advantage, and we've taken it all the way from sticks to ... communications satellites? Catching a satellite with your hands is what happens when Superman plays spaceball; it's not meant to be something that happens in the real world. But no one told the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour that when they went for an orbital triple play to capture a rogue Intelsat VI satellite. The Endeavour wasn't actually designed to capture satellites, but when you're already taking human bodies into space, achieving things you weren't ever designed to do is an awesome given.
For example: Alexei Leonov, the first man to put on a nice suit and STEP INTO SPACE.
Pierre Thuot, Richard Hieb, and Thomas Akers of mission STS-49 outdid every space combat movie ever made. Even the swashbuckling Star Wars gang never said "Let's just get out there and GRAB stuff," and that was a movie with Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Chewbacca.
The Johnson Space Center designed a mission-specific capture bar, which turned out to be the most expensive version of that annoying claw-grabbing game ever invented. Despite multiple spacewalks, the bar refused to grab hold, so the crew maneuvered to within about a meter of four tons of orbital velocity metal, got outside, and mastered an off-world communications hub with nothing but their opposable thumbs. Because even during the depressing years of working as the world's most glorified TV repair staff, astronauts still deserved every single bit of that glory.
The most badass game of "catch" ever.
So if V'Ger ever does come back, threatening to destroy the planet, we won't need the Starship Enterprise; we already have astronauts trained and ready to Greco-Roman wrestle it.
Downed Pilot Saved, Thanks to Golf
On April 2, 1972, Iceal "Gene" Hambleton, an intelligence analyst, was aboard a plane used to jam North Vietnamese Communist Army (NVA) radar. While over enemy territory, anti-aircraft missiles knocked his plane out of the sky. Luckily, Hambleton was able to bail out before the craft exploded. Less luckily, his bailout landed him in front of a huge army of NVA regulars in the process of launching one of the biggest North Vietnamese offensives into South Vietnam.
And they were coming for him -- the enemy found out he was an intelligence analyst, which meant he'd be a very high value POW. Fortunately for Hambleton, he had pretty extensive knowledge of something else ... the game of golf.
"On second thought, we don't want him anymore."
The Insane Rescue:
A SEAL team sent in on foot to rescue Hambleton quickly realized that Vietnamese intelligence was listening to their radio communications. You can immediately see the problem this would cause with staging a rescue -- telling Hambleton where to wait for a chopper would mean half the North Vietnamese army would also be waiting in that spot.
"Surprise! Tank party!"
On the fly, the Special Forces developed what must have been the most boring special code ever with Hambleton, based on his extensive knowledge of golf courses. That's right, all that useless bullshit you have stuffed in your head could save your life someday!
Nah, we're totally kidding; algebra is useless.
Transmissions would use golf terms and Hambleton's encyclopedic knowledge of distances to the green from famous courses. An example transmission would read, "You're going to play 18 holes and you're going to get in the Swanee and make like Esther Williams and Charlie the Tuna. The round starts on No. 1 at Tucson National." How did the NVA not figure that out?
For six more days, Hambleton scrambled around the NVA-infected jungle, moving from "green" to "green." Although he mostly escaped detection, at one point he came upon a surprised Vietnamese man who attacked him with a knife. Hambleton was able to "neutralize" his attacker. So you could say that fate gave Hambleton ... a mulligan. Man, this golf code shit is easy.
"There's one ball in play and one in the bunker. Also, I may need an ambulance."
The rescue of Iceal "Gene" Hambleton (Call sign Bat 21 Bravo) from behind enemy lines was the largest, longest and most complex search-and-rescue operation during the entire Vietnam War, and it was all possible because of one man's Rain Man-like knowledge of golf.
Related: 5 Golf Courses That Can Kill You
James Nicholas "Nick" Rowe Survives Viet Cong, Hippies
Nick Rowe was a legendary Green Beret of the Vietnam War who invented the SERE Army course, which entails survival, evasion, resistance, and escape in POW situations.
