Selfless Heroes: 50 People Who Risked Everything to Save Others


31CNN correspondent Sanjay Gupta

CNN correspondent Sanjay Gupta

At least twice, CNN correspondent Sanjay Gupta has been on location reporting but needed to step in as a neurosurgeon: once on a Marine in Iraq and the other on a little girl injured during the Haitian earthquake. The Marine was shot in the head during the opening days of the invasion of Iraq. Without proper tools, Gupta performed the brain surgery with a Black and Decker handheld drill. The Marine lived.

32Deputy Kenneth Moon

Deputy Kenneth Moon

In 2009, four prisoners at the Hillsborough County Jail in Florida saved a corrections officer from another prisoner. The inmates who rescued him were in prison for assault, armed robbery, home invasion, murder, and sex offenses, but they saved the deputy because he treated them like human beings.

33Anthony Omari

Anthony Omari

In 2012, Anthony Omari took a machete to the face from attacking robbers while defending an under-resourced Kenyan orphanage his family runs. He saved 37 orphans that day. The attack was in revenge for the previously foiled robbery, when Anthony threw a hammer at one of the thieves.

34Elderly Japanese People

Elderly Japanese People

After the 2011 Japanese nuclear plant in Fukushima was disabled by an earthquake and tsunami double whammy, elderly Japanese people volunteered to do repairs to save young people from radiation exposure.

35Officer John Perry

Officer John Perry

On September 11, 2001, Officer John Perry of the NYPD went to headquarters to file his retirement paperwork. When he heard the explosion at the World Trade Center, he went there right away. Later, when one of the towers fell, he was killed. He was the only off-duty officer to be killed on 9/11.

36Don Arrigo Beccari

Don Arrigo Beccari

Despite intense Nazi surveillance during World War II, a Catholic priest named Don Arrigo Beccari managed to smuggle 120 Jewish children to safety. When the Nazis captured him and tortured him for months, he still kept quiet. He was recognized as "Righteous Among the Nations" in 1964.

37Botanist Nikolai Vavilov

Botanist Nikolai Vavilov

The world's largest seed bank, which botanist Nikolai Vavilov established, was located in Leningrad in 1941 during the siege of the city. As the Germans surrounded the city, forcing mass starvation, nine Soviet scientists refused to eat from the collection. They slowly died of hunger as they maintained 16 rooms of edible plants and refused to destroy "the future of Russia." The potato seeds they had in there would then go on to help spawn the world's current blight-free potato stock.

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38Vance Flosenzier

Vance Flosenzier

In 2001, when a Florida man named Vance Flosenzier noticed that a 7-foot-long shark had his 8-year-old nephew Jesse Arbogast by the arm, he grabbed onto the shark and wrestled the animal barehanded out of the water, while others freed Jesse and brought him to shore. He wrestled the shark for more than 10 minutes to keep it away from other children. Then they killed the shark and pried it open to retrieve Jesse's severed arm, which the surgeons were able to reattach.

39Inmates Saved Deputy Sheriff

Inmates Saved Deputy Sheriff

In 2017, six Georgia inmates out on work detail saved a Deputy Sheriff who collapsed unconscious. They could have taken his gun and fled with the work van, but they used the deputy's phone to call 911. The sheriff's office gave the men a pizza party with homemade dessert and recommended reduced sentences.

40John Turner & John Diefenbaker

John Turner & John Diefenbaker

Future Canadian Prime Minister John Turner was on vacation in Barbados in 1965 when he noticed someone struggling in the rough surf at the beach. Being a strong swimmer, he instinctively entered the water and unknowingly saved the life of former Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker.


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  1. RE: Fact# 1 – Joe Delaney: Sports Illustrated had a great column about this 10 or 15 years ago that really stuck with me. Here it is:

    Why in creation did Joe Delaney jump into that pit full of water that day?

    Why in the world would the AFC’s best young running back try to save three drowning boys when he himself couldn’t swim?

