Whether on land, at sea or in the air, America’s military personnel have many heroic achievements to their names. But some individuals stand out from this roll call of honor; they are exceptional even by the highest standards of bravery. Read on to meet 40 men who became some of the most decorated in U.S. military history.
38. Sergeant First Class Edward A. Carter Jr.
Born in 1916, Edward Allen Carter Jr.’s mother was from India and his father was an African-American missionary. When he was 15, Carter had his first taste of military action in China, where his parents were living. In fact, he joined the Chinese Army in its fight against the invading Japanese. But his age was revealed and the young soldier was forced to leave the service. Clearly determined to gain battle experience, however, he went to Spain in 1936 and joined the Republican forces fighting the civil war there.
Carter joined the U.S. Army in September 1941 just before America engaged in WWII. But he didn’t see combat until 1944 in France. The following year, when fighting with the 56th Armored Infantry Battalion, the tank he was riding on was hit. Of the three men he was with, two died and one was badly wounded. Carter himself was shot five times but still managed to kill six of the eight Germans who attacked him. And then he took the remaining two prisoner. Despite that brave act, at the time, the veteran only won a Distinguished Service Cross. But this injustice against the African-American soldier was finally corrected in 1997, when he was posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor.
37. Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler
Born in Oklahoma in 1975, Joshua Lloyd Wheeler was a Cherokee Nation citizen. Aged 19, the young man signed up with the U.S. Army infantry in 1995. He undertook basic training at Georgia’s Fort Benning, and later joined the 75th Ranger Regiment. He served on three tours of duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan with the Rangers.
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Wheeler was assigned as a special operations soldier and joined Delta Force in 2004. He was a team leader with that unit and served on 11 frontline missions in the Middle East. In 2015, Wheeler was in Iraq, fighting ISIS forces. In October of that year he took part in an operation at an ISIS prison, an operation that succeeded in releasing some 70 hostages. His bravery in fighting the terrorists during that assault unfortunately resulted in his death.
The veteran won a clutch of decorations during his career and that final act of courage earned him a Purple Heart, a Silver Star and the Medal of Patriotism.
36. Colonel James H. Kasler
James Helms Kasler was born in 1926 in Indiana and started his military career by joining the U.S. Army Reserve in 1943. He first saw active service with the Air Force in 1944 and also served in the Korean War. Kasler flew F-86 Sabre fighter jets during that conflict and shot down six enemy planes. He also served in Vietnam from 1966 and flew F-105 fighters there.
The airman was on his 91st Vietnam combat mission in August 1966 when his wingman’s plane was destroyed. The stricken pilot ejected and Kasler flew his plane incredibly low to give the man cover. While doing so, his plane was hit and he, too, ejected, only to be captured by the North Vietnamese. He was cruelly tortured in a bid to force him to participate in enemy propaganda, but he refused. This stalwart resistance won him a third Air Force Cross. He was finally freed in 1973 after 2,401 days as a prisoner. At the end of his career, Kasler’s total of 76 awards included two Silver Stars and nine Distinguished Flying Crosses.
35. First Lieutenant Vernon Baker
Vernon Joseph Baker came into the world in 1919 in Wyoming. His first attempt to join the U.S. Army came in April 1941, but he was rebuffed because of his color. However, a second attempt in June was successful. He then undertook basic training as an infantryman at Camp Wolters, Texas. From there, he went on to Officer Candidate School, emerging as a second lieutenant. And in 1944, Baker landed in Italy with the 370th Infantry. However, he quickly sustained an arm wound resulting in a two-month hospital stay.
Baker was back on the frontline in spring 1945 as a platoon commander when his unit attacked a well-defended German mountain position. The lieutenant knocked out three machine gun nests in an intense engagement that resulted in the deaths all but six of his platoon’s 25 men. Undeterred, he then led a second assault the next day which captured the mountain. As a result, the serviceman received the Distinguished Service Cross. In later years, though, the authorities recognized that many African-Americans had been unjustly treated during the conflict due to racism. Baker was one of those whose bravery award was upgraded to a Medal of Honor in 1997.
