5 Real Soldiers Who Were Walking Super Weapons
Despite what movies, video games, and literature sometimes tell us, war is neither glamorous nor fun. What cannot be denied, however, is that war is also where you see regular, everyday people doing extraordinary shit you didn't even know was possible. So here is our latest attempt to salute those who, in the heat of battle, made fictional action heroes look like wet garbage:
Lyudmila Pavlichenko: The MankillerThe Soldier:
A Ukrainian-born sniper for the Soviet Union's 25th Rifle Division, who is still one of the top ten deadliest snipers in history.
The person who took this photo was immediately hit by a boomeranging bullet
Lyudmila Pavlichenko is the highest-scoring female sniper on record, with a count of 309 confirmed kills, 36 of which were enemy snipers. And while it's unfair to compare real-life soldiers with superhuman Hollywood killing machines like John Rambo, that's actually more people than Rambo killed on-screen -- in fact, it's more people than Stallone has killed in all of his movies combined. That's right -- this woman shot more people in real life than a man who was only pretending to do it with the aid of special effects, editing, and extras who weren't even trying to kill him back. They couldn't show Rambo killing that many, because it just wouldn't have been plausible.
Also, there's no mention of her sounding like she was perpetually mid-stroke.
Pavlichenko was already an accomplished sniper by the time she was 24 and Hitler decided that Russia was the final boss battle of his world domination game. And where a fictional badass gets his kills by mowing down rows of bad guys running mindlessly into his machine gun, Pavlichenko took hers out one at a time, carefully and patiently. Of her many duels with German snipers, Pavlichenko recalled the longest lasting over three days.
That's three days of waiting, perfectly still, in the cold and the silence, knowing that somewhere out there was a dude doing the exact same thing. Knowing that she'd never hear the bullet that took her out, if it ever came. As Pavlichenko said about the duel, it came to a close when the other guy "made one move too many."
"That is why I have a stamp, and he has a bullet."
Finally, Pavlichenko and her spotter Leonid Kutsenko were caught by German artillery. Kutsenko was hit, and Pavlichenko knew he wasn't going to make it. Whereas most people would say "screw it" and flee from the steel raining from the sky, she laboriously lugged him back to camp (he still died, but that wasn't the point).
After that near-death experience, the Soviet Union decided to send her as a diplomat to the USe, where she was the first Soviet Citizen to ever be openly welcome in the White House. She even toured the country with Eleanor Roosevelt, advocating the equal treatment of women. She never got a big war movie made about her, probably because commie war heroes went out of style pretty fast after World War II, and because Hollywood prefers its female action heroes in some kind of tight black leather. She had to settle for being immortalized in a song by Woody Guthrie instead. Hey, that's almost the same thing, right?
Henry Lincoln Johnson: The Black Death
A Private in the mainly African-American 369th Infantry Regiment (aka The Harlem Hellfighters) in World War I.
You can decide if the nickname is more badass or racist.
Henry Lincoln Johnson was part of the first mostly black unit to fight in the American Expeditionary Force. On the night of May 14, 1918, Johnson and fellow soldier Needham Roberts were on the midnight to 4 a.m. patrol on the front lines (a shitty assignment no matter what war you're in). Untrained, poorly equipped, and wishing they could get some sleep, the pair came under attack from a German raiding party around 2 a.m.
It was only the two of them against the German onslaught, explosions erupting around them, Johnson chucking grenades back at the approaching Germans. Then Roberts was wounded by shrapnel, and now it was Johnson versus the enemy army, his odds of survival plummeting by the second. He took bullet and stab wounds to the head, face, side, and arm, returning fire the whole time.
And then Johnson's rifle jammed.
"GODDAMMIT, THIS NEVER HAPPENS IN THE MOVIES"
With the Germans right on top of him, and now without a working gun, Johnson went into survival mode and started swinging his rifle like a club. Or in Johnson's own words, "[I] banged them on the dome and the side and everywhere I could land until the butt of my rifle busted." Then the Germans started trying to take the wounded Roberts prisoner, and Johnson got mad.
Summoning up whatever superhuman strength he had left, Johnson took out his bolo knife and started hacking at the Germans, grabbing for his friend while taking yet another bullet in his arm. He stabbed one soldier in the ribs, another in the gut and, with only a knife, managed to single-handedly drive off the Germans until reinforcements arrived. At that point, Johnson finally collapsed. He had battled the Germans alone for an hour.
