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The Most Decorated Soldiers in History 

We recount the daring tales of the bravest soldiers ever. Read about the most daring soldiers of WW1, WW2, The Vietnam War, and also those currently serving.

most decorated soldiers ever

Whether it is America or Britain, World War One, Two or anything that’s come since, in every war and conflict there are soldiers who carry out incredible acts of bravery. From saving lives to dodging bullets, these guys make sure no-one gets left behind.

Honoured with awards and medals for their courage, for the most daring of soldiers, the decorations soon start to stack up.

Putting the needs of others before themselves, these heroes have received so many medals for their selfless actions that they are considered the bravest soldiers in history.

Check out the crazy things that these badass soldiers did to become the most decorated soldiers ever!

Let’s do this in order, starting with World Wars One and Two, Vietnam and finishing with those currently serving.

The Most Decorated Soldiers WW1

Sergeant Alvin York

A religious pacifist who didn’t believe in killing another man, York was the least likely candidate for the most decorated U.S. soldier of World War One.

One of the most famous stories about York, is when a German Lieutenant put down his weapon, and surrendered himself and the 132 men under his command to York.

Sgt. York had shot six of the Lieutenant’s men, one after the other, on his own. The German Lieutentant had run out of ammunition trying to stop him. Sgt. York received the Medal of Honour for that feat – the highest U.S. military award for bravery

We have lots of detail about his experiences because he kept a diary throughout the war, which was turned into a book in 1922, and a film –Sergeant York– in 1941.

When we think about bravery on the battlefield, we forget about the medics who risk their lives to save their fellow soldiers, whilst under fire.

One of them is Britain’s most daring soldier of WW1.

Lance Corporal William Coltman

Lance Corporal William Coltman was famous for sticking to the motto – leave no-one behind. Coltman would stay on the battlefield until every man- whether injured or dead – was brought back to safety.

Serving on the Western Front, in No Man’s Land, this was no small thing. Coltman did not have a weapon and worked under constant enemy fire.

William Coltman

He once spent two days on the battlefield without a break, treating injured soldiers. When he finally took a rest, he heard that injured men had been left behind, so he went back and rescued them- on his own.

He even carried three men from the battlefield on his back– not once but three times!

William Coltman was never interested in the fame or the glory – he even snubbed the great party that was put on in his honour when he received the Victoria Cross. Instead, after leaving Buckingham Palace, he went straight home.

Lance Corporal William Coltman famously said that he hoped there would be a time when there were no wars and no-one needed to win a Victoria Cross.

What about the pilots? Don’t worry we haven’t forgotten about the aces in the sky.

A dogfight in the air, adds an extra level of impressiveness when you are looking at daring deeds during the war.

Read on to find out about these two most decorated flying aces of World War One.

Major Edward (Mick) Mannock

One of the first airmen to develop successful tactics for shooting planes out of the sky, top British Ace Edward Mannock, had 61 verified victories in the air.

After mastering the new art of dogfighting, his fame spread throughout the Allied troops. A respected trainer and flight commander, his mantra was:

“Gentlemen, always above; seldom on the same level; never underneath”

Mick never made it home.

He was blasted with gunfire, when he swooped low behind enemy lines, to check on a plane that he had just shot down.

His body was never found. Watch the video below to find out what happened. It’s a pretty amazing story that still divides opinion to this day.

His highest award was the Victoria Cross – the highest possible reward for acts of bravery in the British army.

Colonel Rene Fonck

Not only topping the list as the top flying ace for the Allied troops in the First World War, with 75 confirmed victories in the air, Fonck is still the greatest allied ace in history.

René Fonck wearing the Légion d'honneur

René Fonck wearing the Légion d’honneur

A mathematician with a background in engineering, Fonck was famous for his accuracy. He once shot three German planes out of the sky in five minutes. The original badass ace, Col. Fonck was never injured and his plane was only hit once!

Like an eagle he would watch his prey from high in the air, then dart down in front of them, shooting them at close range – a now classic dogfighting manoeuvre.

His greatest achievement was the Legion of Honour, the highest award for any French citizen.

Next lets’s take a look at the most badass soldiers from World War Two.

The Most Decorated Army Soldiers WW2

Major Audie Murphy

Desperate to join the army, Audie used fake ID to get into the U.S. army at the age of 16.

