50 of America’s Greatest War Heroes

May 25, 2018 by John Harrington

Source: Horace Abrahams / Keystone / Getty Images
There is no greater service to the nation than giving one’s life for one’s country. For those who gave what President Abraham Lincoln called in his Gettysburg Address the “last full measure of devotion,” the United States honors them on Memorial Day.

The holiday falls on the last Monday of May. It was originally called Decoration Day and began in the years following the Civil War. The name was changed to Memorial Day, and it became a federal holiday in 1971.

On this Memorial Day, 24/7 Wall St. pays tribute to some of the most decorated war heroes in our nation’s history. We created our list from information obtained from the military branches as well as government sources.

Click here to see the most decorated war heroes.
Click here to see our detailed findings and methodology.

Source: Copyright Underwood & Underwood / Wikimedia Commons

1. Alvin York
> Rank: Corporal
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWI
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross

York was a pacifist who took command of troops when senior officers were killed or put out of action. He proceeded to kill 28 Germans and captured 132 others.

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Source: Horace Abrahams / Keystone / Getty Images

2. Audie L. Murphy
> Rank: Second lieutenant
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Murphy is the most decorated American soldier of World War II. Murphy, who saw combat in Italy and France, is credited with killing 240 German soldiers. He would go on to star in a movie about his life.

Source: Public Domain / WIkimedia Commons

3. Daniel J. Daly
> Rank: Gunnery sergeant
> Military branch: Marines
> Served in: WWI
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Cross

One of 19 servicemen to be awarded the Medal of Honor twice, Daly was awarded his second medal for leading U.S. soldiers against Germans in World War I.

Source: US Navy Employee / Wikimedia Commons

4. David McCampbell
> Rank: Commander
> Military branch: Navy
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Silver Star

McCampbell shot down 34 Japanese planes, engaging the enemy many times despite overwhelming odds. On Oct. 24, 1944, he shot down nine planes in 95 minutes.

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Source: US Federal Government / Wikimedia Commons

5. Desmond Doss
> Rank: Corporal
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor

Doss, who was enlisted though he was a conscientious objector, was a medic in the Pacific theater of WWII. He received the Medal of Honor for saving lives while he was wounded during the fighting on Okinawa.

Source: U.S. Army Signal Corps officer Gaetano Faillace / Wikimedia Commons

6. Douglas MacArthur
> Rank: General
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWI, WWII, Korean War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

MacArthur led the United States to victory in the Pacific theater of WWII. He also led U.N. troops during the Korean War.

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Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

7. Edward V. Rickenbacker
> Rank: First lieutenant
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWI
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross

Rickenbacker was America’s greatest flying ace during World War I. He earned the Medal of Honor for attacking a formation of five German planes and downing two of them.

Source: Matthew A. Ebarb / U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons

8. Eugene B. Fluckey
> Rank: Commander
> Military branch: Navy
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross

One of the most daring submarine commanders of World War II, Fluckey found 30 Japanese vessels hiding in a harbor and damaged six of them in early 1945. His submarine managed to evade Japanese patrol boats and escape.

Source: U.S. Army Air Corps / Wikimedia Commons

9. Frank Luke, Jr.
> Rank: Second lieutenant
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWI
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross

Luke, one of America’s greatest fighter aces in World War I, was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

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Source: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force

10. George A. Davis
> Rank: Major
> Military branch: Army/Air Force
> Served in: WWII, Korean War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Davis was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for risking and ultimately losing his life During the Korean War. Davis shot down two enemy MiG fighter jets and pursued a third, despite obvious peril, in February, 1952.

Source: U.S. Government / WIkimedia Commons

11. George E. Day
> Rank: Colonel
> Military branch: Air Force/Army/Marines
> Served in: WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Air Force Cross, Silver Star

Day, who fought in World War II and Korea, received the Medal of Honor for enduring hardship during this captivity in North Vietnam, where he was captured twice and held as a POW for over five years.

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Source: US Army / Wikimedia Commons

12. George L. Mabry, Jr.
> Rank: Lieutenant colonel
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Mabry was acknowledged for bravery during an attack in November 1944 in the Huertgen Forest in Germany. He cleared a minefield and captured three German bunkers, killing three German soldiers and capturing nine others.

Source: The Library of Congress / Flickr

13. Gordon Johnston
> Rank: First lieutenant
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWI
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Johnston won the Medal of Honor fighting Morro rebels in the Philippines in 1906. He later served with the Army in France in World War I.