34. Vice Admiral Joel Boone
Joel Thompson Boone was born in Pennsylvania in 1889. He graduated from Philadelphia’s Hahnemann Medical College in 1913 and joined the U.S. Naval Reserve with the rank of junior grade lieutenant the next year. He went on to study at the Washington, D.C. Naval Medical School and, from there, joined the Navy full-time. In 1916 he deployed to Haiti with the Marine Expeditionary Force, there to suppress rebel fighters.
The U.S. entered the First World War in November 1917 and Boone was now assigned as a medical officer aboard U.S.S. Wyoming. He was then attached as a surgeon to the 6th Marine Regiment, fighting in France. It was during this service that he displayed extraordinary courage while treating wounded men while under enemy fire. His exploits earned him the Medal of Honor, adding to his tally of six Silver Stars and a Distinguished Service Cross.
The serviceman’s many medals made him the most decorated U.S. Army medical officer of all time.
33. Sergeant First Class Eugene Ashley Jr.
Not long after Eugene Ashley Jr’s birth in North Carolina in 1931, his family moved to New York City. From there, he eventually joined the U.S. Army in 1950 and saw service in the conflict in Korea. But it was during the Vietnam War that his exceptional heroism came to the fore. He served there with the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne).
On February 6, 1968, Ashley led his unit on an assault on a North Vietnamese position during the Battle of Lang Vei. A detachment of American troops was trapped there by a communist force of troops and tanks. With complete disregard for his own safety, the commander led repeated attacks on the enemy despite having been shot multiple times. The fifth attack finally led to a North Vietnamese retreat, but he was mortally wounded by an enemy artillery round. The serviceman was later posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
32. Major General Merritt A. Edson
Merritt Austin “Red Mike” Edson came into the world in Vermont in 1897. He became a second lieutenant with the Marine Corps in 1917 and was posted to France in 1918, although his unit saw no action there. In the years after the First World War, Edson served in both China and Central America. But it was during WWII that he saw the highlights of his career.
During the summer of 1941, Edson took command of a U.S. Marine battalion. The following year he led his men in an amphibious landing on Tulagi, one of the British Solomon Islands in the Pacific. There was fierce opposition from the occupying Japanese, but the Americans prevailed. However, the veteran is best remembered for his exploits during the fighting on Guadalcanal. His men had taken a ridge there and were ferociously and repeatedly assaulted by a 3,000-strong enemy force. The Marines, though, held out and the commander won a Medal of Honor for his exceptional courage in leadership.
31. Colonel Neel E. Kearby
Neel Ernest Kearby came into the world in 1911 in Texas. He graduated from the state’s university before joining the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1937 where he learned to fly. After service in the U.S., Kearby was posted to Australia in 1943 during the Second World War. He was in command of the 348th Fighter Group which flew the formidable P-47 Thunderbolt fighters. The airman downed his first Japanese aircraft, a Mitsubishi G4M bomber, in September that year.
In an October 1943 combat mission, Kearby, along with four other P-47s, ran into a force of 40 Japanese fighters. The airman shot six of them down, and this feat won him a Medal of Honor, making him the first fighter pilot to win that award. He then went on to reach a tally of 22 kills, the highest achieved by a pilot in the Pacific. On a mission in March 1944, however, the colonel shot down yet another aircraft, but was himself hit by an enemy plane. Although he parachuted clear, the bullet wounds he’d sustained resulted in his death.
30. Major Louis Cukela
Louis Cukela was born in 1888 in the European city of Split, which is in modern-day Croatia. He started a new life in America in 1913 and, in 1914, signed up with the U.S. Army. Rather unusually, he served for just under two years before being honorably discharged in 1916. Then, in 1917, he enlisted again, this time with the U.S. Marine Corps. With America now fighting in the First World War, Cukela was posted to France in 1918 and saw action in various battles.
Cukela’s bravery earned him a commission as an officer and many awards including a Navy Medal of Honor. He won this in July 1918 by taking a German machine gun position from the rear at bayonet point and capturing four of the enemy. In fact, he won two Medals of Honor for this engagement, as the Army awarded him one separately.
