One thing’s for sure — we love us some war heroes. And we like to think that when our men and women on the front lines go the extra mile for their country, they’ll get all the medals and accolades they deserve.
Unfortunately, due to bureaucracy, petty politics or just good old-fashioned racism, this is not always the case. Just look at …
#6. The Free French Army
After the French government fell to Germany in World War II, the biggest problem for the French resistance was scraping together enough soldiers to build a halfway effective army. When it became clear that the actual French weren’t interested in making too much of a fuss, Gen. de Gaulle decided to reach further afield, bringing in fighters from the French territories in Africa.
These were some pretty hardcore colonial fighters who earned their stripes fighting various insurgencies throughout Africa, and with a mix of African, Arab, Tahitian and white French officers, the army was like a kill-happy United Colors of Beneton.
De Gaulle’s new Free French Army kicked an epic scale of ass that you don’t usually associate with the French. And that’s really not so shocking when you consider that up to 65 percent of the French army were “French” only in so far as whatever African province they came from had been conquered by the French Empire. Even so, they laid down their lives for a chance to march straight into Paris and kick Hitler in the balls.
How they got screwed:
The Free French Army fought victory after bloody victory right up to Paris’ doorstep, and they were ready and willing to march in and liberate the capital, with a little help from their American and British allies. Unfortunately, their allies said, “Hell no. Not with all those darkies.”
This was a time in history where blacks and whites were still segregated in the American military and forbidden from fighting together. The Allies had an image to uphold, after all — better for the people to watch Paris liberated by square-jawed, chiseled Aryan superheroes than a ragtag bunch of African natives and Muslims. Before de Gaulle was granted permission by America to take back his own country, he had to scramble to find enough white people to replace anyone in his army who failed the melanin test.
Of course, that had been de Gaulle’s entire problem in the first place. His ultimate solution was to borrow a whole bunch of Spanish soldiers, dress them in berets and pencil mustaches and hope nobody would notice. In the meantime, the Africans were sent home without any of the glory, but at least they enjoyed the benefits of having served — that is, until 1959, when the French inexplicably cut off their military pensions and tried to cover up their role in the war.
#5. Witold Pilecki
When mysterious “concentration camps” started appearing in Poland during World War II, one agent of the Polish resistance, Witold Pilecki, thought it would be wise to find out what the hell was going on. Despite the opinion of his superiors that he was “balls insane,” Pilecki decided to investigate personally, by deliberately getting himself arrested by the Nazis. The camp he wanted to infiltrate was called “Auschwitz.”
Yes, that Auschwitz.
For the next two and a half years, Pilecki smuggled intelligence out of the Germans’ all-time most notorious death camp, stoically reporting on the horrors of Auschwitz like he was reporting the goddamn weather:
“We were slightly sprinkled by cold water. I got a blow in my jaw with a heavy rod. I spat out my two teeth. Bleeding began. From that moment we became mere numbers — I wore the number 4859.”
After realizing that the Allies were just sitting on their hands about the whole Nazi death camp situation, Pilecki escaped the camp in 1943. But although infiltrating and escaping Auschwitz both individually qualified him as the most badass person in Europe, Pilecki went back to go another round with the Gestapo, fighting in the Warsaw Uprising, after which the Nazis threw him right back into another concentration camp.
How he got screwed:
Like many countries in Europe, Poland was so scarred and horrified by their run-in with fascism that it overcompensated after the war and went full communist. You’d think Pilecki would have earned major brownie points for the work he did fighting the Soviet Union’s mortal nemesis, but the problem was that Pilecki was not a socialist sympathizer, suspecting that the only difference between Hitler and Stalin was mustache-width.
So he went right back to Poland to continue his hobby of infiltrating and researching horrific, murderous regimes. The Polish Soviet government decided that this was especially not cool, and they swiftly arrested their greatest war hero and gave him three death sentences, we imagine because they rightly suspected that killing him once would not be enough to stop Witold Pilecki.
Right up until the Soviet Union collapsed in the 90s, even mentioning the name of the guy who exposed the Nazis’ villainy was enough to get you shot in Poland. They’ve recently repealed this policy and named a street after him, though we think they probably should go ahead and rename the whole country “Pileckiland.”
#4. Richard Marcinko
Richard “Demo Dick” Marcinko started his career just as badass as he left it. A Navy teletype operator in Italy, he made several requests to transfer to UDT (Underwater Demolitions Training) but was repeatedly denied. So he used the “Br’er Rabbit” method and simply punched someone in the face, for which he was naturally punished — by being sent to UDT.
During Marcinko’s time with UDT and later as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam, he and his band of marauders became such a problem for the Vietcong in his area of operation that a 50,000 piaster reward was offered for his head. In a career that eerily resembles the Rambo franchise, he was highly decorated in Vietnam and then went looking for other conflicts to sort out in places like Cambodia. There is even a story about him body-surfing behind a military patrol boat while under enemy fire. Seriously, he really did that shit.
Marcinko became so elite in the Navy SEALs that they started having to invent new, more elite teams just to find somewhere to put him. Eventually, he wound up commanding something called Red Cell — his job was to fly around the world, attacking and infiltrating the U.S. military’s own bases, in order to test their security and show how the military would cope if the enemy had somebody like Marcinko on its side.
How he got screwed:
Ironically, Red Cell was so good at what it was being paid to do that it embarrassed the shit out of a military that, as it turns out, couldn’t cope at all against it. And Marcinko took his job dead seriously, kidnapping high-ranking personnel and even their families, “mildly torturing” them to get nuclear codes and wound up kidnapping one admiral twice.