Source: USMC / Wikimedia Commons

14. Henry L. Hulbert
> Rank: First lieutenant
> Military branch: Marines
> Served in: WWI
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Cross

After he was cited for heroism in the Philippines and Samoa, Hulbert went on to serve in World War I, where he was wounded.

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Source: U.S. Navy Department / Wikimedia Commons

15. Herman H. Hanneken
> Rank: Second lieutenant
> Military branch: Marines
> Served in: Banana Wars, WWI, WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Silver Star

Hanneken won the Medal of Honor for subduing rebels in Haiti in 1919. He was also awarded the Silver Star for gallantry fighting on Guadalcanal in World War II.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

16. Howard W. Gilmore
> Rank: Commander
> Military branch: Navy
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross

Gilmore was the first submariner to receive the Medal of Honor in World War II. He received the award posthumously for fighting Japanese vessels in South Pacific.

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Source: U.S. War Department / Wikimedia Commons

17. Jack L. Treadwell
> Rank: Captain
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWII, Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Treadwell subdued six pillboxes and captured 18 German prisoners at the fortified Siegfried Line in Germany in March 1945.

Source: U.S. Navy File Photo / Wikimedia Commons

18. James B. Stockdale
> Rank: Rear admiral
> Military branch: Navy
> Served in: Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Silver Star

After being shot down over Hanoi in 1965, Stockdale spent eight years in a Vietnamese POW camp, and consistently exhibited bravery, even when subjected to torture. For his sacrifice, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Gerald Ford in 1976.

Source: US Navy / Wikimedia Commons

19. James E. Williams
> Rank: Boatswain’s mate first class
> Military branch: Navy
> Served in: Korean War, Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Silver Star

Williams was the most decorated enlisted man in the history of the Navy. On Oct. 31, 1966, two U.S. patrol boats were searching for Viet Cong when they encountered a fleet of enemy sampans, or small boats. In the ensuring fight, Williams led the attack that eventually destroyed more than 65 enemy boats.

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

20. James H. Doolittle
> Rank: General
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Silver Star

Doolittle lifted America’s morale after the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor by leading a daring raid on Tokyo in April 1942. He was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

21. James L. Day
> Rank: Corporal
> Military branch: Marines
> Served in: WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Silver Star

During the battle for Okinawa, Day repulsed several Japanese assaults almost single-handedly. He also brought the wounded to safety and then returned to fight. Reports said that when he was relieved after fighting for three days, the enemy dead around his foxhole totaled over 100.

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Source: Amanda Oelfke / YouTube

22. Joe R. Hooper
> Rank: Sergeant
> Military branch: Army/Navy
> Served in: Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Silver Star

Hooper received the of Honor for heroism and bravery in the Vietnam War. In February 1968, under heavy fire, he single-handedly stormed multiple enemy controlled bunkers, using grenades, a pistol, a rifle, and a bayonet and pressing on despite sustaining serious bodily injury.

Source: Harris and Ewing, Washington, D.C. / Wikimedia Commons

23. Joel T. Boone
> Rank: Lieutenant
> Military branch: Navy
> Served in: WWI, WWII, Korean War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Boone was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism in World War I. Serving as a surgeon with the U.S. Marines in France, Boone, under heavy enemy fire, risked his life multiple times in a single day by venturing into a field to rescue wounded American soldiers and replenish medical supplies.

Source: U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist John Lill / Released / Wikimedia Commons

24. John C. McCloy
> Rank: Lieutenant commander
> Military branch: Navy
> Served in: Boxer Rebellion, Battle of Veracruz
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross

McCloy was awarded two Medals of Honor for heroism during the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1901, and at the Battle of Veracruz in 1914.

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Source: Robert Lucier / Wikimedia Commons

25. John D. Bulkeley
> Rank: Lieutenant commander
> Military branch: Navy
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, Silver Star

Bulkeley, a patrol boat commander, helped Gen. Douglas MacArthur escape the Philippines ahead of the Japanese invaders.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

26. John H. Pruitt
> Rank: Corporal
> Military branch: Marines
> Served in: WWI
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Silver Star

Pruitt single-handedly captured two machine-guns, killed two German soldiers, and then captured 40 Germans that were in a dugout. He was killed later in the engagement and received the Medal of Honor posthumously.