He remains one of only 19 Marines to have won the Medal of Honor twice.
29. Sergeant First Class Sammy Lee Davis
When Sammy Lee Davis joined the army in 1965 – just a year and a half after leaving high school – the U.S. was already embroiled in the Vietnam War. And following a period of extensive training, the young soldier was, in March 1967, posted to the southeast Asian country with the rank of private first class. It didn’t take long for the artilleryman to make his mark, either. In the early hours of November 18, 1967, Davis was with his 43-strong unit at a position called Firebase Cudgel in the Mekong Delta. Then some 1,500 Viet Cong fighters ambushed the Americans, attacking them with mortars and bullets.
In the ensuing melee, Davis grabbed a machine gun and lay down suppressing fire to enable his comrades to launch artillery rounds at the enemy. Then, despite injuries that rendered him incapable of swimming, the intrepid private commandeered a floating mattress and saved three G.I.s trapped on the other side of a nearby river. Unsurprisingly, the soldier’s outstanding courage ultimately earned him the U.S.’ highest award for bravery: the Medal of Honor.
28. Sergeant William Henry Johnson
William Henry Johnson – who was born in 1892 in North Carolina – enlisted in the U.S. Army just weeks after America had entered the First World War. The African-American soldier was then sent to France for labor rather than combat duties – often the case with non-white servicemen at the time. Eventually, though, Johnson got his chance to fight when his segregated regiment was put under French command.
On one May night in 1918, Johnson was on guard patrol in the Argonne Forest when a band of German soldiers approached. And the brave sergeant chose to fend off the attackers with grenades, his large knife and even his fists – at the cost of 21 wounds to himself. Owing to that extraordinary act of courage, then, the French went on to honor Johnson with the Croix de Guerre. But the Americans were slow to follow that lead, and the Purple Heart and Distinguished Service Cross that he ultimately received came more than half a century after his death.
27. Captain Joe Ronnie Hooper
After entering the world in 1938 in Piedmont, South Carolina, Joe Ronnie Hooper joined the U.S. Navy at just 18. And following a period as an airman that saw him honorably discharged in 1959, Hooper proved his penchant for military life by subsequently signing up to the army. This was despite the fact that he had rather an appetite for trouble – something that landed him in disciplinary hot water on more than one occasion.
Nevertheless, during Hooper’s two tours of Vietnam, he excelled enough to earn a hatful of medals – including eight Purple Hearts, a pair of Silver Stars and half a dozen Bronze Stars. But his most prestigious award was undoubtedly the Medal of Honor, which he received for his considerable bravery in combat in 1968. On February 21 that year, Hooper had led an attack on a well-defended position close to Hue. And while the then-sergeant and his men subsequently came under heavy fire, Hooper ignored the danger and personally evacuated several wounded men – even though this action would lead to him becoming gravely injured. Regardless of the personal damage he suffered, he continued to fight, killed several North Vietnamese soldiers and led his charges to victory.
26. Brigadier General Robin Olds
Fighter pilot Robin Olds first saw action at the age of 21 when he flew WWII missions from England in 1944. Proving his considerable skill in combat even then, the then-captain downed 12 German planes in total – thus earning the title of double ace. Yet while Olds stayed in the Air Force after WWII had ended, he was refused permission to fight in the subsequent Korean War – a matter that became a source of deep personal frustration. When the U.S. stepped up its part in the conflict in Vietnam,he was put back in action, holding command of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing in 1966.
Yet while Olds received a variety of decorations for his time in service, none were more prestigious than the Air Force Cross he earned in 1967. On August 11 that year, the colonel managed his unit of eight fighter planes on a mission to strike a bridge that was strategically important to the North Vietnamese. And although he and his men would come under considerable fire while pursuing their goal, they ultimately succeeded in hitting the target.
25. Lieutenant Colonel Matt Urban
Polish-American Matt Louis Urbanowicz – later to shorten his name to Urban – was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1919. And during the course of WWII, Urban took part in no fewer than seven military campaigns – including the June 1944 invasion of France.