During the war, Rowe and his team fell into an ambush and were captured after some heavy fighting by the Viet Cong. Rowe and his comrades were separated, taken to a camp, and placed in wooden cages smaller than your closet. For the next five years, they would endure torture, disease, malnutrition, humiliation, and the very constant threat of death.
Aside from being in one of the worst places imaginable, Rowe had another problem. He was the intelligence officer for his unit, which meant he knew important stuff like the location and numbers of America's soldiers. Wisely, Rowe told the Viet Cong that he was only an engineer who'd been drafted and didn't know shit about the war. To "verify" the story, the Viet Cong doled out some torture.
When Rowe wouldn't break, they gave him an engineering problem to solve, which, being awesome, he did. He was in the clear, until some hippies decided they'd save the world by visiting North Vietnam.
The activists were on a mission to visit POWs so they could tell America the North Vietnamese took good care of prisoners (and therefore the war should end?). They handed over a list of the soldiers they wanted to see, and Rowe was among them. Why this list also included the fact that Nick was part of the Special Forces, and an intelligence officer to boot, is anyone's guess.
"Thanks for that."
The Viet Cong were pissed. All of the info Rowe had was now way out of date and therefore useless. And he still wouldn't tell them anything anyway! In retaliation, he was staked out in a swamp, naked, where mosquitoes feasted on every inch of his body for days. Rowe's repeated escape attempts weren't winning him any points either. He'd even gotten away at one point, but returned when Viet Cong, shouting into the jungle, said they would kill one of Rowe's comrades.
Finally, his captors scheduled an execution date. Away from the camp, in the forest, the execution was about to take place when several American helicopters flew by. Using the small distraction, Nick beat down his armed guards with a flying 360 spin kick (probably), and ran into a nearby clearing, where one of the helicopter pilots overhead noticed him and landed for the rescue.
He went home to a well-earned retirement, or would have if he wasn't Colonel James Nicholas Rowe. This Green Beret stayed with the army, trained others to survive the POW experience, and fought terrorism till his last breath.
Just looking at his picture makes you more of a man.
Tigger Invented the Artificial Heart
You probably wouldn't recognize Paul Winchell if you saw him on the street. Mainly because he's dead and if you saw him on the street you should be more concerned with finding an object to stab into his brainstem rather than playing "place the face."
But if this was 2004 or before, and you were talking on the phone with him, you'd recognize his voice instantly:
Yep, Winchell was Tigger. He voiced the questionably high cartoon tiger when the character first started speaking onscreen, until he retired in 1999. His voice work for the character even garnered him a Grammy award for Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too! (the popular follow-up to Winchell's solo work, Tiggas With Attitude).
Winchell voiced other famous characters as well, such as Gargamel from The Smurfs and the awesomely named Dick Dastardly from just about every Hanna-Barbera cartoon you've ever seen. If you still can't place his voice, you may have also recognized him as the voice of that bastard owl in the Tootsie Roll Pop commercial.
"Why are we in the inner circle of hell, and where are my clothes, Professor Owl?"
Aside from wanting to have a place in our hearts forever, Winchell was also interested in medicine and inventing shit. Among his patents were a flameless cigarette lighter, battery-heated gloves, and an invisible garter.
The most famous design he had, however, wasn't for recreational purposes, but for being-alive purposes: The man designed the first artificial heart. With the help of Dr. Henry Heimlich -- of "Thank you for giving men a reason to grope women while masking it as a life-saving technique" fame -- the two invented the device, and were the very first to acquire a patent for it. A Dr. Jarvik came out with a heart shortly thereafter, but of course Winchell already had the patent. Jarvik denies that his design was influenced in any way by the voice actor's patent, but Dr. Heimlich maintains that both hearts are exactly the same, thus making Jarvik's claim utterly "ridicarus," as Tigger might say, or "bullshit," as Winchell might.
"Artificial-heart patenting is what Winchells do best."
This Glorious Man Was Once Our President
That's Teddy Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States, and Cracked's position on the man is pretty clear: He's somewhere between a Chuck Norris joke and the Messiah. Everything he did was the most badass anything anybody has ever done. His softest chuckle was the most badass metal album ever recorded; his gentlest crap was the most badass POW escape in history. He gets whatever spot he wants on whatever list he likes, because we're sure not going to fucking stop him.
