The Second World War, or simply World War II, was a conflict that spanned nearly the whole world from 1939 to 1945. The Axis forces, which included Germany, Italy, and Japan, and the Allies, which included France, Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union, were the main combatant, and to a lesser extent, China. The 40,000,000–50,000,000 deaths brought on by World War II made it the bloodiest and most extensive conflict in history. The war was in many ways a continuation, after an uncomfortable 20-year break, of the problems left unresolved by World War I.
Brave men and women have sacrificed their lives and bled and died for the United States of America throughout its history. We have the utmost regard for everyone who has ever served their country honorably. But occasionally, certain heroes go above and beyond the call of duty to carry out their duties in a way that elevates them to legendary status.
It is hard to pinpoint who the most decorated or highly decorated service personnel are with full certainty because medals and decorations vary throughout historical eras and military branches. The only challenge greater than these courageous guys is attempting to compare them.
Here are some of those service members who have been earned the most medals, honors and recognition for the role they played in World War II:
General Douglas MacArthur, USA
General Douglas MacArthur was, and is, a contentious man in the history of World War II. Others have questioned his strategies and saw him as having been overly aggressive and arrogant. Some people have praised him for his numerous accomplishments and view his career as prestigious. It is difficult to dispute the facts, which show that General MacArthur had a long career as a military leader for the United States and had won several honors for valor.
In 1941, as the threat posed by expansionist Japan grew, Douglas MacArthur was summoned back to action and given command of American forces. military units in the Far East. His aviation force was decimated by the Japanese on December 8, 1941—the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor—and they quickly invaded the Philippines.
In order to survive, MacArthur’s men fled to the Bataan peninsula. On instructions from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, MacArthur, his family, and staff personnel left Corregidor Island in PT boats in March 1942 and made their way to Australia. Soon after, MacArthur made an assurance that “I shall return.”
When American-Philippine soldiers were defeated by Japan in May 1942, they were compelled to start the Bataan Death March, which resulted in the torture, starvation, and murder of thousands of men.
Awarded the Medal of Honor for his defense of the Philippines, MacArthur was named overall commander of Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific in April 1942. Before making his illustrious return to liberate the Philippines in October 1944, he spent the following two and a half years in charge of a Pacific island-hopping operation.
When he came ashore at the Red Beach in Palo, Leyte, Gen. Macarthur said his now famous line “I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God, our men are once more on Philippine land.” MacArthur was given command of all Army forces in the Pacific after being raised to the rank of general of the Army in December 1944.
On the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, MacArthur formally accepted Japan’s surrender. The effective demobilization of Japan’s armed forces, the recovery of the economy, the creation of a new Japanese constitution, and several other changes were all overseen by MacArthur during his tenure as the Allied commander of the Japanese occupation from 1945 to 1951.
The Korean War began in June 1950 when North Korean communist troops invaded the Republic of South Korea, which was allied with the west. The alliance of United Nations forces under American command was placed under Douglas MacArthur’s command.
The North Koreans were repulsed that autumn by his forces, who finally forced them to retreat toward the Chinese border. President Truman, who was concerned that the People’s Republic of China’s communist government may regard the invasion as an aggressive gesture and get involved in the fight, met with MacArthur. The general reassured him that there was little likelihood of a Chinese invasion.
However, in November and December 1950, a sizable number of Chinese soldiers invaded North Korea and charged the American lines, forcing the Americans to retreat into South Korea. MacArthur requested approval to employ Nationalist Chinese soldiers from Taiwan against the People’s Republic of China while bombing communist China. These proposals were categorically rejected by Truman, and a public argument between the two men ensued.
When Douglas MacArthur returned to the country in April 1951, he was greeted as a hero and feted with parades in several towns. He spoke before a joint session of Congress in a dramatic speech that was broadcast on television on April 19. The general concluded by quoting a line from an ancient army song, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.”
In New York City, MacArthur and his wife moved into a room at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Republican Dwight Eisenhower won the general election in 1952, despite appeals for Douglas MacArthur to run for president as a Republican.
On April 5, 1964, at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C., MacArthur passed away at the age of 84. He was laid to rest in the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia.