Just days after arriving at Utah Beach, in fact, he single-handedly destroyed two German tanks with a bazooka.
Nor did this feat mark the end of Urban’s exploits in combat. From June to September 1944, the then-captain further demonstrated his bravery by continuing to lead his unit even after a serious leg injury. He sustained a further severe wound to the neck while heading a charge against the enemy on September 3 in Belgium. And owing to his actions during the conflict, Urban was finally given the Medal of Honor in 1980.
24. Major Richard Ira Bong
Superior, Wisconsin, native Richard Ira Bong first took to the skies while he was still at college as part of the Civilian Pilot Training Program. And Bong put that experience to good use in 1941 when he joined the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program – ultimately gaining his wings in January 1942. Then, trained up as a pilot of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, the second lieutenant was posted to the South West Pacific – set for combat during WWII.
Bong proved his worth for the Allies, too, when in 1942 he shot down his first two Japanese planes – an accomplishment that won him a Silver Star. Seeing off another four Japanese craft also earned him a Distinguished Service Cross. And as of December 1944, Bong had brought down an astonishing 40 enemy planes – the highest number destroyed by any American pilot during WWII. That same month, moreover, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Tragically, though, the pilot – by then a major – died in August 1945 when the plane he was flying as a test pilot crashed.
23. Sergeant First Class Jorge A. Otero Barreto
Among Jorge A. Otero Barreto’s many accomplishments, he held the distinction of being the inaugural Puerto Rican graduate of the 101st Airborne Division’s training program – which he completed in 1960. Then, the following year, the young soldier began the first of the five tours of duty that he would complete in Vietnam, commencing his service as an advisor to South Vietnamese military units.
All in all, Otero Barreto took part in 200 combat missions, during which he was wounded on five occasions. And owing to his outstanding conduct in the field, the sergeant first class was decorated handsomely, with five Purple Hearts, five Bronze Stars and two Silver Stars among his 38 awards. Otero Barreto won the second of those Silver Stars for leading a desperate and highly dangerous – yet ultimately successful – attack on a well-defended North Vietnamese position.
22. Rear Admiral Eugene Bennett Fluckey
Born in 1913, Washington, D.C., native Eugene Bennett Fluckey graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1935. Three years after that, he entered Basic Enlisted Submarine School in Connecticut. But even after a spell serving on two Navy subs, Fluckey wasn’t done learning. In 1943, then, he took further training – this time at the Prospective Commanding Officer’s School in New London. And at the height of WWII in January 1944, the experienced submariner was deemed fit to take command of the USS Barb.
Fluckey proved his mettle, too, as, in his 18 months as Barb’s commander, his vessel claimed no fewer than 17 confirmed sinkings – including the downing of both a cruiser and an aircraft carrier.
And the sailor’s endeavors not only won him four Navy Crosses and a Medal of Honor, but also the virtually inevitable nickname of “Lucky Fluckey.”
That moniker, though, somewhat ignores the fact that the skipper’s decorations came by way of bravery rather than mere good fortune.
21. Major Thomas Buchanan McGuire Jr.
Irish-American Thomas Buchanan McGuire Jr. entered the world in Ridgewood, New Jersey, in 1920. While still at college, however, he dropped out to attend the U.S. Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program. McGuire ultimately won his pilot’s wings in February 1942, and just four months later he was flying on combat missions around the Aleutian Islands in the Northern Pacific.
Then, in 1943, McGuire entered the South West Pacific theatre of WWII, marking the start of a period that would see him excel in the air. During just two days in August that year, for instance, he downed five Japanese planes – among the 38 he felled in total during his time in conflict. And the feat that would earn McGuire both a Silver Star and a Purple Heart came in October 1943, when he was wounded after shooting down three Japanese Zero fighters. Yet while the major managed to bail out on that occasion, his luck sadly ran out in January 1945 when his plane crashed during a dogfight. McGuire was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 1946.