Do you blame us? Look at that magnificent bastard up there. It's like somebody crossbred a walrus with the spirit of war. He makes a top hat and coattails look like the battlemech from Aliens. And now look at the rest of the picture. Notice anything strange? Nobody's even walking in the same direction as the president. In fact, it looks as if they may all be fleeing in fear:
Either that guy is intensely terrified of Roosevelt's ass (we wouldn't blame him), or Mothra surfaced just out of frame. And while the general populace panicked and fled, Teddy saw the gargantuan flying murder-beast and merely recalled that he hadn't had breakfast yet.
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."
Young Jimmy Carter Was Lowered into a Malfunctioning Nuclear Reactor
You may only know Jimmy Carter as the goofy-looking president who presided over a particularly depressing era in America when everyone was just waiting for the shitty 1970s to end. But back in 1952, Carter was a 28-year-old Navy lieutenant doing something that could absolutely be the premise of a taut action movie that today would almost certainly star Mark Wahlberg: A nuclear reactor was on the verge of meltdown, and one man would have to lead a team into the heart of the disaster before time ran out.
His name was James Earl Carter. Of course he was an action hero.
And so young Jimmy Carter led a containment team of 24 men into the Chalk River Laboratories nuclear research facility near Ottawa, Canada, after a reactor accident released 4,500 tons of radioactive water into the building's basement (nuclear safety manuals in the 1950s were apparently just single issues of The Uncanny X-Men).
Carter divided his team (himself included) into rotating 90-second shifts spent conducting cleanup and repairs directly next to the overheating reactor while wearing protective gear with the same anti-radioactivity rating as a Huckleberry Hound Halloween costume. It was essentially like that sequence in K-19: The Widowmaker wherein Peter Sarsgaard and his team take turns putting on flimsy plastic coveralls to get boiled alive by waves of white-hot atomic fire pouring out of a malfunctioning submarine core. And yes, we said the shifts were 90 seconds long -- that was the longest a human body could tolerate the conditions (and that turned out to be grossly unsafe, based on what we know now).
The plant bosses knew it then too, but they didn't tell Jimmy.
To track their progress, Carter's team built a life-size replica of the damaged reactor on a nearby tennis court where each team member could practice the next step of repairs, because it wouldn't do for someone to go all the way down into the radioactive death basement and then forget what the hell it was they came there to hammer for 90 seconds. Carter and his team might spend an entire trip tightening a single bolt before scurrying back upstairs to rinse off all the science poison.
Carter would later write that he "absorbed a year's maximum allowance of radiation in one minute and 29 seconds," and that his team's exposure was about a thousand times greater than any human being would be allowed today. Carter soaked up so much atom juice that for the six months following the cleanup he had radioactive urine. That's right -- the man peed radiation, which you may recognize as an episode of The Incredible Hulk that we've always wanted to see.
The Honey War (Iowa v. Missouri)
It's ludicrous to imagine modern-day Iowa pulling a gun because a neighboring state disagreed about where the border should be. But the 1800s were a different time. For instance, when Missouri decided to resurvey the border with what would soon be Iowa (in a way that would, of course, make Missouri bigger), shit hit the fan.
Missouri sent in a sheriff and tax agents to collect from the settlers in "Iowa," and were met by a pitchfork-wielding mob that chased them back to Missouri. In retaliation, Missouri governor and professional dumbass Lilburn Boggs, a trigger-happy guy who would later make it legal to kill Mormons, sent the militia to occupy the border. They were met by the, um, eclectic Iowa militia. According to one observer, they were, "men armed with blunderbusses, flintlocks, and quaint old ancestral swords that had probably adorned the walls for many generations. One private carried a plough coulter over his shoulder by means of a log chain, another had an old-fashioned sausage stuffer for a weapon, while a third shouldered a sheet iron sword about 6 feet long."
Their sacrifice would inspire this stunning monument.
