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Radio One Badass: Top 10 Men and Women in History Who Spied, Defied and Stared Death in the Face

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at MCLA chapter.

Sometimes when it comes to history, there are instances of people who defied the odds that were stacked against them—the little guy or gal sticking up for themselves, the Davids going against the Goliaths in order to prove that the smallest of creatures could do big things. In movies and mainstream media we see it all the time (especially in the movies, because come on, who doesn’t want to see the underdogs win?). But nowhere is this more apparent than in our own history books. Here are some of the top men and women in history who proved that they were truly badasses.

1. Audie Murphy

It’s hard to do a list of hardcore heroes and not talk about the most famous and most decorated soldier in history, Audie Murphy. Murphy was born in Texas on June 20, 1925 and enlisted in the US Army when he was 18. When the allies invaded Normandy in 1944 and began the trek through Europe, Murphy would soon earn his place in history as one of the most badass soldiers who had ever lived. He had over 240 confirmed enemy kills, had been wounded in combat three times and earned over 33 awards and medals for his bravery and actions during the war including the Medal of Honor. However his heroism came with a price: he suffered severely from PTSD, stemming from the horrors he had witnessed in combat. Yet when he passed away in 1971 and even still after, people never forgot Audie’s heroism which still strikes a chord with many Americans as well as history buffs throughout the world.

2. Virginia Hall

Known as “The Limping Lady,” Virginia Hall was the perpetual pain in a Nazi’s butt. Not very many people were able to make history quite the same way she had been able to. Injured in an accident at a young age, Virginia Hall had been given a prosthetic leg made of wood and walked with a limp, later giving rise to her nickname. Virginia proved her worth during World War II when she began spying for the allies. She collected intelligence and spied on high ranking Nazi officials, evaded capture and even limped across the Pyrenees into Spain to avoid capture. The really amazing thing? Virginia was never found out by the Nazis. Throughout the whole war, none of them had ever found out her identity. She was awarded by both the American, British and the French government for her service during the war. Virginia lived a quiet life until she passed away in 1982 at the age of 76.

3. Carlos Hathcock

Nicknamed “White Feather” by the Vietcong, Carlos Hathcock earned his place at number three as a true badass. A US Marine Corps sniper who began shooting at an early age, Hathcock joined the US Marines and shortly after was deployed to Vietnam. One story goes that Hathcock had been sent on a suicide mission to take out a notorious North Vietnamese General. He stayed crouched in the bush for four days with no food and no sleep, crawling his way in inch by inch (a method he called “worming”). Once Carlos spotted his opportunity, he did what he did best and took the General out in a single shot, but one problem arose. The soldiers in the General’s camp went nuts and couldn’t tell where the shot had come from. Carlos had to get out the same way he came in… crawl inch by agonizing inch through the grass and jungle foliage. Once he hit the trees, Carlos was out of there like a bat out of hell and made his way back to the landing zone where he was picked up. Though Carlos is no longer with us, his deeds are never forgotten, and the White Feather rifle still bears his nickname to this day.

4. Dorie Miller

The name may not seem familiar to many, but to history and movie buffs alike, Cuba Gooding Jr. is famous for his portrayal of Dorie Miller in the 2001 film “Pearl Harbor.” Miller was awarded the Navy Cross for his bravery and actions at Pearl Harbor, the very first African American in history to earn the honor. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Dorie Miller had been attending to duties aboard the USS West Virginia. When the alarms sounded, he knew that the time for action was now. Miller helped carry the wounded men to safety after a torpedo had damaged the ship and later manned a .50 cal. machine gun which he had not been trained to use. He fired round after round of ammunition until he ran out and was ordered to abandon ship. Though he was killed in action while in the Gilbert Islands in 1943, Dorie Miller nevertheless earned his place both in history and on this list as one who defied the odds in the face of danger.

5. John Basilone

Known as “Manila John,” John Basilone was a US Marine who truly embodied what it meant to be a bulldog. Witnessing fighting action on Guadalcanal early in World War II, John quickly earned a reputation amongst his fellow Marines. One story tells of how in the middle of the night, the platoon had been surrounded by Japanese soldiers. Most of the platoon had already been killed and in typical John Basilone fashion, he picked up the machine gun and fired on the nearly 3,000 Japanese who were charging right at them. He even went so far as to charge through enemy lines in order to bring back more ammunition, much to the gratitude of his men. John was awarded the Medal of Honor but sadly his career in the Corps was cut short. John was killed on Feb. 19, 1945 on the first day of fighting on Iwo Jima. He and his widow Lena Riggi Basilone, are both remembered for their portrayals by Jon Seda and Annie Parisse in the 2010 Steven Spielberg miniseries “The Pacific.”