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Source: Courtesy of Marine Corps Base Quantico

27. John H. Quick
> Rank: Sergeant major
> Military branch: Marines
> Served in: WWI
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross

Quick saw action in France in major U.S. offensives of World War I, including Belleau Wood and St. Mihiel. Quick also served with the Marines during the Spanish-American War when he won the Medal of Honor.

Source: United States Navy / Wikimedia Commons

28. Jonas H. Ingram
> Rank: Admiral
> Military branch: Navy
> Served in: Mexican Revolution, WWI, WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross

Ingram received the Medal of Honor for his adroit direction of artillery during the Battle of Veracruz in 1914 that led to the capture of the city. He would also go on to fight in World War I and World War II.

Source: United States Marine Corps / Wikimedia Commons

29. Kenneth A. Walsh
> Rank: First lieutenant
> Military branch: Marines
> Served in: WWII, Korean War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor

Against overwhelming forces, Walsh fought off Japanese planes attempting to bomb Allied ground forces operating in the Solomon Islands area.

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Source: PH1 E.G. Fredette, USN / Wikimedia Commons

30. Lawson P. Ramage
> Rank: Commander
> Military branch: Navy
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Silver Star

Ramage was the third submarine commander to win the Medal of Honor for his role in damaging a Japanese convoy near Taiwan in 1944.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

31. Leo K. Thorsness
> Rank: Colonel
> Military branch: Air Force
> Served in: Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Silver Star

Thorsness was awarded the Medal of Honor for valor in action in a dogfight over North Vietnam. Thorsness was captured and held in the same prison as John McCain for six years.

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Source: George Konig / Keystone Features / Getty Images

32. Leon W. Johnson
> Rank: General
> Military branch: Army/Air Force
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Silver Star

Johnson led bombers on a dangerous raid of the Ploesti oil fields in Romania in World War II. For his part in this mission, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Source: Courtesy of U.S. Air Force

33. Lewis L. Millett
> Rank: Captain
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Millett led a bayonet charge against a fortified North Korean position, stabbing two soldiers and throwing grenades at enemy positions. He was wounded but refused to leave the battle until the position was taken.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

34. Lloyd L. Burke
> Rank: First lieutenant
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Burke won the Medal of Honor for an attack on North Korean bunkers in 1951, killing 100 North Koreans while receiving wounds.

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Source: U.S. Naval Historical Center / Wikimedia Commons

35. Louis Cukela
> Rank: Sergeant
> Military branch: Marines
> Served in: WWI
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Silver Star

Cukela earned his Medal of Honor for subduing a machine-gun nest by killing or driving off the soldiers with his bayonet. He destroyed another German stronghold with hand grenades and captured four Germans.

Source: U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons

36. Matej Kocak
> Rank: Sergeant
> Military branch: Marines
> Served in: WWI
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Silver Star

Kocak put two German machine-gun nests out of action in 1918. Kocak would later be killed in another battle toward the end of World War I.

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Source: United States Army / Wikimedia Commons

37. Matt L. Urban
> Rank: Captain
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Silver Star

Urban finally received the Medal of Honor in 1980 after a long-lost recommendation had been found. Urban was cited for bravery during the Normandy campaign in 1944. He received the Purple Heart seven times.

Source: US Army Africa / Wikimedia Commons

38. Melvin Morris
> Rank: Sergeant
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross

Morris was cited for eliminating North Vietnamese positions with hand grenades and destroying four bunkers. He also recovered bodies of fallen comrades and helped wounded soldiers back to U.S. lines.

Source: Three Lions / Getty Images

39. Merritt A. Edson
> Rank: Colonel
> Military branch: Marines
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Silver Star

Edson was honored for his defense of Lunga Ridge near a key airfield on Guadalcanal in 1942.

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Source: National Museum of the US Air Force

40. Neel E. Kearby
> Rank: Colonel
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Silver Star

Kearby was an aggressive fighter pilot who frequently took on superior enemy numbers. On Oct. 11, 1943, he and three other pilots went against nearly 50 Japanese aircraft. Kearby shot down six Japanese aircraft and received the Medal of Honor. He would be killed in action the following year.

Source: U.S. Army / Wikimedia Commons

41. Patrick H. Brady
> Rank: Major
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross

Brady earned the Medal of Honor for flying an ambulance helicopter into heavily contested battle zones during the Vietnam War and — under heavy enemy fire — rescuing dozens of injured American servicemen in a single day.

