Selfless Heroes: 50 People Who Risked Everything to Save Others


41Dirk Willems

Dirk Willems

In 1569, a man named Dirk Willems was jailed in the Netherlands for his devotion to being an anabaptist. He soon escaped from prison, but when he saw that the guard pursuing him fell through the ice, Willems turned around to save the guard. He was then recaptured, tortured, and killed.

42Adam Warwick

Adam Warwick

In 2008, Florida wildlife officers shot a 375-pound bear with a tranquilizer as it managed to wander into a residential area. The panicked bear ran towards the ocean and started drowning. That's when a man named Adam Warwick dove into the ocean to rescue it. Grabbing the bear by its neck, he brought it ashore. A couple of times the bear tried lunging at Adam to climb on top of him to stay afloat. Adam brought the bear to shore and only suffered minor cuts and scrapes.

43Don Ritchie

Don Ritchie

Don Ritchie was an Australian who lived across the street from the most famous suicide spot in Australia. He officially rescued 160 people from suicide as of 2009 over a 45-year period, although his family claims the number is closer to 500. He would strike up a conversation with people contemplating suicide and invite them to his house for tea. He died in 2012 at the age of 85.

44Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

During the 2011 Japanese earthquake, 50 workers at the Fukushima nuclear power plant did not leave even though 750 others had been evacuated. For four days, they kept the reactor from melting down until backup arrived, saving countless lives.

45Aitzaz Hasan

Aitzaz Hasan

A 15-year-old Pakistani boy named Aitzaz Hasan died in 2014 when he bravely confronted a suicide bomber who was walking toward his school. This caused the bomb to go off early, killing Aitzaz. His action saved the lives of hundreds of students.

46Edward Loder

Edward Loder

Edward Loder is the most decorated man in the Boston Fire Department's history. After his first decade of service, he was assigned to Rescue One because of his reputation for being tough. In 1990, he saved a mentally unstable woman from jumping from her 16th-floor hotel room by rappelling down from the roof of the hotel by a guideline and tackling her away from the ledge right when she was about to jump. In 1993, he caught a mentally ill patient with one hand right after he jumped and had to hang on to the rescue ladder with the other hand. He had to hold on to the jumper until the ladder was lowered.

47Eddie Aikau

Eddie Aikau

In 1968, big-wave surfer Eddie Aikau was selected to be the first lifeguard at Waimea Beach on Oahu. During his time as a lifeguard, not a single person died, and he rescued over 500 people, often braving waves of 30 feet (9.1 meters) or higher. The phrase "Eddie would go" was coined after him because he became famous for saving people from the big waves. When no one else would go, Eddie would go.

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48Casey Jones

Casey Jones

Casey Jones was an American railroader who worked for the Illinois Central Railroad. In 1895, he saved the life of a young girl by standing on the moving train's cowcatcher and picking the girl up off the track. In 1900, he was involved in a train crash with a stalled freight train. Having realized a collision would occur, Casey ordered his colleague off the train and remained in control of the engine to minimize the impact. Except for himself, this saved the lives of all passengers.

49Gladys May Aylward

Gladys May Aylward

During the Second Sino-Japanese War, a female British missionary in China named Gladys May Aylward protected orphans and soldiers and spied for the Chinese. Wounded in a strafing attack and beaten with a gun, she escaped, rescued 94 orphans, and fled with them from Yangcheng to safety at Sian (240 miles over mountains and a river).

50Cameron Lyle

Cameron Lyle

Cameron Lyle, a senior college track and field athlete, was given the NCAA's Award of Valor in 2013 for giving up his chance at a gold medal and ending his college career one month early so that he could donate bone marrow to his 28-year-old father who had acute lymphoblastic leukemia.


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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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