20. Sergeant Matej Kocak
Hungarian Matej Kocak was born in 1882 in a town that now lies in modern Slovakia. In 1906, however, he left his native land for America, joining the U.S. Marine Corps the following year in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And while Kocak’s first active service overseas was in Vera Cruz, Mexico, in 1914, it was during the First World War that his exceptional bravery came to the fore. After the U.S. had entered the conflict in 1917, Kocak was posted to France in December of that year.
And on July 18, 1918, the sergeant held his nerve during an attack on German troops in the Argonne Forest. During the intense skirmish, Kocak made a single-handed bayonet charge on a machine gun position, putting to flight the Germans manning it. He didn’t stop there, either, instead going on to take command of more than two dozen French colonial troops and overwhelm another machine gun nest. But while these two actions ultimately earned Kocak Medals of Honor from both the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army, he sadly wasn’t around to receive those accolades in person. The intrepid Marine was killed in action on October 4, 1918 – little more than a month before the war ended.
19. Sergeant Major Daniel “Dan” Daly
Daniel Joseph “Dan” Daly began life in Glen Cove, New York, in 1873, and joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1899. A year later, he was posted to China and fought in the Boxer Rebellion – a conflict that saw Chinese patriots rise up against foreigners in their country. In one action, Daly held a key defensive position, and despite repeated attacks, he clung on, inflicting some 200 casualties on his opponents. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery.
Daly was then awarded a second Medal of Honor in 1915. The sergeant was fighting rebels in Haiti at the Battle of Fort Dipitie when his unit was ambushed by a much larger force of Haitian rebels. But despite the unit being heavily outnumbered, he led his men to safety. Then in WWI, Daly participated in the fierce Battle of Belleau Wood in France in 1918 and won a Navy Cross. He is one of only two soldiers ever to have earned two Medals of Honor through separate actions.
18. Major General Smedley Butler
Smedley Darlington Butler was born way back in 1881 in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Keen to sign up to the military, he later lied about his age so that he could join the forces – in his case, the U.S. Marines – in 1898. Sent to the Philippines in 1899, Butler had his first taste of armed combat there, leading 300 men as they took a town called Noveleta.
Butler was then sent to China in 1900 to suppress the Boxer Rebellion, and his heroics when wounded there resulted in a Marine Corps Brevet Medal. Then, in 1914, he won a Medal of Honor for his bravery during street fighting in Veracruz, Mexico. And a second such award came as a result of combat in Haiti in 1915 at the Battle of Fort Dipitie. Along with Dan Daly, who also received his second medal at Dipitie, Butler is the only Marine to have been awarded two Medals of Honor following separate actions.
17. Ordinary Seaman Robert Sweeney
Robert Augustus Sweeney was born in 1853 on the island of Montserrat in the Caribbean. He later signed up with the U.S. Navy in New Jersey and in 1881 was a crew member of the USS Kearsarge. And while the ship was anchored in Hampton Roads, Seaman E.M. Christoverson fell overboard. Sweeney then dived into the stormy waters and with the help of a second sailor rescued the struggling man. Sweeney was awarded the Medal of Honor for this courageous act.
Sweeney’s next accolade came following his heroics in December 1883, when a boy fell between moored ships in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He and another man jumped into the water and rescued the youngster. And the two men were each awarded a Medal of Honor.
This second award meant that Sweeney became, and remains, the only African-American to have received the medal twice.
16. Vice Admiral John Bulkeley
Born in 1911 in New York City, John Duncan Bulkeley later completed his training at the United States Naval Academy in 1933. When America joined the Second World War, he was stationed in the Philippines heading up the six vessels of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Three. Bulkeley evacuated General Douglas MacArthur and his entourage as the Philippines fell to the Japanese.
Bulkeley then later participated in the 1944 D-Day invasion of France, again commanding torpedo boats. And soon after, he took command of the destroyer USS Endicott. Coming across two British gunboats under attack by German vessels, Bulkeley subsequently joined the battle – even though only one of his ship’s guns was operational. What’s more, the ship under his command sank the enemy craft and then rescued both British and German sailors. During his service, Bulkeley won an abundance of bravery awards, including a Medal of Honor.