    Nobody — not his wife, not his mother — had ever seen him so much as dog-paddle. A year and a half earlier, when he went to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii as the AFC’s starting halfback and Rookie of the Year, he never set even a pinkie toe in the ocean or the pool. “Never had,” says his wife, Carolyn, who’d known Joe since they were both seven. “In all my years, I never had seen him swim.”

    So why? Why did the 24-year-old Kansas City Chief try to save three boys he didn’t know with a skill he didn’t have?

    He’d been sitting in the cool shade of a tree on a tar-bubbling afternoon at Chennault Park, a public recreation area in Monroe, La., when he heard voices calling, “Help! Help!” He popped up like a Bobo doll and sprinted toward the pit.

    What made Delaney that kind of person? Why did he mow that lonely woman’s lawn when he was back home in Haughton, La., rich as he was? Why did he check in on that old man every day he was in town? Why did he show up on the Haughton streets one day with a bag full of new shoes and clothes for kids whose names he’d never heard?

    Why could he never think of anything that he wanted for himself? Why didn’t he even make a Christmas list? The man never cashed a paycheck in his life. He would throw his checks on top of the TV for his wife. “Don’t you want nothing for yourself?” Carolyn would ask Joe.

    “Nah,” he’d say. “You just take care of you and the girls.”


    “Well, if you could give me a little pocket change for the week, I’d appreciate it.”

    Why didn’t he ask somebody else to help those three kids that day? After all, there were hundreds of people at the park, and not another soul dived into that pit. Nobody but Delaney, one guy who shouldn’t have.

    The boys in that pit were struggling to stay afloat. They were two brothers — Harry and LeMarkits Holland, 11 and 10, respectively — and a cousin, Lancer Perkins, 11. Of course, LeMarkits was always with Harry. He idolized his big brother. A water park adjacent to Chennault was staging a big promotion with free admission that day, and the boys had wandered over to the pit and waded into the water. Like Delaney, they couldn’t swim.

    So much of it doesn’t make sense. Why hadn’t the pit — a huge rain-filled hole that was left after the dirt had been dug out and used to build a water slide — been fenced off from the public? Who knew that four feet from the edge of the water the hole dropped off like a cliff to about 20 feet deep?

    LeMarkits has said that he remembers the water filling his lungs, the sensation of being pulled to the cold bottom, when all of a sudden a huge hand grabbed his shoulder and heaved him out of the deep water. Delaney dived for the other two boys, sinking below the surface. Folks along the bank waited for him to come up, but he never did. Harry and Lancer drowned with him.

    As much as you might hope that LeMarkits has done something with the gift Delaney gave him, so far he hasn’t. In an interview with the Philadelphia Daily News two years ago, LeMarkits said he has been tortured by the thought that he got to live and Harry didn’t. He said he made his mom sell Harry’s bike, bed and toys. He even burned Harry’s clothes, as if fire could burn his brother from his heart. But it never did. Thirty years old now, LeMarkits got out of jail in May after serving time for distribution of cocaine. There’s still time for him to do something wonderful with the life Delaney gave him. After all, Delaney was doing wonderful things with the one he gave up.

    He was buried on the Fourth of July, 20 years ago. A telegram from President Reagan was read at the memorial service. The Presidential Citizens Medal was awarded posthumously. Three thousand people came to his funeral. A park in Haughton was named after him. No Chiefs player has worn number 37 since. The 37 Forever Foundation, a nonprofit group in Kansas City, honors him to this day by providing free swimming lessons to inner-city kids.

    “I wish they’d had that for Joe and me when we were kids,” Carolyn says glumly. She thinks of her Joe every day. She can’t help it. Their three daughters and four grandkids remind her of him constantly. There is a pause. “I never thought we wouldn’t grow old together.”

    She’s only been on two dates since Joe died. Twenty years, two dates. “Why should I?” she says. “I just keep comparing them to Joe, and they can’t stand up. Nobody in the world is like my Joe.”

