By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer
The history of warfare is often tragic, but it’s also filled with heroes and heroines risking their lives to protect others. As countries mark the 70th anniversary of World War II ending September 2, 1945, the USA’s military continues to inspire people with its bravery and sacrifices. On August 21, as two women became the first females to ever graduate from Army Ranger School, three Americans helped thwart a French train attack by subduing a gunman.
After surviving an intense 61-day course described as “the most physically and mentally demanding leadership school the Army has to offer”, Captain Kristen Marie Griest and First Lieutenant Shaye Lynne Haver made history as the first women to complete Ranger School. The brutal training teaches small-unit tactics, to students selected from the USA Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and foreign military services.
Completing the program requires surviving three phases, known as the Fort Benning Phase, Mountain Phase, and Florida Phase. Grueling activities include a 5-mile release run event completed in 40 minutes or less, a 12-mile foot march, ship to shore operations, and rugged terrain challenges. Many of these obstacles must be overcome while carrying upwards of 100 pounds of gear through places like mountains and swamps, while eating no more than 1 or 2 meals a day and suffering from lack of sleep. In fact, students often lose 20 to 30 pounds finishing Ranger School! Although Griest and Haver can wear a Ranger Tab on their uniforms, they still can’t join the Ranger regiment, which is closed to females for the rest of the year. The course was opened to them experimentally, because the Pentagon (America’s military headquarters) has ordered all occupations opened to women after this year.
On the same day that the two real-life G.I. Janes celebrated their tremendous accomplishment, an Islamic gunman named Ayoub El-Khazzani boarded a train in France to attack innocents. French President Francois Hollande awarded his nation’s highest honor, the Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur (“Knight of the Legion of Honour”) to a group of brave citizens who tackled El-Khazzani and wrested the gun away from him. Among the heroes were three Americans, including 22-year-old Oregon Army National Guard Specialist Alek Skarlatos (who was on holiday after deployment in Afghanistan), 23-year-old Air Force Airman First Class Spencer Stone, and 23-year-old Sacramento State senior Anthony Sadler (a high school classmate of Stone). You can see them standing proudly beside Hollande in the feature image above. Stone was also nominated for the Airman’s Medal, which is the highest honor in the Air Force and is ranked above the Purple Heart (a prestigious decoration awarded to those wounded or killed while serving). He may also be eligible for the Purple Heart if the attack is ruled as a terrorist event by French officials.
These are but a handful of the heroes and heroines who protect America’s interests at home and abroad, on a daily basis, in places ranging from the Middle East to South Korea. Modern soldiers may not be battling a global war like veterans from World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945), but they are part of a legendary fighting force that has beaten many would-be conquerors and tyrants.
On September 2, 1945, World War II ended with the defeat of the Axis powers (Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Hirohito’s Empire of Japan, and Benito Mussolini’s fascist Italy). The main Allied leaders who battled the Axis forces with their military might were British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Chinese Chairman Chiang Kai-shek, and Soviet Union dictator Joseph Stalin.
After Hitler took over neighboring countries like Czechoslovakia, he ignited World War II on September 1, 1939 when his armies invaded Poland. This led to the British and French governments joining forces to stand up to Germany, whose Nazi soldiers responded by taking over France and controlling it from 1940 to 1944.
The tide began to turn against the Axis powers when they lost the Battle of Stalingrad in southern Russia, where the Soviet “Red Army” outlasted the largest military invasion force in history. Soon thereafter, the Allies slowly took back western Europe with the Invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. This date is known as D-Day, when the biggest amphibious invasion ever stormed the Nazis in France.
Germany eventually surrendered on May 8, 1945, a week after Hitler took his own life, and this event is celebrated yearly as Victory in Europe Day. Japan held out for another few months, until America dropped nuclear bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9. They agreed to surrender on August 15 and formally signed the surrender on September 2, thus officially ending World War II. Featured image courtesy of the Présidence de la République. Image of Griese courtesy of the Army and Staff Sgt. Steve Cortez.