War is crazy, but in this feature, we’ll get even crazier. Typically, fighting forces are made up of the best and brightest young men from either side (and women, in this enlightened age), but sometimes very unusual soldiers make their way into the ranks. Here’s a gallery of ten of the weirdest.
Pvt. Deborah Sampson
The Revolutionary War marked the emergence of a new player on the national stage, and the new United States proved its willingness to change the rules on multiple fronts. One soldier willing to give his life for the newborn country was Pvt. Franklin Thompson, a young man who hailed from Plymouth. In 1778, he enlisted in the Light Infantry Division of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment and fought in several skirmishes, being wounded at a battle outside of Tarrytown. While being treated for fever after a battle in Pennsylvania, the doctor treating Thompson discovered his secret — he was actually a woman, Deborah Sampson, who had disguised herself as a man to fight for her country.
Wojtek The Bear
In 1942, a boy found a bear cub in Iran. That cub would grow up to be one of the most unique soldiers in the Polish army. Wojtek, as the little guy was named, was bought by an old woman who donated him to the Army in Egypt, where he was fed condensed milk from a vodka bottle and learned to salute on cue. When the regiment shipped out to Italy, the little bear was denied passage due to his civilian status, so on the spot he was officially drafted as a private. Wojtek even served in combat by carrying crates of ammunition, and the logo of the 22nd Transport Division is a bear carrying an artillery shell to this day.
Sure, gender divisions in combat troops are less of a thing now, but back in the 1940s it was a different era. So when Russian woman Lyudmila Pavlichenko volunteered to fight the Huns in WWII only to be told she would be better suited to field nursing, she took things into her own hands. Pavlichenko became a sniper instead, wielding her Tokarev SVT-70 to cut down 309 enemy combatants while stationed near Odessa and the Crimean Peninsula. She wasn’t the only female Russian sniper, but she was by far the deadliest.
Adrian Carton de Wiart
Injuries are a part of warfare, but few soldiers have been as decimated by battle and lived to tell the tale quite like Adrian Carton de Wiart. The British army officer saw action in the Boer War, WWI and WWII and by the end of it had racked up a list of injuries that will make you cringe — survived two plane crashes, was shot in the face, stomach, leg, ear and multiple other locations, and more. The grisliest moment came in 1915, when he was shot in the left hand and a doctor refused to amputate his unmoving fingers. De Wiart grabbed them in an iron grip and pulled them off himself, and then re-entered the fray. Amazingly, he lived to the ripe old age of 83.
Bamse The Dog
One of the most iconic fighting dogs of all time, Bamse was a St. Bernard who served on the crew of the coastal patrol vessel Thorodd, which kept the Norwegian waters safe from Axis incurstion. Bamse was an inspiration to all who sailed with him — during firefights, the brave dog would position himself on the boat’s front gun tower wearing a specially crafted metal helmet to protect him from bullets. His acts of valor are numerous, including saving a crew mate’s life by pushing a knife-wielding attacker into the sea. When he died in 1944, he was buried with full military honors.
It takes all kinds to make an army, and the career of Tommy Keele is a perfect example. Lance Corporal Keele was a dabbler in drama before his enlisted life, and while serving in World War I Keele joined the Ace of Spades — as a girl. Calling himself “Dot Keele,” Tommy took on the female parts for this acting troupe that kept morale up behind enemy lines, and for the duration of the conflict he spent a good majority of his time in drag. Straight as an arrow, Keele fended off advances from closeted homosexuals, proclaiming that he was only doing it to keep his fighting cohorts in good spirits to defend England.
Sergeant Stubby The Dog
Most animal soldiers get their rank through the whims of superior officers, but Sgt. Stubby earned his stripes the old fashioned way — through battle. The Boston Terrier was smuggled to the European Theatre during World War I and served with the 102nd Infantry, performing a number of invaluable tasks. His sensitive nose could detect mustard gas before humans, he warned his battalion of incoming mustard gas attacks and he once allegedly caught a German spy by the seat of his pants. By the end of the war, he had won dozens of medals for his service.
Patriotism runs hot in the veins of even the very young, which is what drove Sidney Lewis to enlist in the British army during World War I at the age of just twelve years old. The youngest documented soldier of the entire war, Lewis was shipped to France and fought in the Battle of the Somme, which saw 60,000 Brits wounded or killed. Just a few months after he enlisted, his mother heard from an acquaintance where he was and immediately protested to have him returned. Lewis came back home and re-enlisted when he reached legal age seven years later.
Most soldiers are more than eager for hostilities to end so they can get back to their family. Japanese intelligence office Hiroo Onoda, though — that’s another story. After being posted on the island of Lubang in the Philippines with explicit orders not to surrender or commit suicide, Onoda camped out in the mountains for 29 years after the end of hostilities. It was only in 1974 when a Japanese writer found him alive and brought back his superior officer to relive him from duty that Onoda turned over his rifle and sword and returned to civilian life.
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William Windsor The Goat
The British let all kinds of animals into the ranks, but the most recent bizarre recruit was a goat named William Windsor, who managed to rise to the post of Lance Corporal. Apparently there’s a long tradition of combat goats in the British Army, and in 2001, Queen Elizabeth herself presented William to the First Battalion. His primary duties are marching at the head of the battalion. At a deployment in Cyprus, Billy was temporarily demoted to fusilier due to poor marching and trying to head-butt a drummer, but he recovered his rank a few months after. Yes, this is all very ridiculous.