Veterans Day can be a slippery holiday. Unlike Memorial Day, which gets a barbecue-filled three-day weekend to kick off summer, Veterans Day often falls in the middle of the week, isolated by days of work and crummy November weather.
As a veteran myself, I’m often unsure what to do with the day. Call old friends and reminisce? Go to a parade? Drink a bottle of Thunderbird and cry? None of it feels appropriate, and so I end up volunteering for some kind of veterans service, because I’m pure of heart and my soul is filled with the warmth of a thousand golden retriever puppies.
But YOU shouldn’t have to waste your Veterans Day listening to old people talk about gooks and krauts. You’re busy, which is why you’re wasting time on the Internet in hopes of reading stories about American servicemen wrecking chunks of foreign countries and taking lives in the defense of the Constitution, freedom, apple pie, and getting oral sex in Corvettes. With that in mind, here are eight badass American vets you’ve probably never heard of (in the interest of originality, I steered clear of military legends like Audie Murphy). All together now: U-S-A! U-S-A!
1. Colonel Lewis L. Millett, U.S. Army (World War II, Korea)
How much did Millett hate America’s enemies? In 1941, while training in the Army Air Corps, he heard President Roosevelt declare that America wouldn’t go to war in Europe, so he deserted and joined the Canadian army to fight Nazis. While waiting in England to fight, the U.S. Army caught up, and he was allowed a transfer back to his native military, with which he fought in North Africa. While there, he was awarded the Silver Star for driving a burning ammunition-filled halftrack away from his fellow soldiers, then leaping away to safety just before it exploded.
Millett then got promoted into the officer corps — despite the court-martial for desertion — and eventually served in Korea as a company commander, where he earned the Medal of Honor and the Distinguised Service Cross (the nation’s two highest medals for valor) for two leading two different bayonet charges. From his Washington Post obituary (he died one year ago):
“We had acquired some Chinese documents stating that Americans were afraid of hand-to-hand fighting and cold steel,” he told Military History. “When I read that, I thought, ‘I’ll show you, you sons of bitches!’”
Bonus Badass Points: Rocking a sweet mustache for half a century.
2. Captain George Mallon, U.S. Army (World War I)
World War I is a pretty depressing, stagnant war. I mean, all wars are depressing, but WWI really takes the cake for hopelessness and trench foot and deadly technological advancements (the tank, the machine gun) for which there were no tactical developments. And since the only real results from WWI were the League of Nations and World War II, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the badasses of the original Great War.
Enter George Mallon. On a foggy day in which the limited visibility separated him from his company, he led nine soldiers on an epic assault in which they captured 100 prisoners, 11 machineguns, four 155-millimeter howitzers and one antiaircraft gun. From his Medal of Honor citation:
Continuing on through the woods, he led his men in attacking a battery of four 155-millimeter howitzers, which were in action, rushing the position and capturing the battery and its crew. In this encounter Capt. Mallon personally attacked 1 of the enemy with his fists.
Dude, I couldn’t even bring myself to punch the guy who was standing in a parking place to save it the other day, and that guy deserved a beating WAY worse than some German artilleryman. But it was no big deal for Mallon, who apparently got tired of using complex, impersonal weapons like “knives” and “bayonets” during combat. Nope, don’t mind George, he’s just going to assault this artillery battery with his fists.
3. Major Brian Chontosh, U.S. Marine Corps (Iraq)
I was in the same Basic Officers Course as Chontosh back in 2000, which is kind of like a retarded kid bragging about going to high school with Einstein. Chontosh is a folk hero in the Marine Corps today, but he was a star even as a young lieutenant during peacetime: even though his leadership and academic ranking guaranteed him his career choice as an infantry officer, he selflessly gave up his weekends to help struggling lieutenants improve their land navigation skills.
So it came as no surprise to me a couple years later that he’d won the Navy Cross, the nation’s second-highest honor (the Navy/Marine Corps version of the Distinguished Service Cross). Serving as a platoon commander during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, his platoon became caught in the kill zone of an ambush. Without hesitation, he directed his Humvee directly at the enemy machine gun fire, then dismounted his vehicle and attacked the enemy trench, emptying his M16 and 9mm pistol of ammunition, then twice picking up discarded enemy AK-47s to continue his attack, then picking up an enemy rocket-propelled grenade launcher to finish his counter-assault. He singlehandedly killed 20 Iraqis and wounded several while clearing 200 meters of trench line. Oh, and he also has two Bronze Stars for heroism during other combat tours. NBD.
Bonus Badass Points: Chontosh is one of the premiere CrossFit athletes in America. Watch him casually lift stacks of metal here.