The Iowans managed to take the Missouri sheriff hostage. Meanwhile, after being beaten by what was the worst-armed cosplay convention ever, the Missouri tax agents figured they'd need to find another way to collect. So, they cut down a bunch of honey bee hives as partial payment to have something to show their bosses.
"I know you were expecting a check, but I figured this would be just as good."
The states appealed to Congress to settle the matter. Congress drew an arbitrary line and told both sides not to cross it, by God, or else Congress would turn the territories around so fast it would make their heads spin.
Don't make Congress come back there!
Francis L. Sampson, aka Father Badass
Father Francis L. Sampson was a Catholic priest who served in World War II 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?
Richard Antrim Plays the Hero POW Without Firing a Shot
Because you've seen Rambo, you're going to think you know where the story of American POW Dick Antrim is going. But his brand of badassery serves as proof that you can be a hero without mowing down an enemy platoon with a belt-fed machine gun.
Or a magazine-fed one, dick.
After his ship was sunk by the Japanese navy, First Lieutenant Antrim (serving as executive officer) and the rest of the ship's survivors were brought to a POW camp. While there, Antrim saw (and we're quoting from his Medal of Honor citation here) a fellow officer "subjected to a vicious clubbing by a frenzied Japanese guard venting his insane wrath upon the helpless prisoner."
That's probably pretty terrifying for most people, but Antrim had just finished having the living crap bombed out of his ship, organizing lifeboats and supplies so that all but one of his men survived, and keeping his crew together through three straight days of floating in the Pacific Ocean. After that, he must've thought the guard's attempt to kill one of his men was, at best, cute.
"Awwwww, wook at the widdle guard. Somebody forgot their big boy pants today!"
In spite of the fact that this prison was apparently staffed with prison guards from a Stephen King book, Antrim interrupted the guard's attack and told him (with sign language, since he didn't speak Japanese) that he would take the other prisoner's beating for him. By his account, the guards were so shocked at his audacity that they not only backed down, but also put Antrim in charge of digging trenches, making the guards "bipolar" in addition to "vicious," "insane," and "frenzied."
Although he had already looked death in the face and smirked, Antrim took things one step further with his new duty by organizing the trenches so that they spelled "U.S." from the sky. This had two effects: First, it notified Allied bombers that this was a POW camp (thereby saving hundreds of lives), and second, it guaranteed that if the plan was ever found out, Antrim would've been executed. He knew this, and he clearly didn't give a shit, because he had his men to look after.
Ten years after his death in 1969, they named a ship after him, because you're goddamn right they did.
It's really more a scale model of his wang.
Three College Students Stop a Psychopath
Steven Maida, Erik Bertrand, and Ryan Ballard were three regular community college students going to class on a regular old Tuesday morning. The sad truth is that when you set up any story with "a regular morning at a regular school," anyone who's watched the news can fill in what's going to happen next.
*Sigh* ... Just once.
Twenty-year-old Dylan Quick also went to Lone Star Community College, but he wasn't what you'd call "regular." Unless you consider fantasizing about cannibalism, necrophilia, and cutting off faces and wearing them as masks "regular." Quick was a few cards short of a full deck, assuming the deck represents mental wellness in this scenario. And one day, he went on a stabbing rampage.
On the morning of April 9, 2013, Ballard was walking to biology class when he noticed a few splatters of blood on the stairs, first in small drops, then in puddles. And that was when he realized the people around him were screaming and running like chickens with their heads cut off, which wasn't a very bad analogy, he later found out. Seconds later, he saw the first stabbing victim -- a girl who'd been knifed in the cheek. Then he heard someone yell "Stop that guy!" and everything clicked. It had only been about 10 seconds from the moment he noticed the blood to the moment he realized he was about to go full hero.
"BY THE POWER OF PUNCH-SKULL!"
Maybe the story goes this way because it's Texas and everyone there secretly thinks they're a badass cowboy, but Ballard was only one of three students who tackled and stopped Quick, who had already stabbed 14 people in the face and neck by this point. To truly appreciate how ordinary these heroes were, you have to read how Maida, or Cheesin365, framed the story on Instagram:
Making this one of the rare occasions where "cops suck" was immediately followed by "I can do better."