    Anyway, the point is, next time you’re reading the sports section and you’re about half-sick of DUIs and beaten wives, put it down for a second and remember Joe Delaney, who, in that splinter of a moment, when a hero was needed, didn’t stop to ask why.

    • Why did no one else attempt to save the children/joe? Did they think joe could handle it and were just waiting?

      If so that seems like even more of a tragedy, someone who could swim might have jumped in if he hadn’t.

      • You might think that saving someone from drowning is easy, but even great swimmers would struggle.

        I couldn’t swim when I was about 8 and fell into a pond just after a very severe flood(wasn’t the smartest idea to swing out and back on the rope swing) My mom(who was a great swimmer) jumped in to save me and I was in such a panic that I latched onto her, pulling her down. She very very nearly drown herself getting just me out, and would have if my older sister didn’t wade into the water and pull us both out.

        Needless to say, there’s a really good chance that those two kids were in a panic and latched onto Joe and pulled him into the 20ft depths and there’s little to nothing he could do about it. I would venture to say that, mainly because of the drop off, it would have taken at least 3 strong swimmers.

        I feel most people know just how dangerous it is to rescue someone from drowning, so even if there were strong swimmers standing by, there’s a good chance that their ‘flight’ kicked in after weighing the consequences. You’d have to essentially be putting your blind faith in the other rescuers that they’d be pulling their weight, and you wouldn’t be saving them as well. You don’t really know what you’d do in a situation like that until you’re in one.

        • my BIL watched as his brother was drowning, couldn’t do anything. his dad attempted to save him but drowned too.

          so, my BIL lost his brother and dad on the same day.

          as a father myself, i would hope that i could save my child from drowning… hell, from anything. my kid and i can swim though. but reality isn’t 100% safe and an attempt could mean my dying along with my child too.

        • Rescue diving we were told to basically submerge and get behind them so they couldn’t grab you, lock legs around their tank, get BCD (flotation jacket) inflated etc. Never get in reach of their hands, people playing the victim would take great joy in dunking you until you learned, full on hands on you and using you as a ladder to climb out of the water sort of thing.

          Someone where my friends teach went to rescue someone panicking underwater and the first thing that the victim did was pull their regs out almost leading to them inhaling water underwater and drowning while trying to save the person. It was only reactions and luck there they didn’t die themselves.

          People in a panic are not rational animals.

  2. RE: Fact# 2 – Neerja Bhanot : What a courageous woman. It’s a true pity there aren’t more like her, and a shame that the good ones all too often are the first to give their life. These are the kind of stories that should be predominant in the media, not what that wacky and crazy Kanye’s up to this week.

    • There are more like her in India. My parents got caught in the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008 while staying in the Taj hotel. My father was killed in the attack, and if it wasn’t for the hotel manager, who put himself in direct danger by coming out into the lobby to beckon my mother and ensure she was hidden/kept safe till the attackers were themselves killed, I doubt we would still have her alive today. Sadly, he lost his own wife and children in the attack. I could not agree more that people such as these should receive more coverage in the media.

      • Sorry for your father.

        The staff at Taj Hotel got a lot of praise for the way they handled the terror attacks. It is hence surprising to hear that one customer has sued the hotel for the attacks. I empathize with the victim and I cannot imagine myself facing such a consequence. But I really do not know if one should sue the hotel for something that really was not their fault. It was more of an Indian intelligence failure than anything to do with the hotel

      • As a Pakistani I agree with this dude. Fu*k Pakistan. The people are great, but the government blows, and it’s become a literal dump, it’s not even worth it anymore.

  3. RE: Fact# 2 – Neerja Bhanot :

    This incident took place when the Americans considered the Pakistanis to be the good guys and the Indians the bad(Soviet friendly) guys. The American response has to be seen in that context. Neerja Bhanot wasnt made into a heroine in America at that time.
    Here is a picture of her from an ad.



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