Col. Edward V. Rickenbacker, USAAS
Col. Edward “Eddie” Vernon Rickenbacker, a “Ace of Aces,” was a racing car driver before enlisting in the Army during World War I; as a result, he was quickly transferred to the newly formed Army Air Corps (which would eventually become the Air Force). Rickenbacker, a Medal of Honor winner, shot down 26 hostile aircraft in just nine months. Seven Distinguished Service Crosses were also given to him.
Col. Rickenbacker received the Medal of Honor for one specific incident in addition to his exceptional service as an ace fighter pilot and the amazing number of aerial victories. On September 25, 1918, seven German aircraft attacked Rickenbacker when he was alone in a volunteer patrol flight over France. Despite having such a small number of opponents, he battled all seven of them and destroyed two of them. For his actions that day, he was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre medal.
Vice Adm. John D. Bulkeley, USN
Vice Admiral John Bulkeley was one of the most decorated naval captains in American history and a real World War II hero. getting a degree in the U.S. Bulkeley graduated from the Naval Academy in 1933 and was a seasoned sailor at the start of World War II. He received several honors, including the Medal of Honor, for his numerous acts of bravery and leadership during some of the most trying times of the conflict. He also served in the Korean War after the war.
Bulkeley was born on August 19, 1911, in New York City and grew up on a farm in Hackettstown, New Jersey. He received an appointment from the state of Texas after attending the Naval Academy in his native New Jersey. Only the top half of the 1933 Academy class earned a commission upon graduation due to financial restrictions. Early on, it was known that John Bulkeley had a keen interest in engineering. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He made several hard landings, just like the vintage aircraft of the day.
After a year, Bulkeley gave up flying to serve as a commissioned officer on the deck of a cruiser, the USS Indianapolis (CA-35), since the President and Congress had allowed more commissions in the Navy (as part of a government strategy for more jobs).
Early on, Bulkeley took an fascinating path, and the leadership of the Navy soon noticed this. He took the initiative to retrieve the Japanese Ambassador’s briefcase from a cabin on a ship destined for Washington in the middle of the 1930s as a young Ensign, and he subsequently delivered it to Naval Intelligence after a quick swim.
There, during a dinner party held on board HMS Diana (H49), he first encountered Alice Wood, a young, lovely English girl. This daring feat, the first of many in his life, did not earn him any medals, but it did get him a swift one-way ticket out of the country and a new assignment as Chief Engineer of a coal-burning gunboat, the USS Sacramento (PG-19), also known in those parts as “The Galloping Ghost of the China Coast.” They observed the Japanese assault of Swatow and Shanghai in China as well as the first American submarine, USS Panay (PR-5), being bombed. WWII submarine sinking of a navy ship.
Lieutenant Bulkeley successfully executed the daring rescue of General Douglas MacArthur and Philippine President Quezon from the Philippines during World War II while in charge of a Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron, bringing them to safety. Bulkeley played a significant role in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day two years later. He commanded the torpedo boat squadron that blocked the Nazi E-boats from reaching Utah Beach and subsequently saved the sailors who were injured. He would go on to participate in both the Korean War and WWII.
Vice Admiral John Bulkeley won several awards for his bravery and service, including the Medal of Honor, the Navy Cross, the Croix de Guerre, two Distinguished Service Crosses, two Silver Stars, two Purple Hearts, two Legion of Merits, and three Navy Distinguished Service Medals.
CDR Samuel D. Dealey, USN
On September 13, 1906, Samuel David Dealey was born in Dallas, Texas. He was given a position in the US. graduated in June 1930 from the same state’s Naval Academy. Dealey received his commission as an ensign and reported for naval service aboard the USS Nevada. In June 1933, he was given the promotion of Lieutenant Junior Grade. He briefly moved aboard the USS Rathburne in March 1934. He then reported that summer for submarine school training in New London, Connecticut. He served aboard the submarines USS S-34 and USS S-24 after receiving his degree. He reported to the USS Nautilus and subsequently the USS Bass to continue his naval service.
He was hired as the Executive Officer’s Aide at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, in May 1937. He received a Lieutenant promotion in June 1938 while still working at the Naval Air Station. He began serving as the Executive Officer on board the USS Wyoming in the summer of 1939 before moving on to the USS Reuben James.
