Memorial Day honors those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in our nation's wars. In recognition, "10 Things" highlights war heroes — and stipulates that those who have fought to defend our freedom are all heroes in our book. Here's a 10-gun salute:
1/ Pfc. Leonard M. Kravitz's platoon was attacked by overwhelming Chinese forces in Korea in 1951 and was ordered to retreat. But Kravitz stayed at a machine gun to cover his platoon's withdrawal, saving the unit at the cost of his life. Kravitz's bravery was noted at the time, but the highest honor was given belatedly — in March of this year. The Medal of Honor ceremony was attended by Kravitz's nephew and namesake, famed rock guitarist Lenny Kravitz.
2/ Robert Smalls was born into slavery in South Carolina and gained considerable skill working on ships. During the Civil War, when the Union Navy blockaded Southern ports, Smalls was on the crew of the Confederate steamship Planter in Charleston Harbor. The white crew went ashore for an evening in 1862, and Smalls and other slaves made off with the ship. They chugged past five gun batteries, with Smalls wearing a captain's hat and giving the proper signals. Then they surrendered to the Union Navy, and Smalls went on to become an advocate for African-American participation in the Union Army. After the war, he served in Congress.
3/ There are many routes to heroism. For Daniel Bissell, it meant lying, subterfuge and being arrested as a deserter. Even after Gen. George Washington confirmed his story that he was spying on the British, he struggled to reclaim his reputation. For the dangerous work and the important intelligence, Bissell was one of just three soldiers to receive the Badge of Military Merit, one of the oldest U.S. military decorations, for his "unusual gallantry" and "extraordinary fidelity."
4/ Democrat George McGovern was a decorated World War II bomber pilot, but his 1972 presidential campaign decided not to run ads focusing on that fact. The thinking was that it was off-message since McGovern was the anti-war candidate. He was crushed by Republican Richard Nixon.
5/ It's often said that Americans are still fighting the Civil War, so it makes sense that we're still giving out medals for it too. The Confederate Medal of Honor has been awarded about 50 times since 1977, most recently in 2013 to Maj. James Breathed, a Virginian who fought valiantly at the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse.
6/ A World War I carrier pigeon named Cher Ami won France's Croix de Guerre with Palm for delivering messages around Verdun. She also became an American hero for carrying a message that helped rescue the so-called Lost Battalion of the 77th Infantry Division, which had been isolated in the Argonne. Cher Ami was shot while carrying the Lost Battalion's note and arrived with the message capsule hanging from a ligament of her shattered leg. She died of her wounds in 1919.
7/ Russell Johnson, who played the professor on TV's "Gilligan's Island," was a bombardier on a B-24 Liberator when his plane was shot down in the Philippines during World War II. Johnson broke both his ankles in the crash-landing, earning a Purple Heart.
8/ Ruby Bradley, who wanted to be remembered as "just an Army nurse," was lauded as an "Angel in Fatigues" while trying to ease the suffering of fellow prisoners captured in the Philippines during World War II. She lost so much weight sharing her meager rations with the sick and the children that she was able to smuggle more food, medicine and surgical equipment in her baggy clothing. Nearly starving in a Japanese prison camp didn't deter Bradley from returning to service for the Korean War, where she again showed great courage in 1950, making sure her injured and ill charges were successfully evacuated as enemy troops descended on her position. Bradley was the last person to board the plane; moments later the ambulance she used was blown up. When she left Korea in 1953, Bradley was given a full-dress honor guard ceremony, the first woman ever to receive such an honor.
9/ It's not a crime to pose as a war hero, though it was before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Stolen Valor Act in 2012 as an infringement on free speech. A revamped version of the act, passed last year, bans false claims about military service or honors if the aim is to get money or other tangible benefits. A private group, Guardian of Valor, has a "hall of shame" identifying people who make false service claims, and the federal government lists recipients of major medals at valor.defense.gov.
10/ Ted Williams was not only a great baseball hitter but also a Marine fighter pilot. He lost three seasons to World War II at the height of his career and missed parts of two other seasons for the Korean War. Once when he was in Korea, his plane caught fire and he had to belly-land it. "Everybody tries to make a hero out of me over the Korean thing," Williams said. "I was no hero. There were maybe 75 pilots in our two squadrons and 99 percent of them did a better job than I did."
Mark Jacob is a deputy metro editor for the Tribune; Stephan Benzkofer is the newspaper's weekend editor.
SOURCES: "Soldier Stories: True Tales of Courage, Honor, and Sacrifice from the Frontlines" by Joe Wheeler; "500 Little-Known Facts in U.S. History" by George W. Givens; "A Shower of Stars: The Medal of Honor and the 27th Maine" by John J. Pullen; "Medal of Honor: Historical Facts & Figures" by Ronald J. Owens; Los Angeles Times; Tampa Bay Times; Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch; nmajmh.org; army.mil; robertsmalls.com; commondreams.org; si.edu; guardianofvalor.comCopyright © 2015, CT Now