6. Mata Hari

One of the more infamous, rather than famous, entries on our list is Mata Hari. Her real name was Margaretha Zelle and had been born in the Netherlands in 1876. When she grew older, she became a dancer and adopted the name “Mata Hari,” by which she became well known. She married Rudolph McLeod who was 21 years her senior and had a daughter and a son. Later at the outbreak of World War I, she turned from a dancer into a spy. She used her skills to seduce men and draw out information which greatly served to her benefit as she worked as a double agent, and that of her enemies. Towards the end of the war, Mata Hari was tried and found guilty of espionage and was later executed by firing squad. Her infamous and famous reputation still persists among both historians and storytellers who haven’t forgotten the escapades of Mata Hari.

7. Marcus Luttrell

Coming in at Lucky Number 7 is Marcus Luttrell—and boy is he a lucky one indeed. Marcus Luttrell is famously known as “The Lone Survivor” (Mark Wahlberg is credited with portraying him in the film of the same title). Marcus Luttrell was a member of the US Navy SEALS, one of the most elite fighting groups in military history. While in the mountains of Afghanistan, Luttrell’s platoon was attacked by enemy insurgents who killed all the members of the team. After trying to escape, Marcus was brutally injured in the fighting and managed to walk seven miles to a nearby village. A local villager by the name of Muhammed Gulab later found Marcus and hid him in his family home with the help of fellow villagers until Army Rangers and fellow SEAL team members came to the rescue. Marcus presently works closely with US military veterans and their families through a charity organization called “The Lone Survivor Foundation” and has written and published several books documenting his experiences.

8. Irena Sendler

One little lady from Warsaw may have led an ordinary life as a social worker, but for over 2,500 Jewish children, this one made all the difference. How? She gave them a chance to live. Irena Sendler was a social worker from Warsaw who witnessed hundreds of thousands of Polish and European Jews being displaced from their homes and moved to ghettos at the hands of the Nazis. But rather than remain fearful, Irena saw an opportunity to help. Not only was she able to put her social work skills to good use, but she also was able to smuggle young children out of the ghettos and placed them elsewhere with non-Jewish families. She hid them in orphanages, in homes with other families and even hid them in the rectories and convents with local priests and nuns who were in charge of the Catholic churches. Irena was captured and interrogated by the Nazis but never once did she give up the locations of any of the children she rescued and was later let go after colleagues had bribed the Nazi guards. After the war it was found that she had kept records of each and every child she had rescued, their names, ages and their new identities and had buried them in jars in her backyard. This she did in the hopes of the children being reunited with their parents, but as many of us sadly know, some of these children never saw their families again. Irena was later awarded the “Righteous Among the Nations” for aiding Poland’s Jewish citizens and the “Order of the White Eagle.”

9. Edith Cavell

A nurse who also helped allied soldiers escape from Belgium during World War I, Edith Cavell may be a name that few ordinary people have ever heard of. Edith was a nurse serving in Europe during one of the most brutal wars in history and later became involved with an underground operation to free POWs behind enemy lines in Belgium. Soldiers had been sheltered at the hospital where Edith worked and were aided back to health; but in 1915, the Germans caught on. Edith and many of her cohorts were arrested and executed by the Germans, provoking outrage from the allies seeing as she wasn’t a spy. Nevertheless, Edith was not only one hell of a nurse, but like many others before and after her, she was one hell of a woman.

10. Charles White Whittlesey

Commander of the famed “Lost Battalion of World War I,” Charles White Whittlesey was not only an able commander, but he was also a graduate of Pittsfield High School. Yes that’s right, an army commander from Berkshire County has the number 10 slot, saving the best for last. He was commander of the 77th Army Division which comprised of many Irish, Italian, Jewish and Chinese Americans who were often looked down on with disdain by the army because of their ethnicity. However the 77th was as capable as any other unit and before long, they were shipped off for duty on the front lines. They were sent to the Meuse-Argonne in Northern France where they earned the name “The Lost Battalion” due to being cut off from direct contact with American and other allied headquarters. Though he suffered greatly from PTSD after the war, Charles’s life was cut short in Nov. 1921. He is remembered for being a commander who not only took charge of his troops, but stared the Germans directly in the eyes and vowed never to surrender.

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