Then he posted a picture of himself in the back of a cop car as evidence that he was telling the truth:
Then he tweeted stuff like:
So the next time you judge young punks for writing ridiculous status updates and tweets, just know one of those guys might stand between you and a knife in the face.
Septuagenarian Tourist Goes Commando on a Mugger's Neck
Ah, a Carnival Cruise. The perfect way for upper-middle-class retirees to get away from it all and drink heavily without the threat of social ostracism. While vacations to South and Central America have their dangers, passengers who pay big bucks for a tour usually get to side-step the poverty-fueled property crime and raging drug wars.
Next stop, Detroit!
That wasn't the case for a group of 12 American tourists who took a run off the beaten path and hired a guide to take them through the Costa Rican countryside. They were on their way out of the van to check out a beach when three masked bad guys rushed them and started waving weapons around.
One fifty-two year-old woman thought the armed robbery was "a skit" until one of the men jammed a gun in her face. At that point, a mystery Carnival Cruise passenger -- aged 70 -- leaped out of the van like a member of the freaking A-Team and charged the gunman.
When we picture it, there was an explosion.
The mystery senior, who was reportedly a U.S. vet who was "specifically trained in self-defense" grabbed the 20-year-old gunman by the head and executed a move familiar to anyone who watched an action movie released during the 1990s.
The gunman dropped with a broken clavicle, and eventually died of asphyxiation. His two accomplices fled the scene. The whole tour group elected to continue their visit to Costa Rica. Because they'll be DAMNED if something as minor as being jumped by and killing some dangerous assailants is going to get in the way of their hunt for really inexpensive homemade crafts.
Emperor Joshua Norton Was America's Only Royalty
Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Unless you're just a madman who pretends to run a good chunk of the world, in which case it's probably not that hard. Such was the scenario of Emperor Joshua Abraham Norton, a homeless fellow who, by all accounts, was both as crazy as a shithouse rat and pretty awesome at the same time.
Formerly a businessman who lost every penny he had and apparently went over the edge as a result, Norton proclaimed himself "His Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I." He declared that he was the Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico back in 1859. He reigned for over 20 years, walking the streets of San Francisco in full military uniform on a daily basis.
He can afford a sword? We can't. What the fuck?
He was known for making proclamations and giving orders on how the country was to be run, such as issuing an order that Congress be dissolved by force, demanding that a League of Nations be formed and that a bridge be built connecting Oakland to San Francisco. Is it a coincidence that two of those things have since happened? Well, yeah probably.
So why are we holding him up as a positive example when there are probably thousands of homeless dudes who think they're the president? Because the city loved him. He made his own currency, and stores honored it. Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson both created characters based on him.
Oh, and when Norton died suddenly in 1880, 30,000 motherfucking people showed up on the following day to attend his funeral.
Oh, come on, who even paid for that tombstone?
The Economist Who Came Up With a Cure for a Disease That Baffled Scientists
Augusto Odone was an economist working for the World Bank with little to no medical training. His heroics would result in having a movie made about him and his family containing large doses of Nick Nolte.
At least his crazy genes are slightly offset by Susan Sarandon.
In 1984, Augusto and Michaela Odone's 6-year-old son, Lorenzo, tested positive for adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a genetic disorder that attacks the brain. It strips vision, hearing, motor function, and the ability to breathe or think. At the time of Lorenzo's diagnosis, there was nothing approaching a cure or even any type of available treatment. Augusto and his wife were essentially told that their son was going to die in less than two years and there was simply nothing to be done about it.
This is one of those rare situations where the real people were much more photogenic than their movie counterparts.
Augusto, with no background in the subject, read up on everything about ALD, spending entire nights in libraries, hoping to find something that the professionals devoted to researching the disease had somehow missed. All the while, his son continued to deteriorate.
But impossibly, Augusto made a discovery: The damage ALD caused in his son came from a buildup of long chain fatty acids in the blood. Years of no medical experience whatsoever told him that if he could somehow stop this from happening, it might help Lorenzo. He swiftly organized a medical conference (with doctors this time) to discuss his research, and came away with the exact thing he'd been looking for: an oil capable of destroying long chain fatty acids.