15. Captain Edward “Eddie” Rickenbacker
Edward Vernon Rickenbacker came into the world in 1890 in Columbus, Ohio, and later had to leave school aged 13 after his father died. The aspiring military man then joined the U.S. Army in 1917 when America entered WWI. He was then sent to France in June with the rank of sergeant. Despite his ambition to fly, though, Rickenbacker’s lack of formal education meant that he was consigned to ground duties as a mechanic. And yet he’d soon convinced his superiors to let him take to the skies, taking out his first enemy aircraft with gunfire on April 29, 1918.
Within a month, Rickenbacker had brought down five German planes. This in turn gave him the status of an “ace” and earned him the French bravery award the Croix de Guerre. All told, he eventually shot down 26 enemy planes and won the Distinguished Service Cross no fewer than eight times. One of those awards was, furthermore, upgraded to a Medal of Honor in 1930. In fact, Rickenbacker was regarded as perhaps the most decorated American of the First World War.
14. General Douglas MacArthur
Douglas MacArthur is easily one of the most distinguished military leaders of the 20th century. He was born into a military family in the barracks at Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1880. Much later, MacArthur fought in the First World War on the Western Front in Europe, where his bravery earned him seven Silver Stars as well as two awards of the Distinguished Service Cross.
In WWII, Macarthur famously led the retreat from the Philippines in 1942. And despite the defeat, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his courageous but unsuccessful defense of the islands. He also returned victorious to the Philippines in 1944 and went on to be the official recipient of Japan’s surrender in September 1945.
Impressively, the general won more than 100 military awards during his long and illustrious career.
13. David Hackworth
David Haskell Hackworth was born in 1930 in Ocean Park, California, into a family suffering amid the Great Depression. He later joined the U.S. Army in 1946 and was posted to Trieste, Italy, as a rifleman. He also served in the Korean War and volunteered for a second term. While there, Hackworth was promoted from sergeant to lieutenant in 1951 after winning three Silver Stars for bravery.
Hackworth then volunteered for service in Vietnam, where he was posted in 1965. There, founded a unit called Tiger Force to match the guerilla tactics of the North Vietnamese. He earned a reputation as a highly effective combatant, too, although he was also noted for his unconventional methods. During his time in uniform, he won more than 90 military awards, including a Presidential Unit Citation for his Tiger Force.
12. Lieutenant General James F. Hollingsworth
James Francis Hollingsworth was born in 1918 not far from the Texan town of Sanger. Later, he started out in WWII as a lieutenant in charge of a platoon in the North African campaign. When he was just 26, though, Hollingsworth was in command of an armored regiment and participated in the Allied invasion of Europe and Germany.
Hollingsworth went on to fight in the Vietnam War in 1966 with the position of the 1st Infantry Division’s assistant commander. But while his superiors reprimanded him for taking too active a personal role in fighting the Viet Cong instead of concentrating on his command duties, Hollingsworth’s courage was never in doubt. The evidence for that is clear: his many awards include four Distinguished Service Medals, three Distinguished Service Crosses and six Purple hearts.
11. Boatswain’s Mate First Class James “Willie” Williams
A Cherokee Indian, James Elliot Williams was born in 1930 in South Carolina’s Fort Mill. He was just 16 when he later joined the U.S. Navy in 1947. And active service then came three years after that in the Korean War, when he was consigned on the destroyer USS Douglas H. Fox. During the conflict, Williams used small boats to lead raiding parties on to the North Korean shores.
In 1966, Williams was deployed in Vietnam. There, he commanded River Patrol Boat 105 and was tasked with finding and destroying Viet Cong fighters and arms shipments. Then, while chasing down an enemy craft, Williams’ boat came under sustained attack.
And in the ensuing battle, 1,000 Viet Cong were killed and more than 50 enemy boats were destroyed.
Williams was awarded the Medal of Honor for his outstanding courage during this action. This, together with numerous other awards, would make him the most decorated enlisted sailor in U.S. naval history.
