Over 3,500 individuals have their own Medal of Honor stories, each full of bravery, heroism, and yes — honor. Only around 100 of them are currently alive to tell these stories.
While every Medal of Honor story is worthy of being told, some of them stand out more than others. These stories are marked by overwhelming selflessness, fearlessness, and calm resolve. They’re so incredible that while reading them, you can hardly believe they actually happened.
Reflecting on past battles, whether they were victories or losses, is a way that we can honor the Americans who were willing to sacrifice everything for their nation and comrades. So here are six of the craziest Medal of Honor stories in American history.
Medal of Honor Stories
6. Dr. Mary Walker
Dr. Mary Walker was the first and only woman to have been awarded the Medal of Honor. She volunteered with the Union Army during the Civil War as a field surgeon in a time where women were not yet allowed to serve, or even really be doctors.
Despite the danger, Walker repeatedly went out of her way to treat wounded civilians and soldiers, no matter what side they were on. She usually did this alone — as the men she served with were afraid to be captured. On one such occasion, Walker was arrested by Confederate forces and held as a prisoner of war for more than four months.
After the war, Dr. Walker was awarded with the Medal of Honor; though at the time it was the only military award in existence. When the Army pushed the Medal of Honor to its place of prestige in 1917, it was taken off her record, but restored again in 1977.
Before her death in 1919, Walker was a vocal women’s rights activist and prohibitionist.
5. Charles Berry
Corporal Charles Berry was a Marine Corps infantryman who was with his unit on Iwo Jima the day of his meritorious actions. Berry was manning a foxhole — a small pit used for cover — when Japanese forces launched a surprise attack in the middle of the night.
Instead of a firefight, it quickly became a game of hot potato — but with grenades. When the Japanese soldiers tossed grenades in the hole, Berry would scoop them up and throw them back out, completely unaware of how much time he had before they’d explode.
Berry was unable to reach a grenade that landed nearby in time to throw it back out. Instead of abandoning his comrades, he dove on top of it and took the brunt of the explosion, sacrificing his life and saving those of his men. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his selfless bravery.
4. Bryant Womack
At the age of 18, Private First Class Bryant Womack was drafted to war and sent to Korea with an Army medical company. Two years later — less than a year before the end of the war — he found himself outnumbered on a foot patrol near Sokra-ri.
Womack was almost immediately wounded, but continued to treat the wounds of others as the fight wore on. He refused medical attention because he knew his men needed him. As he was treating an injury, an enemy mortar struck him and blew off the majority of his right arm.
Instead of stopping to be treated, or to even try to save his own life, Womack continued to help other wounded soldiers before he passed out from blood loss. He died shortly thereafter. PFC Womack was issued the Medal of Honor the next year, in January of 1953.
3. Matthew Leonard
Sergeant First Class Matthew Leonard served as an Army infantryman in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. His Medal of Honor story took place on Feb. 28, 1967, near Suoi Da, South Vietnam.
Leonard was his platoon commander’s right-hand man, and after the commander was wounded, Leonard wasted no time in taking charge of his men. They’d been ambushed on foot patrol, and Leonard quickly rallied them to drive away the initial assault and establish a defensive perimeter.
When he realized one of his men was wounded outside the perimeter, Leonard quickly crawled to him to drag him to safety, and as he did so his left hand was hit by a sniper’s bullet. There was no time to attend to this wound — the enemy attacked again and Leonard continued to throw himself into the line of fire to protect his men, shuffling between different positions to give orders.
When enemy forces set up a heavy machine gun with the intent to wipe out an entire line of men, Leonard charged it head on, receiving several mortal wounds as he shot down its gunners. He continued to take out enemy soldiers until he died from his wounds on the battlefield. He was awarded the Medal of Honor the next year by President Johnson.
2. Ty Carter
Staff Sergeant Ty Carter was serving in Afghanistan in 2009 when his combat outpost came under attack by a group of over 300 Taliban. The outpost itself only contained about 60 U.S. soldiers.
The Taliban fighters positioned themselves on the high ground around the outpost, surrounding it from all sides and leaving the Americans with no escape route. Enemy fire quickly destroyed many of the American’s structures and vehicles.
In an astonishingly brave move, SSGT Carter volunteered to cross 100 years of “no man’s land,” completely exposed to enemy fire, to retrieve much-needed ammo and supplies. He did this twice. Then, when he realized one of his comrades lay wounded nearby, he crossed the stretch again to attend to him and drag him to cover.
Carter ran this stretch a fourth time to provide more medical assistance to another wounded soldier, and to recover his squad’s radio, which allowed them to coordinate counterattacks and evacuation efforts. This was at around noon, and the battle lasted long into the night. It only ended when reinforcements were able to safely land via helicopter, at which point about two-thirds of the original 60 men had been killed.
Carter was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama in 2013. Today, he works to destigmatize post-traumatic stress; which he refers to as “PTS,” because he believes that it shouldn’t be categorized as a disorder.
1. Roy Benavidez
Master Sergeant Benavidez’s story started in 1952, when he enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard. He switched to active duty three years later, where he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg.
Benavidez made his initial trip to Vietnam in 1965 as a member of the elite 5th Special Forces Group. But he stepped on a landmine and was evacuated to the U.S., where doctors told him he would never walk again. However, he was determined to return to combat and serve his country; he trained at night by crawling with his elbows and chin, receiving support from fellow combat-disabled men. After over a year in the hospital, he walked out with his wife, and left for South Vietnam again in 1968.
Benavidez’s valorous actions on May 2, 1968, earned him the Medal of Honor. He leapt from a helicopter, armed only with a knife, to aid a 12-man Special Forces patrol that was surrounded by 1,000 North Vietnamese soldiers. He was shot seven times, covered in shrapnel, and had been stabbed in multiple places; his right lung was destroyed and his head was severely injured after being clubbed with a rifle butt. One bullet had exited his torso just beneath his heart. Even so, Benavidez saved the lives of at least eight of his comrades. During one exchange, he was stabbed with a bayonet, and he proceeded to yank it out and stab the offending soldier in return, before rejoining the battle.
“A doctor came and examined him but believed Benavidez was dead. The doctor was about to zip up the body bag when Benavidez spat in his face, alerting the doctor that he was alive,” reads this account.
After almost a year of recovery in the hospital, Benavidez was assigned to Fort Riley, Kansas, where he retired in 1976. A living witness from the “six hours in hell” battle submitted a 10-page report, and Benavidez was given his Medal of Honor on February 21, 1981.
President Reagan said, before reading the citation, “If the story of his heroism were a movie script, you would not believe it.”
To read more amazing tales of combat — though not quite Medal of Honor stories — check out this one about the first (and only) female Buffalo Soldier.