In April 1941, he reported as a potential commanding officer of the USS S-20. He had received a temporary promotion to Commander earlier that October. He received a temporary promotion to Lieutenant Commander in June 1942.
Harder served in the Pacific under Dealey’s direction and took part in six productive War Patrols. His leadership during the submarine’s Fifth War Patrol, which was stationed in seas under Japanese control near Tawi Tawi, Philippine Islands, on June 9-10, 1944, is what makes him most famous. During this period, Dealey bravely commanded his soldiers as they launched five short-range torpedo strikes, sinking five Japanese warships.
On the morning of August 24, enemy depth charges on Harder’s Sixth War Patrol sank the ship at Dasol Bay, Philippines. The crew was never found, and there were no survivors. He was posthumously given the Medal of Honor for his “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity” in destroying the Japanese warships during the Fifth War Patrol. The American Battle Monuments Commission’s Wall of the Dead in Manila Cemetery, Manila, Philippines, has information on Samuel D. Dealey.
Sgt. Maj. Daniel J. Daly, USMC
On January 10, 1899, Sergeant Major Daniel Joseph “Dan” Daly of New York enrolled in the US Marine Corps. He received the Medal of Honor twice during his time in the military and had a third recommended for him for similar bravery on different occasions. Daly received additional foreign honors in addition to his Medals of Honor, the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, and the Bronze Star.
Sgt. Maj. Daly’s deeds during the Boxer Rebellion in China won him his first Medal of Honor. When he and his soldiers were conducting reconnaissance in Haiti, he received his second Medal of Honor. They were shot upon by hundreds of soldiers on three sides as they crossed a river at night. Daly successfully led an assault against the enemy the next morning after getting them to safety and surviving the night of firing. Daly inspired Marines to battle at Belleau Wood, France, by knocking down a machine gun alone with his pistol and hand grenades.
He is said to have exclaimed to his fellow Marines, “Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever? This quotation initially appeared in the 1918 memoir “And They Thought We Wouldn’t Fight” by Chicago Tribune war journalist Floyd Gibbons. Daly lived a peaceful life in New York with his sister after leaving the Marines, working as a bank guard and avoiding the media. On April 27, 1937, at the age of 63, he passed away in Glendale, Queens, New York, from a heart attack. In Brooklyn, New York’s Cypress Hills National Cemetery, he is laid to rest.
Lt. Gen. James F. Hollingsworth, USA
In the United States, Lieutenant General James Hollingsworth began his military career after earning a degree from Texas A&M University. He joined the Army as a second lieutenant. Along with being the leader of the United States, he served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Alaskan Army. Lt. Gen. 38 Air Medals, 6 Purple Hearts, 3 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 4 Distinguished Service Medals, 4 Silver Stars, 4 Bronze Stars, 3 Legions of Merit, and 3 Distinguished Flying Crosses were awarded to him.
The famed soldier enlisted in the Army in 1940, serving overseas during World War II and taking part in seven significant actions, ranging from the occupation of Berlin to North Africa. In 1972, he was the commander who guided South Vietnam to victory at the fight of An Loc, a 66-day fight and significant triumph for the country during the Vietnam War, earning him the radio call sign “Danger 79er.”
He made light of the fact that Lt. Gen. James Hollingsworth’s bronze statue at Texas A&M University was three feet taller than Gen. Patton’s statue at West Point.
Maj. Audie Murphy, USA
The Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit with Combat Valor, and two Bronze Stars with Combat Valor were given to Major Audie Murphy, making him the most decorated combatant of World War II. His international awards were the Belgian Croix de Guerre with Palm, the French Forrager, the Legion of Honor, and the Croix de Guerre with Palm and Silver Star. Murphy received a total of 28 medals at the end of World War II. Murphy served with distinction, although the Marine Corps first turned him down because of his height.
Maj. Audie Murphy joined the American military in 1942 when he was just 17 years old. When six German Panzer tanks and 250 infantrymen attacked the 3d Infantry Division on January 26, 1945, in Holtzwihr, France, Second Lieutenant Murphy was there. Murphy, according to his Medal of Honor citation, directed the other soldiers to retreat into the woods as he stood by himself and opened fire on the German soldiers and tanks.