10. Lieutenant General Thomas Tackaberry
Born in Los Angeles, California, in 1923, Thomas Howard Tackaberry fought in both the Korean and Vietnam wars. After training as a parachutist, Tackaberry took on his commission as a second lieutenant in September 1945, shortly after WWII had ended. Then, following various peacetime assignments, he was posted to Korea in 1952 and commanded a company of the 9th Infantry Regiment. Moreover, his bravery during the conflict there won him two Silver Stars and a Distinguished Service Cross.
Tackaberry’s courage in the face of enemy fire won him another Distinguished Service Cross in 1966 after he led an attack on North Vietnamese positions. A third Distinguished Service Cross then came in 1969, with Tackaberry’s leadership during a fierce engagement with the enemy this time having earned him the award. And through the course of his time in Vietnam, the serviceman was also awarded three Silver Stars.
9. Brigadier General John Corley
The son of Irish immigrants, John T. Corley came into the world in Brooklyn, New York, in 1914. Corley was later a 1938 graduate of West Point. And he held the rank of major when he was with the 1st Infantry as it landed in North Africa in 1942. He swiftly earned his first Silver Star after fighting in Algeria, and thereupon received a Distinguished Service Cross for destroying an enemy machine gun post.
Corley went on to take part in the 1944 D-Day landings in northern France and was awarded another four Silver Stars during the campaign to defeat Nazi Germany. Then, after a spell spent teaching at West Point, Corley also served in the Korean War. What’s more, he earned another three Silver Stars in that conflict – bringing his total to eight – plus a second Distinguished Service Cross. And having been given many other awards as well, Corley stands as one of the U.S. Army’s most decorated men.
8. Private First Class Herbert Pilila‘au
Having been born into a native Hawaiian family in Wai‘anae, a Honolulu suburb, in 1928, Herbert Kailieha Pilila‘au was later drafted into the U.S. Army. In 1951 he was sent to fight in the Korean War as a Private First Class with the 2nd Infantry Division. His platoon notably fought at the Battle of Bloody Ridge to the east of central Korea. And in September 1951, Pilila‘au and his comrades were ordered to capture a feature called Hill 931 – part of a range known as Heartbreak Ridge.
The attack subsequently stalled below the summit of the hill, and a powerful North Korean attack forced the Americans back. Pilila‘au, however, stayed behind to cover the retreat. Eventually, out of ammunition, he was overwhelmed by the enemy and bayoneted to death.
But Pilila‘au had given as good as he got: when his body was found, it was surrounded by 40 dead North Koreans.
For his outstanding courage, the soldier received the highest bravery decoration: the Medal of Honor.
7. Robert Howard
Robert Lewis Howard was born in Opelika, Alabama, in 1939. He later joined the U.S. Army in 1956 and would get his first taste of action in Vietnam. In particular, he served there as a Green Beret special forces staff sergeant with the extremely secret Military Assistance Command. And during this spell in Asia, Howard received two Silver Stars and a Distinguished Service Cross for his bravery.
Howard served a total of 54 months in the Vietnam War, and during that time he was wounded no fewer than 14 times. He also won the Medal of Honor for one especially outstanding display of courage that saw him drag a wounded comrade to safety despite himself being wounded. Howard in addition picked up a clutch of other decorations, including eight Purple Hearts and four Bronze Stars.
6. Lieutenant General Lewis “Chesty” Puller
Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller entered the world in 1898 in West Point, Virginia. Then later, in 1918, he joined the U.S. Marines, hoping to see action in WWI – although the conflict had ended before he could get to France. However, he did go on to serve in Haiti and Nicaragua between the world wars. And it was in South America that he won his first bravery decoration: a Navy Cross in 1930. He was then awarded a second Navy Cross in 1932.
After the outbreak of WWII, Puller – now in command of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines – was sent to Samoa in the Pacific and then on to Guadalcanal. There, he won his third Navy Cross, this one for defending an airfield from Japanese attack. A fourth Navy Cross came before the war’s end, too. And Puller also subsequently fought in the Korean War, winning yet another Navy Cross and a Distinguished Service Cross. He thus became, and still is, the most decorated Marine in U.S. history.