It had to be an oil, because Lorenzo's Suppository would've sold the wrong kind of tickets.
The treatment, a combination of rapeseed and olive oils, was given to Lorenzo, and remarkably, the heinous progress of the disease seemed to stop. It wasn't a cure, and it didn't repair the extensive damage already done to Lorenzo, but he was alive, and the disease spread no further.
But while there was nothing to be done about the damage little Lorenzo had already sustained, that wasn't true for future victims of the disease; studies indicate that it works to prevent the onset of ALD once it's been diagnosed but before symptoms have developed. A study completed in 2005 showed that the oil was successful in preventing the development of ALD in 83 out of 120 trial cases where it was diagnosed, which is a hell of a thing for some oil made by a desperate father with absolutely no medical background.
As for Lorenzo himself, he lived 20 years beyond doctors' expectations, finally succumbing to pneumonia, proving once again that doctors probably don't know anything. To lessen their shame, an honorary doctorate was given to Augusto so that the medical community could credit any other discoveries he made to a real doctor and not some random dude.
An Addiction Counselor Rescues Kids from a Fire (and a Clueless Dad)
Dennis Soules was an addiction counselor visiting a friend who was in danger of relapse. Of course, when you're trying to help a non-celebrity drug addict friend out of a tough time, you're going to find yourself in a less than glamorous environment. And that was how Soules ended up at the White Towers Motel, the scene of a disaster and/or comedy of errors.
There's no way you make it through the rest of this entry without "Yakety Sax" popping into your head.
Soules was with his troubled friend when he heard a cry for help from the floor above. Not a metaphorical cry for help, a real one. And the cry sounded suspiciously like a kid or a very advanced cat. Either way, Soules bolted upstairs. There he found a man in his underwear trying to put out a mattress fire with cups of water while his two children huddled by the open door in fear. Soules later found out that the mattress was on fire because a baby bottle had rolled under the bed and numbnuts had the brilliant idea to use a lighter to find it.
"Can't reach it ... maybe I can knock it out from under there with my trusty gas can."
Soules scooped up the kids and got them down the hall. Then he found the nearest fire extinguisher and rushed back to the room to help. Only he couldn't, because the extinguisher didn't work. Soules ran to the front desk to retrieve a replacement; once he got back to the fire, he hit the trigger ... and found that the second extinguisher was also unable to perform its only function.
By then, the fire had spread beyond even a broken fire extinguisher's ability to pretend kill it. Soules put the kids in his coat and carried them out of the motel. When they were safe, he returned to the room to retrieve the father and other guests who still hadn't left their flaming home because they were packing up their belongings. While some of us would have said "screw it" and let them spend their last moments filling their garbage bags with bongs and Bob Marley posters, Soules insisted that the residents leave the smoke-filled building.
It marked the first time a Canadian had raised his voice in 17 years.
Once everyone was safely outside, including the scantily clad father, Soules drove to a department store to buy the idiot who'd started the fire some damned clothes.
Dock Ellis Trips His Way to a No-Hitter
In the hundreds of thousands of games in MLB history, there have been only 285 in which the starting pitcher records every out without giving up a hit. Dock Ellis became one of the few to ever do it on June 20, 1970, though he barely remembers it.
The day of the no-hitter, Dock Ellis woke up around noon on what he thought was Friday and ate three tabs of acid, presumably because he was tired of Wheaties. But when his girlfriend arrived, she was carrying Saturday's newspaper, which meant that either he'd slept through Friday or his girlfriend was a time traveler. The sports page had more bad news: He was scheduled to pitch in San Diego in six hours. Not only was the day that was beginning to swim around him the wrong one, but the city his day was swimming in was Los Angeles.
"Not one thing about today makes sense to me."
We probably wouldn't have gone to the ballpark that day (not to mention slept through a Friday and eaten LSD for breakfast). But Ellis had pitched high before. And by that we mean he had never pitched sober. Starting with booze as a high school prodigy and moving up through amphetamines and cocaine in the MLB, his Pirate teammates often took bets on whether anyone could take as many amphetamines as Dock.