It wasn’t long before a bunch of bruised, disgruntled commanders decided to have Marcinko railroaded out of the military, if only so they could sleep a full night again without him swinging through their windows like Batman.
Naval Investigative Services spent a reported $60 million on an investigation to find something — anything — to pin on him. Their investigation fell flat, making fools of them yet again, so even after Marcinko retired, they kept going after him in an effort to find anything that would stick. The FBI eventually did convict him on trumped-up charges and sentenced him to a year in some minimum-security prison, but he used that time to write a No. 1 bestselling autobiography, Rogue Warrior, which embarrassed the hell out of the military again.
Demo Dick is currently forbidden by law from writing any more about the military, so he now exclusively writes popular “fiction” about the adventures of an elite bad*ss who is totally not him embarrassing a bunch of pussies who are totally not the U.S. Navy.
#3. Arron Perry and Rob Furlong
Just as in sports, the military likes to keep track of records. And, until 2009, the record for the longest distance kill by a sniper was held by Canadian Corporal Rob Furlong in Afghanistan. Furthermore, it turns out that the Canadians are freaking hardcore in general.
The record that Furlong broke had been set only a few days earlier, by Master Corporal Arron Perry, another guy on the same Canadian sniper squad. We’re talking distances upward of 1.5 miles, so far away that regular people can’t tell a terrorist from a camel. And they record they broke had stood for more than 40 years (since 1967).
Furlong casually recounts that his first shot missed because his trigger finger pulled slightly to one side, probably moving the gun barrel a distance of one atom to the left.
How they got screwed:
They’re Canadians. Because the rest of the world have cemented Canada’s reputation as polite, peace loving people, rather than a country made up of super snipers that shoot enemy soldiers a mile and a half away, it’s only natural that Perry and Furlong would fall victim to political correctness.
Perry’s mistake was, one day, unwrapping a Tootsie Roll and joking that it was a severed finger from one of the bodies lying around. Upon getting wind of his admittedly bad-taste throwaway line, the Canadian military brass dedicated the following few years to finding out whether Perry and his colleagues really were walking around battlefields, cutting off body parts and wrapping them up like Tootsie Rolls. It didn’t help that someone else on the squad left behind a sign saying “fuck terrorism”– probably not a controversial sentiment, but it fuelled the speculation that Perry and his team were out of control rogue corpse-disfiguring Tootsie Roll cannibals.
The charges against Perry were eventually dropped due to lack of evidence, but not before they were all pressured out of the military and their names dragged through the mud to the extent that they never received the respect they deserved. Because seriously — one and a half miles.
#2. George Vujnovich
In the summer of 1944, the Allies undertook a series of missions to Romania to attack Hitler’s oil fields, and the Nazis started playing a real-life game of Duck Hunt, except that instead of ducks, they were shooting down American bombers, and instead of a laughing dog, the surviving airmen were retrieved by a group of Serbian resistance fighters called the Chetniks.
The Chetniks, although they hated Nazis too, weren’t on very good terms with the Allied forces, so it came down to George Vujnovich, an American officer with Serbian roots, to contact the Chetniks and negotiate for the prisoners’ release. He masterminded a huge operation codenamed “Halyard Mission,” during which more than 500 airmen were escorted out of hostile territory by a militia of war-hardened Serbs. It was like that movie, Behind Enemy Lines, except 500 times that.
How he got screwed:
As we’ve just mentioned, the Serbs and the Croats hate each other more than cats and dogs, and during World War II, the highest-profile Croat in the world was Yugoslavian leader Josip Broz Tito. It just so happed that Tito and his communist regime were instrumental American allies, and the only thing he hated more than Nazis were those blasted Chetniks.
To maintain good relations with Tito, the American government classified the Halyard Mission, covering up the fact that they had collaborated with a bunch of filthy Serbs. The sad ending for the Chetniks is that, after the war, Tito hunted them down and executed their leader, Draza Mihailovich, while the American government looked at the sky and whistled complacently.
As for Vujnovich, he was awarded the Bronze Star for his efforts… in October of 2010, because Tito has only been dead for, well, 30 years now.
#1. Chiune Sugihara
During World War II, Japanese Consul-General Chiune Sugihara and his wife Yukiko saw how bad things were getting for the Jews and figured God’s chosen might be safer in Japan than playing hide-and-seek throughout an increasingly Nazified Europe. But the Japanese government, having taken a liking to this Hitler fellow, refused permission for Chiune to issue visas to Jews to get them out of harm’s way.
He did anyway, in direct disobedience to his superiors. As the Nazis encroached, Chiune and his wife started issuing Japanese visas around the clock, blazing through them like bureaucrats on meth. In the eleventh hour, even as they were forced to flee the country, Sugihara was still issuing visas and throwing them out the train window as it pulled away.
In the end, it’s estimated he saved the lives of up to 6,000 Jews in his manic spree. Pretty impressive when you consider that Oskar Schindler’s list is estimated to have saved 801.
How he got screwed:
Japan was, at that time, still a country that lived by the fake samurai code of honor the government had conveniently fabricated in the early 20th Century, of which a very important tenet was total obedience to one’s superiors. The fact that Chiune saved thousands of people from slaughter took a distant back seat to the fact that he disobeyed an order, pretty much the worst thing a Japanese person could do at the time. He may as well have been working around the clock stabbing 6,000 puppies.
When the government found out what he had done, he was pushed out of government without ceremony, and was forced to live the life of a dishonored samurai until he died in 1986. The Japanese only begrudgingly apologized to his family in October of 2000, acknowledging that, yeah, he was probably a decent guy.