He climbed on top of a burning artillery tank destroyer and fired the.50 caliber artillery cannon at the Germans for an hour while entirely exposed and in danger of blowing up, halting the German assault and killing 50 Nazi soldiers. He sustained a leg injury. After serving in the military, Audie Murphy transitioned into acting and played himself in movies about combat, including “To Hell and Back” and “The Red Badge of Courage.”
Maj. Thomas B. McGuire, Jr., USAAF
Army Air Corps Maj. Thomas B. McGuire Jr. was legendary during World War II. In a relatively short period of time, the young pilot rose to become one of the top-scoring airmen in American history of air warfare. Over Christmas 1944, he was awarded the Medal of Honor thanks in part to his abilities and proficiency in the air.
McGuire’s parents subsequently divorced, and he went to Sebring, Florida, with his mother to spend his adolescent years playing a variety of musical instruments and developing a passion for fast cars. Additionally, after hearing tales from an uncle who served as a World War I pilot, he developed an interest in aviation.
McGuire attended the Georgia School of Technology (now Georgia Tech) to study aeronautical engineering after graduating from high school. But as World War II raged, he abandoned his third year of study in July 1941 to join the Army Air Corps. In February 1942, McGuire received his commission and wings after completing his fighter pilot training.
His initial task was to fly P-39 Airacobra patrols over Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. He developed his instincts as a pilot there, something that came easily to him. McGuire switched to flying the P-38 Lightning in December 1942. He wed Marilynn Giesler in the same month they first met while training in Texas.
McGuire offered his services to command a squadron of 15 P-38s on Christmas Day 1944 to defend heavy bombers assaulting a Japanese-controlled base over Luzon Island in the Philippines. 20 Japanese fighter aircraft attacked the formation as they were traveling there.
Even though he was frequently outnumbered three to one, McGuire regularly flew to the assistance of his beleaguered teammates and repelled opposing attacks. The hostile aircraft was eventually forced into his wingman’s field of fire despite the fact that at one point his weapons were jammed. By the time he turned around and returned to his base, he had shot down three Japanese Zeros.
On the 26th, McGuire led additional escort aircraft on a mission to Clark Field in Luzon, which the Japanese had stolen from the Americans earlier in the war when they invaded the Philippines. He shot down one plane while attempting to save a damaged bomber, then avoided four more hostile fighters while shooting down one of them. Before the mission was done, McGuire shot down two additional planes.
McGuire was declared lost in combat after 325 flights. In June 1949, his bones were ultimately discovered in the Los Negros woods next to a pineapple farm. He was brought back to the country and laid to rest in the Arlington National Cemetery.
However, McGuire’s aerial achievements had already received recognition before then. During a ceremony in Paterson, New Jersey on May 8, 1946, his wife collected the Medal of Honor on his behalf from Army Gen. George C. Kenney. In addition to the Distinguished Service Cross, three Silver Stars, six Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 15 Air Medals McGuire had already earned over his service, this distinction was added to his long list of honors.
Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller, USMC
Known as the most decorated US Marine in history, Lieutenant General Lewis “Chesty” Puller demonstrated across the world over his 37 years of Marine Corps service that he was as tough as they come. He participated in several conflicts and wars and was awarded the Silver Star, five Navy Crosses, and the Distinguished Service Cross for his efforts.
He participated in several conflicts and wars and was awarded the Silver Star, five Navy Crosses, and the Distinguished Service Cross for his efforts.
Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller joined the Marine Corps in 1918 but did not join World War I due to his late graduation from Officer Training Camp. He saw his first action fighting in Haiti (earning his first Navy Cross), then Nicaragua (earning his second Navy Cross), World War II (earning his third and fourth Navy Cross), and finally the Korean War (earning his record-breaking fifth Navy Cross, Silver Star, and Distinguished Service Cross).
“Chesty” Puller was a shining illustration of the man’s actual tenacity in Korea. He was in charge of the 1st Marine Regiment, which was isolated and besieged by many enemy divisions. Chesty led his forces past the encircling Communist fighters, destroying seven enemy divisions.