World War II is a defining period of the twentieth century. It had brought the world to its knees with thousands of casualties, billions of dollar-worth of infrastructure destruction, and a catalyst of trauma that would affect generations to come. It was a dark time, plagued with fear, chaos, violence, and deaths on a scale that had never been seen before. Despite this, many have risen to the occasion, both combatants and non-combatants alike, to fight against evil and reinstate peace.

While much has been written about successful campaigns and decisive battles by brilliant and venerable high-ranking officials, what made the Second World War ultimately see its end likewise can be greatly attributed to the millions of young, ordinary teens and young adults who gave up their youth to fight for freedom and peace across the globe.

Here are some incredible, courageous tales of soldiers who fought and made a significant impact during the world’s deadliest war in history.

ww2 heroes
(From left to right) Lachhiman Gurung, Adrian Carton de Wiart, and Calvin Leon Graham. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Lachhiman Gurung

The man who single-handedly took out 200 enemy soldiers, literally—considering the Nepalese-British Gurkha (synonymous with “Nepali”)—had only one hand after losing the other from a grenade explosion.

Lachhiman Gurung is one of the 13 Gurkha warriors who received the prestigious British Victorian Cross for heroic gallantry during World War II. Born in a small village in Nepal, a young Gurung spontaneously enlisted for the British Indian Army in an apocryphal story that many find too good to be true. Allegedly, a father “sent out his son to buy some cigarettes at the village shop one morning, returned five years later with a blind eye, minus his right hand, and wearing the Victorian Cross—but without the cigarettes.”

While running errands in the morning of 1940, Gurung met a friend and learned about urgently enlisting in the British Army as part of the Gurkha Rifles to prepare for a looming war. In normal circumstances, the young adult would not pass due to his inefficient height, but as the pressing times needed as many able-bodied men as possible, he was accepted.

On that fateful night, Gurung was part of a three-man squad on guard duty at the platoon’s most forward position on a small hill when 200 Japanese infantry launched a surprise attack. Despite being outnumbered, Gurung and his fellow soldiers held their position and defended it as best as possible. Just like those edge-of-the-seat moments we often see in movies, Gurung tossed back two grenades that landed near them. Unfortunately, the third grenade exploded before he could pick it up, which resulted in severe injuries to his comrades and himself. He was covered in his own crimson and practically struggling to see with only one eye left, but seeing his fellow soldiers lying helplessly and in terrible pain on the ground ignited a raging fire in him. With one arm left, he grabbed his bolt-action rifle and annihilated the attackers that came in waves. That solo battle stretched for hours and eventually days. It was unclear how the man survived with the obvious detriment, but reinforcements who arrived later had been emboldened after seeing the incredible fighting spirit of the Gurkha rifleman. Gurung took down 31 of the 87 Japanese soldiers who attacked that day, significantly contributing to the latter’s failed invasion attempt.

Gerhard Reinhardt

A young Gerhard Reinhardt joined the German resistance shortly after the Nazis took the reins in the country in 1933. Eventually, he was captured and sent to prison three years later and was forced to fight in a penal battalion between 1939 and 1942. He finally had his chance of escape in 1942, deserting his post and joining the Greek partisans, where he firmly campaigned for anti-fascism ideologies and, later, his so-called “the second round of Greek freedom” after 1967.