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Source: PH1 Tina M. Ackerman, United States Navy / Wikimedia Commons

42. Raymond G. Davis
> Rank: Lieutenant colonel
> Military branch: Marines
> Served in: WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Silver Star

Davis rescued several Marines despite being surrounded by numerically superior hostile forces in Korea in icy, mountainous conditions.

Source: United States Army / Wikimedia Commons

43. Raymond Harvey
> Rank: Captain
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWII, Korean War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Harvey won his Medal of Honor by disabling machine-gun nests and pillboxes despite being wounded during the fighting. He refused to leave the battle until the mission was completed.

Source: U.S. Navy photo / Released

44. Richard H. O’Kane
> Rank: Commander
> Military branch: Navy
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Silver Star

The submarine commander was awarded the Medal of Honor for valor for his actions in the Pacific theater during World War II. He regularly sank Japanese vessels and rescued Americans who had been shot down.

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

45. Richard I. Bong
> Rank: Major
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Bong was the most prolific American fighter pilot in World War II, downing 40 Japanese planes. Gen. Douglas MacArthur awarded him the Medal of Honor, calling him the “bravest of the brave.”

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

46. Robert L. Howard
> Rank: Captain
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Howard was nominated for the Medal of Honor three times and won it for rescuing a wounded platoon leader in Vietnam.

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Source: US Naval History & Heritage Command / Wikimedia Commons

47. Samuel D. Dealey
> Rank: Commander
> Military branch: Navy
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Dealey was a submarine commander who sank the most Japanese tonnage, or merchant ships, during World War II before he was killed in action in 1944.

Source: US Marine Corps / Wikimedia Commons

48. Smedley D. Butler
> Rank: Major
> Military branch: Marines
> Served in: WWI
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor

Butler was the most decorated Marine in U.S. history when he died in 1940. He won the first of his two Medals of Honor at the Battle of Veracruz in 1914 and was awarded his second during the U.S. involvement in Haiti in 1915.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

49. Thomas B. McGuire, Jr.
> Rank: Major
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

McGuire shot down 38 Japanese planes during World War II, the second highest scoring U.S. ace of the war. He himself was killed over the Philippines and given the Medal of Honor posthumously.

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Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

50. William J. Donovan
> Rank: Colonel
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWI, WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Founder of the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, Donovan received the Medal of Honor for bravery at the Second Battle of the Marne in 1918 in World War I.

Detailed Findings & Methodology

The holiday originated in 1868, when Gen. John A. Logan, an organizer of Union Army veterans, called for a national day of remembrance. May 30 was chosen because it was not the anniversary of any particular battle.

Since that time, recognition of the nation’s fallen has extended to all branches of the U.S. military, and each branch has specific medals that honor the bravery of its service member.

Memorial Day used to be a more solemn occasion, as Americans attended parades and went to cemetaries to remember those who had passed. It is now regarded as the unofficial start to summer, with stores running sales, and people going to baseball games, heading to the beach, or hosting barbecues.

Over time, there has been a loosening of the connection between American society and the military. Pew Research Center said in 2015 that the share of Americans serving in the military had declined to 0.4% of the population. As the size of the military shrinks, the connections between it and the civilian population become more removed.

Many of those on the 24/7 Wall St. list who distinguished themselves include names familiar to Americans, such as Alvin York, Audie Murphy, James Doolittle, and Douglas MacArthur. All are among the approximately 3,500 Americans who were awarded the Medal of Honor.

Many U.S. service members have also been honored by other nations for their heroism, such as America’s greatest aviator in World War I, Eddie Rickenbacker.

Although she did not make the list, it is worth mentioning the heroism of service member Annie G. Fox. During the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, First Lieutenant Fox, an Army nurse, distinguished herself by cooly organizing the hospital’s response to the mounting casualties from the Japanese attack. For her courageous efforts, Fox was awarded the Bronze Star.

To determine the list of some of the most decorated military service members, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed government lists of medal winners and other online sources and placed emphasis on medals of valor. All of the service members listed won the Medal of Honor, the highest award the nation can bestow on a member of any branch of the military. Nearly 3,500 Medals of Honor have been given to military personnel, with more than 600 given posthumously. Many of those on this list were also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest honor. We considered those who served in conflicts after the Civil War because many military awards at that time were bestowed for political reasons. We excluded foreign medals from the list since they were awarded for the same acts of heroism.