Unsung Heroes: Those Who Didn’t Get Credit Through History

Unsung HeroesThroughout history, we are often reminded of the people that have done heroic and outstanding deeds.  These people are often not even the ones responsible for the outcome of history, but they have been overlooked by the historians – or even writers who thought they just “didn’t belong” in the list of great men and women.  Well, no more!  Here is a list of five people that should be remembered for doing great things!

myfivebest -1Irena Sendler: The Polish Oskar Schindler
In 1939, Irena Sendler was a 29-year old woman living in Warsaw, Poland as a social worker during the Nazi occupation.   Working with a network of other social workers and brave Poles, mostly women, she smuggled 2,500 children out of the Warsaw ghetto and hid them safely until the end of the war. Sendler took great risks – obtaining forged papers for the children, disguising herself as an infection control nurse, diverting German occupation funds for the support of children in hiding. She entered the Warsaw ghetto, sometimes two and three times a day, and talked Jewish parents into giving up their children. Sendler drugged the babies with sedatives and smuggled them past Nazi guards in gunny sacks, boxes and coffins. She helped the older ones escape through the sewers, through secret openings in the wall, through the courthouse, through churches, any clever way she and her network could evade the Nazis. Once outside the ghetto walls, Sendler gave the children false names and documents and placed them in convents, orphanages and with Polish families. In 1942 the Polish underground organization ZEGOTA recruited her to lead their Children’s Division, providing her with money and support. Her hope was that after the war she could reunite the children with surviving relatives, or at least return their Jewish identities. To that end she kept thin tissue paper lists of each child’s Jewish name, their Polish name and address. She hid the precious lists in glass jars buried under an apple tree in the back yard of one of her co-conspirators. In 1943 Irena Sendler was arrested, tortured and sentenced to death by firing squad. She never divulged the location of the lists or her Polish underground contacts. At the last moment she was saved by ZEGOTA which bribed a guard to secure her freedom. She still bears the scars and disability of her torture.  Sendler’s name has appeared on the internet a few times since she lost the Nobel Prize to Al Gore and his group on Global Climate change in 2007.

myfivebest - 2Israel Bissell: The Real Paul Revere
Listen my children and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.  That’s how the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem goes, but in actuality, Paul Revere was not alone.  He was accompanied by three others named William Dawes, Samuel Prescott, and this man – Israel Bissell.  In fact, Revere was the least successful out of the four riders and by far, the best known.  You see, the night was dark and the men rode out…but Paul Revere – he got captured.  While Dawes did some riding and Prescott was killed soon after the famous ride, it was Israel Bissell who really knew how to get the word out.  Bissell got on his horse on April 19, 1775 and rode for four days passing the word that the Red Coats were coming.  He rode from Watertown, Massachusetts through Connecticut, down through New York, over to New Jersey, then into Pennsylvania where he finally stopped in Philadelphia.  It was a total of 345 miles – or about the distance from Cleveland to Chicago.  During that time, one of his horses died underneath him from exhaustion.  It is unknown how many people were warned of the impending attack, but he made stops in every town along the Old Post Road and gave them the news on a slip of paper that he received from General Joseph Palmer of the Continental Army.  When he reached Philadelphia, more than 8000 people listened to what Bissell had to say.  When the word was officially out to everyone, Bissell took a nap (he’d gone without sleep for nearly four days) and then returned to fight the rest of the war alongside his brother in Connecticut.  He lived throughout the conflict and died in 1823.  At least he didn’t have to hear that poem about Paul Revere.  That wouldn’t be published until 1863.

myfivebest - 3Norman Borlaug: The Greatest Farmer On Earth
Before doing research on this topic, I had never heard of Norman Borlaug.  As it turns out, most people haven’t, but he is responsible for saving about one-sixth of the world’s population from famine!  He is one of only five people to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal.  So what did he do?  He is a plant doctor who taught other people how to grow plants.  He pioneered the introduction of high-yield crops and weather-resistant crops into 3rd-world countries, where they otherwise would have only been able to grow a fraction the amount of food that they accomplished with his help.  Once he had figured out how to do this, Borlaug started traveling to these countries and showing them what to do to survive.  Borlaug was able to help Pakistan and India nearly double their wheat yields. He helped Mexico grow enough wheat that by 1963, they had so much they could export. More recently, he’s helped a number of countries in Africa not only plant high-yield crops, but also put weather-resistant crops of wheat where wheat couldn’t grow before due to hot and arid conditions.  According to the United Nations, more than 30,000 people die every day from preventable, poverty-related causes (one of the major causes being lack of food).  Because of technology Norman Borlaug both invented and helped implement throughout the globe, more than a billion of those people owe their lives to Norman Borlaug.

myfivebest - 4Captain Witold Pilecki: The Craziest Hero Ever
I’ve written about this guy before.  He has an amazing story and is probably one of the reasons the Holocaust wasn’t worse than it turned out to be (not saying that it wasn’t a horrible thing to begin with).  This Polish army captain volunteered to go to the Auschwitz concentration camp so that he could spy on what the Germans were doing and then try to get word back to the Allies.  He stayed in the camp for 945 days, gathering evidence of genocide and supplying it to the British in London by the Polish resistance movement organization, called the Home Army.   His first report was smuggled outside in November 1940.  He eventually escaped on April 27, 1943, but his personal report of mass killings was dismissed as exaggeration by the Allies.  Finally, they did believe him, but by then, the war was coming to a close and the Russians and Americans had to see for themselves that what he reported was true.  For all that he did, after Russia took over Poland, Pilecki was executed in 1948 by the communist secret police on charges of working for “foreign imperialism” – thought to be a euphemism for MI6 (the British equivalent for the CIA).  Until 1989, information on his exploits and fate was suppressed by the USSR.  Today, he is on a Polish coin in his honor.

myfivebest - 5Liviu Librescu: Hero at Virginia Tech
Born in Romania in 1930, Librescu was interned as a boy in a labor camp in Transnistria when Romania allied with Nazi Germany. In the 70’s, Librescu’s refused to swear allegiance to the Romanian Communist Party and was forced out of academia for his sympathies towards Israel.  Librescu was 76 years old and teaching a mechanics class at Virgina Tech in April of 2007, when Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and wounded many others before committing suicide in the deadliest shooting rampage by a single gunman in U.S. history. Knowing that he couldn’t climb out the window, Librescu held the door of his classroom shut when Cho attempted to enter it.  Cho fired through the door, striking Librescu five times, ending his life. After that, Cho was able to get into the room, but thanks to Librescu, nearly all of his students had escaped through a window to safety. Of the 23 registered students in his class, one one of them, Minal Panchal, was killed.