A completely accurate cartoon depiction of Johnson knifing one soldier while he chokes
another one out, also known as "Grabbin' & Stabbin'."
In the course of his frenzy, he killed four Germans and wounded 20 others, earning him the nickname "The Black Death," a moniker that followed him all the way to a victory parade in New York City. The French gave him the Croix de Guerre for taking over 20 wounds and stopping the German assault, but he wouldn't get a Purple Heart and a Distinguished Service Cross from the US until 67 years after his (largely ignored) death in 1929.
However, records indicate that he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors, which is pretty amazing when you consider that he died in a time when blatant racism was a societal norm. The lesson? A man can overcome even the worst prejudice, but they sure don't make it fucking easy.
Lewis Millett and His Magnificent Mustache
A National Guardsman, a member of the US Army Air Corps, a soldier in the Canadian Army, and a soldier in the US Army, all rolled into one badass mustachioed man.
Whom no one called "White Death"
Almost no good war hero stories begin with the hero going AWOL, but Lewis Millett is the exception. He was in an army that was not yet at war, so he deserted in order to join one that was (a move that henceforth will be known as "Pullin' a Millett"). In 1940, Millett was in the Army Air Corps and was becoming increasingly pissed off with FDR's lack of punching Hitler in his decidedly less impressive mustache. So he decided to speed up things and deserted the Air Corps to join up with the Canadian Army, since they were already in the game.
He was deployed in Europe and fighting alongside the Canadians when the Japanese decided to wake America up before noon on a Sunday morning in December.
Pictured: The Mitsubishi Alarm Clock
Millett quietly rejoined the US army in England and commenced turning his own life into a series of action movie cliches. In November 1942, he was fighting in North Africa when a halftrack full of ammunition caught fire. He jumped into the burning vehicle, drove it away from his comrades and jumped out right before it exploded.
Unconfirmed reports indicate his mustache absorbed most of the blast.
By the time his prior desertion caught up with him, he was a Sergeant and the worst they could do to him was fine him 52 dollars. To top it all off, he was made a Second Lieutenant a few weeks after that. As Millett himself said about the whole affair, "I must be the only Regular Army colonel who has ever been court-martialed and convicted of desertion." By the time the Korean War came around, Millett was a Captain, and he began perfecting the ancient form of warfare known as "stabbing every dude you see."
Millett had learned that the Chinese were taught that Americans were afraid of bayonets. So he quickly taught all the men under him how to properly use bayonets, before leading them up Hill 180 on February 7, 1951 to give the enemy a proper lecture on the subject.
Prof. Millett and his grad students.
Millett literally punched, stabbed, clubbed, and threw grenades at anything that stood in his path on his way up. The sight of this mustachioed whirlwind of death impaling enemies in a stab-happy frenzy so unnerved the enemy that they "fled in wild disorder," according to Millett's official medal citation. That's right -- the action netted him a Medal of Honor (and a Distinguished Service Cross a few weeks later for doing the exact same thing on another hill). Which makes us wonder if every night he wasn't sneaking out and joining some other battle alongside the Canadians, just to get some extra combat in.
And gluing the mustache back on every morning.
Brian Chontosh Out-Call-of-Duty's Call of Duty
A 1st Lieutenant in 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, charged with guarding a convoy in the early weeks of the Iraq War.
Wouldn't you feel awful dripping BBQ sauce on those medals?
On March 25, 2003, the convoy Brian Chontosh was assigned to was strolling along, minding its own business, when a portal to Hell opened up around it. Bullets and grenades started flying past the convoy, the assault pouring from an irrigation ditch the enemy was using as a trench for the ambush.
First off, the driver of the Humvee that Chontosh was in drove right to the center of the enemy trench while the .50 Caliber machine gunner started pouring fire into the trench. Chontosh and a few others quickly piled out and got into the trench, where they were immediately set upon by enemy combatants. At this point, it had to have felt strangely like a video game -- moving down a corridor, firing an assault rifle at dozens of enemies (with the minor difference that your wounds wouldn't be instantly healed by walking over a floating turkey leg).
But very soon, Chontosh experienced what we have already established is one of the worst things imaginable in a live firefight: his M16 jammed.
Yeah, this never happens in video games, either.
Chontosh swapped his rifle with a comrade's and fired until it and his sidearm were out of ammo. So what did the Marine do next? Well, what do you do when you run out of ammo in a game? You go get more off of a dead guy.
