Top 5 Heroic Veterans of Foreign War

With Veterans Day on the horizon, we thought it would be a great ThinkFives list if we highlighted 5 heroic stories of highly decorated veterans throughout the years.

First, a quick history of Veterans Day that you can share with your classes.

  • Armistice Day officially received its name in America in 1926 through a Congressional resolution. It became a national holiday 12 years later by similar Congressional action.
  • Only a few years after the holiday was proclaimed, World War II broke out in Europe and 16.5 million Americans took part. 470,000 of them died in service, more than 292,000 in battle. Armistice Day Changed To Honor All Veterans
  • The first celebration using the term Veterans Day occurred in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1947. Raymond Weeks, a World War II veteran, organized “National Veterans Day,” which included a parade and other festivities, to honor all veterans.
  • In 1954, Congress passed the bill that President Eisenhower signed proclaiming November 11 as Veterans Day.
  • A law passed in 1968 changed the national commemoration of Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October. It soon became apparent, however, that November 11 was a date of historic significance to many Americans. Therefore, in 1978 Congress returned the observance to its traditional date.

Sir Alec Guinness, WWII

Some 35 years before he counseled Luke Skywalker to “use the Force” as Obi Wan Kenobi, Sir Alec Guinness was piloting infantry landing craft in the Mediterranean. A trained thespian, Guinness put his theater career on hold in 1939 to join the Royal Navy.

He landed some 200 British soldiers on the beaches of Sicily during the July 1943 invasion of Italy, and went on to ferry arms to partisan fighters in Yugoslavia.

During one such voyage in 1944, Guinness’s boat was caught in a violent hurricane off the coast of Italy, and he only narrowly managed to guide the ship into a harbor before it was thrown onto a rocky shoreline and damaged beyond repair.

Guinness would later put his wartime experience to use portraying military officers in such films as “The Bridge on the River Kwai” and “Tunes of Glory,” and even played Adolf Hitler in 1973’s “Hitler: The Last Ten Days.”

Frank Ibanez Aceves, Vietnam War

Enlisting in the Navy in 1966, Frank Aceves made it his goal to become an electrician and move up the ranks as quickly as possible. Following a stint working on a tugboat in the Midway Island harbor, he was assigned to serve with the Mobile Riverine Force in Vietnam. Stationed at Dong Tam, he was responsible for the upkeep of boats that would patrol the Mekong Delta rivers and canals.

Despite having to contend with mortar attacks and a constant lack of adequate sleep, his time in the service was a rewarding experience that paved the way for his future career as an electrician.

William Francis Andrews , Persian Gulf War

Bitten by the flying bug when he was sixteen years old, Colonel William Francis Andrews set his sights on the Air Force, and it did not disappoint: he got goosebumps the first time he sat down in an F-16 fighter jet. Despite a grueling schedule and constant fatigue, he found flying combat missions during the Persian Gulf War extremely satisfying, and enjoyed working as part of a team to protect the troops on the ground..

On February 27th, 1991–just one day before the ceasefire that would end hostilities–he was shot down by Iraqi forces, and endured a week of beatings and interrogations before being turned over to the Red Cross. The “inspired leadership” of his commanders during his time in the Gulf propelled him to continue his military career after the war, in the hopes of providing that same sort of leadership to pilots serving under him.

Grant Jiro Hirabayashi, World War II

The famed commandos of Merrill’s Marauders, a unit of soldiers who slogged their way through the Burmese jungles to overcome the Japanese occupiers, consisted of a number of Japanese American, or Nisei. They served in both intelligence and combat capacities, translating captured documents and fighting where needed.

Grant Hirabayashi was among these men, and he had to fend off not only the usual assortment of jungle-bred ailments such as dysentery and malaria, but also an allergy to the preservatives used in K-rations. Hirabayashi would later serve in India and China; in the late days of the war, he interrogated Japanese POWs, one of whom accused him of betraying his people.

Martha Settle Putney, World War II

By the time she entered the Women’s Army Corps, Martha Putney already had an extensive resume: she had graduated from Howard University on a full scholarship, and earned a Master’s degree in Modern European History. As she relates in her oral history interview, joining the Army was pragmatic, rather than political.

While entering the military provided new opportunities, it also brought her face-to-face with more narrow points of view, as she confronted the realities of serving under segregation. As a female African American officer, she endured disrespect from her white colleagues, male and female, as well as harassment from civilians she encountered while traveling and at various duty stations. It was, as she relates, “a very lonely life.” After the war, using the GI Bill, she earned a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.

Do you have a story of a great veteran that you share with your class?

What do you THINK?

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