Unfazed, despite being on enough acid to melt Jimi Hendrix's guitar, Ellis hopped a flight to San Diego and faced down a lineup that had woken up knowing what day it was, and also had the upper hand in the "not on acid" category. Not a single one got a hit.
Ellis remembers very little about the game, other than that sometimes the ball was huge in his hands and sometimes it was tiny, and that at one point he dove out of the way of a line drive, only to look up and see that the ball hadn't even reached the mound. If this sounds like a ridiculous cartoon to you, that's probably what it looked like to Ellis. So how the fuck did Ellis manage to pitch a better game than Pedro Martinez ever would?
Writing in the New Yorker, Oliver Sacks describes a state of mind known as "the zone" in which "A baseball ... approaching at close to a hundred miles per hour ... may seem to be almost immobile in the air, its very seams strikingly visible ... in a suddenly enlarged and spacious timescape." The zone is typically brought on by confidence, adrenaline, and being fucking awesome at baseball. Ellis was all of those things, and LSD's effects include increased heart rate and the slowing down of time. So it's conceivable that Ellis tripped his way into the zone.
What Ellis saw the day of his no-hitter.
A large part of throwing a no-hitter is getting over the fact that you're throwing one. As the game goes on and the lonely bastard in the middle of the diamond gets closer to immortality, the tension in the park and in the pitcher builds. Trying to throw a no-hitter is such a mind fuck that it's considered the height of dickery for a teammate to acknowledge the no-hitter until the final out is recorded.
But baseball history was the last thing on Ellis' mind, keeping his shit together while a bunch of giant lizards fucked in the on-deck circle being the first.
But before you go trying it, you should know Ellis had the career trajectory of Darryl Strawberry, never reaching his potential because of drug addiction. Instead of being a household name, Dock Ellis is just that guy who threw a no-hitter on acid.
Samuel Whittlemore Was the Hardest Man in American History
Yes, American history is full of heroes. This whole list is full of great men and women who built this country with sweat and grit and probably lots of assorted oils, too. Everyone here is a badass. But none of these people hold a candle -- or even a goddamn glow-in-the-dark key chain -- to Samuel Whittlemore.
We're going back a ways -- he was born in England in 1695. He started his military career as a British soldier in one of the innumerable wars France and England fought to determine which nation's accent would go on to grace every villain in American movie history. In 1745, the 50-year-old Sam helped to capture the French Fort Louisburg. He walked away with the sword of an enemy officer who, Samuel claimed, had "died suddenly." In 1758, France and England went to war again (it was a bit of a habit) and the 64-year-old farmer was forced to capture the French fort a second time.
"Ok, but make it quick. I have mountains to punch."
He fought next in the Indian Wars and -- at the age of 69 -- won himself a nice set of dueling pistols whose owner had, again, "died suddenly." The Revolutionary War broke out when Whittlemore was 81 and, finally yielding to his advancing years, the old soldier left the fight up to the capable hands of younger men.
For about 10 seconds. When the fighting at Lexington and Concord resulted in two columns of British soldiers burning homes and farms along their avenue of retreat, Minuteman Whittlemore was moved to action. He joined up with another group of Colonial insurgents, but rejected their guerrilla tactics in favor of a more direct approach: standing in the path of a redcoat advance.
Like this, except he would have melted the tanks.
Sam waited until point-blank range to fire his musket and pistols, bringing three men down and charging the rest of the column with his sword in hand. The British soldiers fired, and one managed to hit Sam in the face. He went down just long enough to be surrounded and bayoneted 13 times.
"It's only a flesh wound!"
A bullet to the face and 13 knife wounds would be enough to stop even the hardiest of rappers. But Sam survived. When his allies found him, he was still conscious and trying to load his musket. The field doctors thought Sam was done for. But he ended up pulling through the night ... and the next 18 years. Whittlemore didn't die until 1793 -- at the age of 98. Or 897 in 1793 years.