Although every American who has served in the United States military is a hero in their own right, there are those who stand out for their acts of valor and bravery in the face of danger. Although not all of them are as recognized as others for their deeds, the United States government does the best they can to honor and give thanks to particular soldiers who rose beyond the call of duty. Here are some of the highest-decorated servicemen in American history, and the stories that separate them from the rest.
Lieutenant General Lewis “Chesty” Puller
Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller was born in West Point, Virginia, in 1898. In 1918, he joined up with the United States Marines with the intention of serving in France during World War I. Unfortunately for Puller, the war ended just before he could land in Europe.
However, he did serve during the United States occupation of Haiti and Nicaragua, where he would demonstrate his bravery in battle. There, he earned a Navy Cross in 1930 and a second Navy Cross in 1932.
He Was In Command Of The First Batallion Marines
Upon the outbreak of World War II, Puller was then in command of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines. He was then sent to Samoa in the Pacific Theater and eventually to the harsh fighting at Guadalcanal. There, he earned his third Navy Cross for defending an airfield from a Japanese attack and a subsequent fourth Navy Cross for his heroism in battle once again.
After World War II, he continued his service fighting in the Korean War, where he earned a Distinguished Service Cross and another Navy Cross fighting at the Chosin Reservoir where he oversaw the defenses that were under attack for five days.
Colonel Edward V. Rickenbacker
Born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1880, Rickenbacker was a race car driver before joining the United States Army in 1917 when America entered World War I. He was sent to France with the rank of sergeant with the desire to fly planes.
However, his lack of formal occupation didn’t allow it, as he was forced to drop out of school when he was just 13 after his father had died. Instead, he was consigned as a staff driver. However, this would all change when he met Col. Billy Mitchell, an aviation pioneer, who saw him reassigned to the new Army Air Corps.
An Ace Of Aces
Rickenbacker took out his first enemy aircraft on April 29, 1918, with many more to come. Within his first month flying, he shot down five German planes, making him an “Ace” in the Air Force, also earning him the French Croix de Guerre.
In just nine months, he shot down a total of 26 enemy planes where he became an “Ace of Aces,” simultaneously earning him the Distinguished Service Cross on seven occasions. Furthermore, he also received the Medal of Honor, making him one of the most decorated American in World War One and a legend in the Air Force.
Lieutenant General James F. Hollingsworth
James Hollingsworth began his career in the United States Army in 1940 shortly after graduating from Texas A&M University. He served overseas in World War II where he participated in seven major campaigns ranging from North Africa to the occupation of Berlin.
When he was just 26, he was placed in command of an armored regiment which was greatly involved in the Allied invasion of Europe, mostly in Germany.
During the Vietnam War, Hollingsworth became well-known by his radio call sign “Danger 79er.” He is credited as the commander who led the victory at the Battle of An Loc, a relentless 66-day battle that proved to be a huge victory for South Vietnam.
For his numerous years of service and wars fought, he was awarded four Distinguished Service Medals, four Silver Stars, four Bronze Stars, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Legion Merits, the Soldiers Medal, and six Purple Hearts. He also went on to become the commander of the U.S. Army of Alaska.
Brigadier General Robin Olds
A fighter pilot, Robin Olds was first introduced to military combat when he was 21 years old during World War II, flying in missions from England in 1944. Still a young man, he demonstrated his prowess in the air, taking down twelve German planes, earning him the title of double ace.
Although he stayed in the Air Force after the end of World War II, he was assigned a station that refused permission to fight in the Korean War, something that deeply irritated him.
He Eventually Became A Triple Ace
Upon arriving in Vietnam, Olds was the holding command of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing in 1966. The next year, on August 11, 1967, Olds took a unit of eight fighter planes on a mission to destroy a bridge that was of utmost strategic importance to the North Vietnamese. Knowing his crew would come under considerable fire, they faced the challenge head-on and completed their mission.
By the end of his military career, he was a triple ace and was awarded numerous decorations as well as the renowned Air Force Cross. Today, along with his mustache, he is a legend in the Air Force.
Major Audie Murphy
Born in 1925 in Kingston, Texas, Audie Leon Murphy was one of 12 children born to an Irish-American sharecropper family. Unfortunately, his father abandoned his family when he was just a boy, and his mother passed away when he was a teenager.
Because of this, Murphy was forced to leave school and take up work picking cotton. In 1942, at the age of 17, Murphy falsified his age and joined the United States Army for a chance at a better life.
War Hero Turned Film Star
In July 1943, Murphy took part in the seaborne invasion of Sicily, although he ended up landing in mainland Italy. There, he was awarded a Bronze Star after taking out an enemy tank in March 1944. He then went on to join in the invasion of France, where he was distinguished with a Medal of Honor for his bravery, repelling a German attack while wounded.
By the end of the war, he had obtained every American bravery award then available. He was also granted several foreign awards from the French and Belgians. He then returned home and became a movie star.
Major Richard Ira Bong
Born in Superior, Wisconsin, Richard Ira Bong had his first flights while he was in college as a member of the Civilian Pilot Training Program. Bong put his flight knowledge to use when he joined the Army Air Corps Aviator Cadet Program in 1941.
By January 1942, he was a full-blown pilot. From there, he trained to become a pilot of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and was then posted for combat in the West Pacific during World War II.
He Was Death In The Skies
In 1942, the same year that he earned his wings, he shot down two Japanese airplanes which earned him his first Silver Star. As the war progressed, he was responsible for the destruction of another four Japanese aircraft for which he received a Distinguished Service Cross.
By December 1944, Bong had personally taken down a remarkable 40 enemy airplanes, the most of any other American pilot fighting during World War II. The same month, he was presented with the Medal of Honor. Tragically, Bong died in a test pilot crash in August 1945.
Major Thomas Buchanan McGuire Jr.
Thomas Buchanan McGuire Jr. was born in Ridgewood, New Jersey, in 1920. After briefly attending college, he left to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program. In 1942 he became a pilot and was soon afterward being sent on dangerous combat missions in the Northern Pacific.
1943 saw McGuire soar, in more ways than one. Stationed in the Southwest Pacific theater during the second world war, he proved that he was an excellent pilot. In fact, he downed five enemy Japanese aircraft in a span of just two days that August.
He Took Down 38 Enemy Planes
In total, McGuire took down 38 enemy planes during his service in WWII. For his bravery and excellent piloting skills, he was awarded a Silver Star and a Purple Heart. Sadly, he didn’t make it out of the war. On January 7, 1945, he took what would ultimately prove to be his final mission.
During a risky maneuver, his P-38 stalled and went down. Despite his attempts to pull out, McGuire crashed and died on impact. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 1946, and in 2007, a memorial to McGuire was erected at the site of his fatal crash.