So in a move straight out of every modern FPS, Chontosh started picking up discarded AK-47s and returned fire, chucking them when they ran out of ammo and grabbing a new one (because you can't auto-pick-up ammo in real life). We know what you're thinking: did he ever pick up two rifles and dual-wield them, firing both and screaming the whole time? Accounts don't say one way or the other, but that's the only way we can picture it.
Then he hit the mother lode: he stumbled across a discarded RPG launcher (if you don't know what that is, well, the R stands for "rocket"), still loaded and ready.
Opportunities like this are the reason it's good to have your heroic one-liners written down in advance.
He then did what most of us have done at one time or another in an FPS and launched the RPG down the trench, instantly clearing 650 feet of it, bad guys and all. By the time he was done, he had taken out 20 enemy combatants while wounding several others.
Chontosh maintains that it was the men around him who deserve more of the credit -- he insists without the other guys and the .50 caliber gunner covering him, his shooting frenzy would have gone down as an example of, quote, "what not to do." Still, Chontosh got the Navy Cross for his actions, and made it all the way to Major before he retired in 2013.
The Crew of Old 666
Jay Zeamer put together a bomber crew full of smartasses and took off in a plane designed to spit flaming lead in every direction.
They were essentially the Judd Apatow cast of the Pacific Theater.
By 1943, Jay Zeamer had assembled the "Dirty Dozen" of the Army Air Corps in the Pacific: a bomber crew full of outcasts, renegades, screwballs and smartasses whom no other bomber crews wanted. As a result, they were stuck at the bottom of the list for a new B-17 to fly. And pilots, like teenagers, hate nothing more than being grounded.
"But prom is next week!"
But since God loves irony, he tossed them a bone in the form of Old 666, a worn-out B-17 no other crew wanted, because every time it went up, it came back looking like a dragon had tried to violently mate with it in midair (the name came from the last three digits of the tail number, so it wasn't a badass nickname -- it was the curse it was born with). So Zeamer and his crew took the demon bomber and put as many machine guns on her as they possibly could, letting them litter the length of the bomber (just in case they ran out), and even rigging a .50 caliber in the nose so Zeamer could fire it like a fighter pilot.
"Think we have enough?"
"I think we could squeeze a few more onto the engines."
Once they had their Flying Death Fortress armed to the teeth and gums, they started taking the missions nobody else wanted, namely reconnaissance flights (earning them the nickname "the Eager Beavers"). Now, the Japanese were not very keen on people taking photos of them from on high, so they usually sent up their fighters to forcefully invite people down for a closer view. And on June 16th, 1943, they sent one of their invitations to the crew of Old 666 with 17 fighter planes.
"You're sure you remembered the invitations, right?"
What followed was a 45-minute dogfight (keep in mind, most dogfights of World War II lasted a minute at most) between a lone B-17 and a squadron's worth of Japanese fighters. It should be noted that the B-17 has all of the maneuverability of a living room couch, yet Zeamer and his crew took on the fighters while still doing their recon work for an upcoming troop landing.
Zeamer wound up taking shrapnel through his arms, legs, and wrists (y'know, those three vital things that help you control an airplane). His bombardier/forward gunner Joseph Sarnoski took shrapnel through his abdomen and started bleeding to death, so that meant the forward guns were down. And to complete the whole nightmare, the rudder, hydraulic systems, and oxygen systems were shot to hell as well. Since they were cruising at an altitude of close to 24,000 feet, breathing was going to become difficult very quickly.
So Zeamer, still bleeding heavily, took his plane down three freaking miles in the space of 40 seconds, before he started ducking and dodging the Japanese fighters in maneuvers that the B-17 was never designed for. The Japanese only left when their planes were running out of fuel.
By the time they made it back to base, the men of Old 666 had lost Sarnoski, but had cost the Japanese at least five planes (Zeamer even managed to shoot down one of the fighters himself, using his nose gun), in addition to completing their mission for the landing. The bleeding and half-conscious Zeamer then piloted the bullet-riddled plane 600 miles to a safe landing, at which point he passed out. He actually heard the medics say, "Get the pilot last, he's dead," but was too weak to even speak up to correct them. He was still in the hospital when he got the call that he'd won the Congressional Medal of Honor (alongside the deceased Sarnoski).
It all goes to show that, in fact, you cannot have too many guns on your plane.
"I also took the liberty of adding huge balls to our plane, sir. And sticking guns on them."
For more ridiculous badassery, check out 5 Nobodies Who Stumbled into Wars and Kicked Everyone's Ass. And then check out How The Inevitable Human-Robot War Will Start.
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