Known for going it alone, Audie would make sure the job was finished, even if it meant crawling out on his own to fire the last few shots. Again and again, Murphy would step out into the line of fire and show extreme courage.

One of his most famous decisions came after his friend was shot. Under continuous fire from the enemy in front of him, Audie launched a lone attack on the occupied house, killing six men, injuring two and capturing eleven.

Having received every U.S. military medal for his single-handed bravery (as well as awards from other countries), Major Murphy became a Hollywood actor when he was still only 19.

The greatest soldier of World War Two, even played himself in ‘To Hell and Back’ – a film about his experiences during the Second World War.

He died in a plane crash when he was 45 years old.

Major Murphy is the most decorated US soldier of World War Two.

Lieutenant Colonel Paddy Blair Mayne

An Irish rugby international and an amateur boxer, Robert “Paddy” Blair Mayne is credited as being the model for today’s SAS – the British army’s special forces unit. A highly respected hero, Paddy is known as the soldier’s soldier.

Paddy Mayne in Egypt, 1942

Paddy Mayne in Egypt, 1942

Unpopular with his superiors during the war, Lieutenant Colonel Paddy Mayne was known to go rogue and do things his way.

It is still seen as an injustice to this day, that Lieutenant Robert Mayne never received the Victoria Cross from his commanders.

Although he still received enough medals to make him Britain’s most highly decorated soldier of the Second World War, there is still an active campaign for Paddy to receive the Victoria Cross posthumously.

Now on to a very different war – the Vietnam War.

The Vietnam War

Staff Sergeant Joe Ronnie Hooper

Sergeant Joe Hooper was another soldier who did not leave any one behind.

Awarded many times for running into enemy fire to protect his troops and rescue injured soldiers, Sergeant Hooper’s courage rubbed off on the rest of his company. Hooper’s Company D were widely respected for fearlessly attacking the enemy whilst under fire.

Sergeant Ronnie Hooper is the most highly awarded soldier of the Vietnam War and one of the most internationally decorated soldiers in the world.

He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on February 21, 1968. While under heavy enemy fire he helped drag the wounded to safety. He was actually then seriously wounded himself but refused medical attention. He then led a charge to overthrow enemy positions and protect his men until evacuation the following morning. Despite suffering from serious loss of blood from his wounds he led his men against intense enemy attacks throughout the night.

It is easy to forget that are still brave soldiers out there fighting today.

Listen to why this is the most badass army soldier amongst those currently serving today.

The Most Decorated Solider Currently Serving

Corporal Joshua Leakey

After rescuing an injured soldier under relentless machine gun fire in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, British soldier Joshua shot 20 Taliban fighters – on his own. Inspired by Corporal Joshua Leakey’s courage, the rest of his troop ran back up the hill and joined the attack.

Corporal Leakey was awarded the Victoria Cross for his valour. The official VC citation can be read here.

Most Decorated US Soldier of Recent Times

Master-at-arms 2nd Class (SEAL) Michael Monsoor

Words fail for the selfless act of US Navy SEAL, Michael Monsoor, in 2006, when he saved his two fellow soldiers.

Killed as he threw himself onto a grenade that landed in front of him and his two sniper team members, Michael was killed instantly.

The USS Michael Monsoor is a guided missile destroyer that was named in his honour by the U.S. Navy.

He was awarded the Medal of Honour for his valour.

If you are wondering who holds the title for the most decorated soldier ever?

The answer is:

Audie Murphy.

So there we have it, the most celebrated soldiers in the world. The bravest men in history who put the needs of others before themselves. In the words of the much-loved military song ‘Only Remembered’:

‘These shall pass onwards when we are forgotten

Only remembered for what we have done.

What does it take to become the most highly decorated soldier in the world? Does it matter that Lieutenant Paddy Mayne be awarded the Victoria Cross?

Do today’s battles with all their technology stand up against the battles of the past? What do you think? Add your opinion below!

To hear a story about a daring but much less honorable person, check out our latest post on a famous prison escape artist.

There’s also a great story about a certain famous gangsters wife….

Image Sources:

William Coltman Link

Rene Fonck

Paddy Mayne : photo MH 24415 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

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