Epic Heroes: 45 Historical Badasses Who Defied the Odds

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1Juliane Koepcke

Juliane Koepcke

In 1971, a high school student named Juliane Koepcke was sucked out of an airplane after it was struck by lightning. She fell 3.2 kilometers to the ground still strapped to her chair and lived, only to endure a 9-day walk to the nearest civilization. She was the lone survivor from the crash.


2. In 1942, a Chinese sailed named Poon Lim survived 133 days alone in a raft in the Atlantic by fishing, drinking bird blood. He once even killed a shark with a jug of water and drank its blood.


3. Mythbusters co-host Jamie Hyneman ran away from his home at the age of 14 and hitchhiked all over America. Since then, he has worked as a certified dive master, wilderness survival expert, boat captain, linguist, pet shop owner, animal wrangler, machinist, concrete inspector, chef, and television show host.


4. In 1976, when Armenian finswimmer Shavarsh Karapetyan was finishing a 12-mile run, he heard a bus crash into the water. He dove down 33 feet and rescued 20 people, 1 at a time. He is an 11-time World Record holder, 17-time World Champion, 13-time European Champion, and 7-time USSR Champion. About 10 years later, he ran into a burning hospital to save more people.


5. Teddy Roosevelt's son, Theodore Roosevelt Jr., was awarded the Medal of Honor for leading the first wave of US Soldiers attacking Utah Beach on D-Day. He volunteered for the assignment and had to walk with a cane due to injuries he sustained during WW1 and a heart condition. He was the oldest man in the first wave at age 56.


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6Mr. T

Mr. T

While in the army, Mr. T was given the punishment of chopping down trees. The sergeant didn't tell him how many. He cut down 70 trees in 3 1/2 hours before a shocked major superseded the sergeant and ordered him to stop.


7. During the Normandy Allied Invasion, a Scottish Piper named Bill Millin played his bagpipes as he walked the beach while the carnage erupted around him. He later asked captured German prisoners why they hadn't shot at him. They said they thought he was on a suicide mission and was clearly mad.


8. British explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes has run 7 marathons on 7 consecutive days in 7 continents. He did this after he had a heart attack and a bypass operation. He has also hacked off his own frostbitten fingers with a power tool, discovered the lost city of Ubar, and in his 60s surmounted the peak of Everest.


9. British soldier Adrian Carton de Wiart was a veteran of four wars. He survived separate instances of being shot in the face, head, stomach, ankle, leg, hip, and ear. He survived two plane crashes; tunneled out of a POW camp; and bit off his own fingers when a doctor refused to amputate them. He later said, “Frankly I had enjoyed the war.”


10. In 2005, a woman named Shayna Richardson, performing her first solo skydive jump survived a parachute malfunction which caused her to slam face first into a parking lot at 50 MPH. During surgery, doctors discovered she was pregnant. She made a full recovery and the baby was not affected in any way by the accident.


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11Hugh Thompson

Hugh Thompson

During the Vietnam War, a helicopter pilot named Hugh Thompson landed his helicopter in the line of fire to confront and stop American troops who had by that point killed close to 500 unarmed civilians in the My Lai Massacre. He even threatened to fire on his own troops if they continued their attack. He was labeled a traitor by Congress and ordered not to speak about the event.


12. Iqbal Masih was a kid in Pakistan who was sold into bondage. At the age of 10, he escaped the shackles of bonded labor, freed over 3000 children who were trapped in the same carpet factory he worked in. He was responsible for bringing down Pakistan's carpet exports by $34 million and was therefore murdered in 1995 at the age of 13.


13. Miyamoto Musashi was a 17th-century Japanese swordsman. He had such faith in his own swordsmanship that he used a wooden sword regardless of the foe's weapon. He twice arrived late to duels and defeated both opponents. Upon his next duel, he arrived early and ambushed the force that was assembling to ambush him. He is also said to have killed an opponent with a sword that legend says he carved from an oar.


14. During WW1, a homing pigeon named Cher Ami was awarded the Croix de Guerre for its service. The pigeon saved 194 men by continuing her flight to deliver an S.O.S. message despite having been shot through the breast, blinded in one eye, covered in blood and with a leg hanging only by a tendon.


15. On 9/11, after both the towers were hit, some jet fighters took to the air without any live ammunition knowing that to prevent the hijackers from striking anymore intended targets, the pilots might have to intercept and crash their fighters into the hijacked planes, ejecting at the last moment.


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16Nicholas Winton

Nicholas Winton

In 1939, a stockbroker named Nicholas Winton brought 669 Czechoslovakian Jewish children to England on the eve of Second World War, saving their lives. He refused to take credit for his deed until his wife found a scrapbook of the children that he saved and gave it to the BBC. He died in 2015 at the age of 106.


17. Two nights before he broke the sound barrier, Chuck Yeager fell off a horse and broke his ribs. He didn't tell anyone because he didn't want to be taken off the mission. He had a local veterinarian tape him up.


18. In 1988, a 2.5-year-old girl named Michelle Funk fell into an icy creek and was submerged for 66 minutes. When rescuers arrived she didn't have a pulse and was not breathing. Three hours after that, her blood was warmed. When it reached 71 degrees Fahrenheit, she came back to life and is still living to this day


19. Manute Bol, the tallest player in the history of the NBA was also the only player in the NBA to have killed a lion with a spear and to have paid 80 cows for his wife.


20. In 2009, when 18-year old Rukhsana Kausar from Kashmir, India saw her parents being beaten as part of a forced marriage proposal by a militia commander, she killed one militant with an ax, gunned the commander down and then started a 4-hour gun battle with the militia.


21Sergeant Stubby

Sergeant Stubby

Sergeant Stubby was a stray dog found during military training in 1917. He served with the 102nd Infantry Regiment during World War 1. He saved his regiment from surprise mustard gas attacks repeatedly due to his ability to smell mustard gas at a distance, found and comforted the wounded, and even once caught a German spy by the seat of his pants, holding him there until American soldiers found him. He is the only dog to have been promoted to sergeant through combat in World War 1.


22. Ernest Hemingway in his lifetime survived through anthrax, malaria, pneumonia, dysentery, skin cancer, hepatitis, anemia, diabetes, high blood pressure, two plane crashes, a ruptured kidney, a ruptured spleen, a ruptured liver, a crushed vertebra, a fractured skull. Once when his plane burst into flames on the runway and the door jammed, he used his head as a battering ram, butted the door twice and got out.


23. A Frenchwoman name Jeanne de Clisson became a pirate in the 1300s to revenge her husband's death, who was beheaded for treason. She sold her family's land to buy 3 ships and painted them black with red sails. For the next 13 years, she went on a pirating binge, targeting King Philip VI's ships and personally beheaded the French noblemen she captured with an ax.


24. During the 1950s, when the Canadian government forced the Inuit into settlements, an elderly Eskimo wanted to escape the government settlement. When his family took away all of his tools to force him into the settlement, he made a knife out of his own feces and frozen spit, killed a dog with it and used its ribs and organs to make a sled. He tied his sled to other dogs and rode off.


25. David B. Bleak, an American Soldier from the Korean War was given the Medal of Honor for killing 5 Chinese soldiers, out of which, he killed 4 with his bare hands. He did all this while he was shot and giving medical aid to his fellow soldiers. He broke one of the enemy soldiers’ neck and crushed the windpipe of the other one with his bare hands. He severely fractured the skulls of two other soldiers by smashing their heads together

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