5. Rear Admiral Richard “Dick” O’Kane
Born in 1911 in Dover, New Hampshire, Richard Hetherington “Dick” O’Kane later completed his training at the United States Naval Academy in 1934. O’Kane then started his navy career on battleships, but he took a submariner’s course in 1938 before starting a life below the waves aboard USS Argonaut. And in 1942, after the U.S. had joined WWII, O’Kane became executive officer to the submarine USS Wahoo.
Then, in 1943, O’Kane commanded his own submarine, the USS Tang. In its five wartime patrols, the Tang sank 33 Japanese ships – the highest number destroyed by any single submarine commander. The Japanese, though, then captured O’Kane in 1944 when his submarine sank – the victim of her own malfunctioning torpedo.
Yet after O’Kane was subsequently freed, his bravery was recognized with a Medal of Honor.
And during his service, he also won three Silver Stars and three Navy Crosses.
4. Rear Admiral Roy M. Davenport
Roy Milton Davenport was welcomed into the world in Kansas City, Kansas, in 1909, and later left the United States Naval Academy in 1933 complete with the rank of ensign. After a posting aboard the battleship USS Texas, Davenport went on to take submarine training. And he then served as executive officer on USS Silversides early in WWII, before taking command of his own submarine – the USS Haddock.
During Davenport’s command of Haddock, he earned two Navy Crosses after sinking large tonnages of Japanese shipping. And he then took command of a new submarine, the USS Trepang, and succeeded in creating more havoc for enemy shipping. Confirmed sinkings under his command include those of a 750-ton freighter and a 1,000-ton transport. Moreover, Davenport won five Navy Crosses during WWII – the only sailor to achieve such a feat.
3. First Lieutenant Garlin Murl Conner
Garlin Murl Conner’s 1919 birthplace was Aaron, Kentucky. And after drafting into the U.S. Army in 1941, he joined the 3rd Infantry Division. Conner was posted to England in October 1942, and from there he took part in the invasion of North Africa the following month. Then, after the North African campaign, he took part in four amphibious landings during the fighting in Italy.
By the end of the war, Conner had been promoted to first lieutenant and picked up a basketful of bravery medals. In France, for example, he won the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroic conduct in defeating a Nazi attack. Conner’s other wartime awards include four Silver Stars and France’s Croix de Guerre. And in 2018 his Distinguished Service Cross was boosted to a Medal of Honor.
2. Commander Samuel D. Dealey
Born in 1906 in Dallas, Texas, Samuel David Dealey later joined the U.S. Navy from the Naval Academy in 1930. In 1934, he took a submariner’s course and served aboard various subs in the ensuing years. And with his solid experience under the waves, Dealey subsequently received command of his own submarine, the USS Harder, when America joined WWII.
Dealey took Harder on six wartime patrols in the Pacific from 1943. He had excellent success, too, sinking 16 enemy vessels. Yet his fifth patrol became especially hair-raising after enemy destroyers spotted his craft. Engaging the battleships, he sank a total of five Japanese craft. Dealey received the Medal of Honor for this highly courageous and successful attack. Sadly, however, he died during his sixth patrol after a Japanese minesweeper destroyed his submarine.
1. First Lieutenant Audie Murphy
Audie Leon Murphy had a difficult start in life. He was born in 1925 in Kingston, Texas, into an Irish-American sharecropper family with 12 children. What’s more, his father abandoned the family, and his mother passed away during his teen years. Consequently, Murphy had to leave school early to work as a cotton picker.
And yet he went on to become one of the most medaled combatants of World War II – and subsequently a successful movie star.
Murphy joined the U.S. Army in 1942 after falsifying his age. He then took part in the seaborne invasion of Sicily in July 1943 and subsequently the landing on mainland Italy. His first bravery award, for destroying an enemy tank in March 1944, came in the shape of a Bronze Star. And after that, Murphy joined the invasion of France and was granted the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military medal, for repelling a German attack while wounded. He ended the war with every American bravery award then available, as well as medals from the French and the Belgians to boot.