The American Legion Voted for America's Top 25 Most Beloved Veterans

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(U.S. Army)

The U.S. has no shortage of famous and beloved veterans. In the relatively short history of the country, it has given its fighting men and women ample opportunity to distinguish themselves.

In 2014, the American Legion, the largest veterans service organization with hundreds of thousands of posts and 2.3 million members, polled its members to find out which historical veterans are the most "beloved." Legionnaires were not shy about their responses.

Some 70,000 votes came in for a pool of 100 potential candidates. The Legion compiled the information to make the following list of America's most beloved veterans, which contains a good mix of historical figures, modern-day heroes and a few surprises. See whether you agree with the Legionnaires' choices below.

1. Audie Murphy

(Library of Congress)

It's not so hard to believe that the most decorated combat soldier of World War II -- and maybe ever -- tops the list of America's most beloved veterans. Murphy is the recipient of every combat award the Army had to give and a couple of combat awards from France and Belgium to boot. He received the Medal of Honor for single-handedly fighting a company of Germans in France's Colmar Pocket for an hour at just 19 years old.

Murphy went on to star as himself in a movie about his own life and World War II experiences, adapted from the book he wrote about himself. That movie was just one in a string of film appearances spanning 21 years. He died in a plane crash in 1971.

2. George Washington

(Library of Congress)

George Washington comes in at No. 2 on the list of beloved veterans, and just judging from his military experiences, it's easy to see why. He survived smallpox, tuberculosis, dysentery, pneumonia, malaria and diphtheria. He's had horses shot from under him, holes shot in his uniform and didn't care about winning the battle when that win would cost him the war. He defeated a global superpower because he commanded respect, and we made him president for it.

Knowing his strengths and weaknesses made Washington the best America had to offer. He knew to inoculate his men against smallpox, paid for his army out of his own pocket when necessary and stopped a mutiny by putting on his freaking glasses. It brought people to tears, and if that's not love, what is?

3. Theodore Roosevelt

(Library of Congress)

Everything about Theodore Roosevelt is larger than life. Before becoming president, he raised his own regiment of volunteers to invade Cuba, where he would later receive a posthumous Medal of Honor for the Battle of San Juan Hill. As president, he instituted physical fitness standards for the troops, and when they complained, he showed them it was possible.

After a presidency that earned him a Nobel Peace Prize, defined the first part of the 20th century and turned the U.S. into a global naval power, he tried to raise another regiment to fight in World War I at age 60. Had the U.S. president not been a political opponent, he might have gone to France with the American Expeditionary Force.

4. Alvin York

(Library of Congress)

Sgt. Alvin York epitomized the typical World War I soldier, but he was elevated to fame for his gallantry on the battlefields of France. A Tennessee farmer's son, he was drafted by the Army and tried to claim conscientious objector status. He was eventually convinced his religion didn't forbid serving, and he found himself on his way to Europe.

York received the Medal of Honor for leading an assault on German machine gun positions, knocking out 35 of them while taking 132 prisoners during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The reluctant soldier became an international hero. The movie about York's exploits became the top film of the day as the U.S. entered World War II.

5. George S. Patton

(U.S. Army)

Being a standout as a World War II-era general is no easy feat, given the big names who led American troops into combat during that war. There's a good reason Gen. George S. Patton would top most people's lists, and it's not just his pre-battle speeches. He reinvigorated the U.S. Army in North Africa, turning the war against the Axis powers and then helped wreck the Germans in Sicily.

Even while he wasn't in the field, his presence elsewhere was enough to keep the Germans from reinforcing their defenses at Normandy at the most crucial moment of the war. When he finally did join the war in Europe, the only thing that could keep Patton from advancing was supply shortages.

6. Dwight D. Eisenhower

(Library of Congress)

Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower is something of a military anomaly. Though graduating from West Point in 1915, and despite repeated requests, Ike never saw a day of combat. Still, he was the right man for the job, learning lessons with every amphibious landing, every major operation and every political leader who voiced a concern about how he carried out the war.

Eisenhower was required to be not just a military commander, but also a diplomat, military governor and a visionary for the future. He not only oversaw Operation Overlord, the invasion of occupied Europe, he also led the disarmament of Nazi Germany, the documentation of the concentration camps and the containment of Soviet communism.

7. Norman Schwarzkopf

(U.S. Army)

Despite descending from a storied military family and being the architect of one of the greatest military victories of all time, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf did not glorify war. After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy in 1956, he received two Silver Stars and a Purple Heart during his first tour in Vietnam. In his second tour in Vietnam, he received his reputation for leading from the front and a famously short temper.

Schwarzkopf served as deputy commander for the invasion of Grenada in 1983, but his rise to national fame came in 1991 when he planned and led Operation Desert Storm. It was the largest and most complex invasion since the invasion of Normandy in 1944. Moreover, he changed the way news media covered the war, allowing journalists more access and conducting regular press briefings.

8. Robert E. Lee

Rober E. Lee early in his military career. (U.S. Army)

While some may disagree with the idea that Robert E. Lee isn't really an American veteran, the American Legion included Lee on its list of potential candidates and people voted for him. The commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, Lee was the most painful thorn in the side of the Union Army for most of the Civil War, and when Lee surrendered, the rest of the Confederacy soon followed.

Before joining the rebel army, Lee was the son of Revolutionary War hero Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee III, a graduate of West Point and a 32-year Army veteran who fought in the Mexican-American War. The estate he left behind to join the Confederacy is today known as Arlington National Cemetery.

9. Jimmy Doolittle

(U.S. Army)

At the beginning of World War II, the U.S. had little to celebrate. The attack on Pearl Harbor didn't have the devastating effect the Imperial Japanese navy hoped it would, but the Axis was advancing on all fronts. Americans were inundated with bad news. Then, on April 18, 1942, 16 B-25B Mitchell bombers did the impossible.

Taking off from an aircraft carrier with no means of returning home, the U.S. Army Air Forces, under the command of Lt. Col. James Doolittle, bombed military and industrial targets in Tokyo, Yokohama, Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe and Osaka. The raids had little effect on war production, but brought the war home to the Japanese people, a huge propaganda victory that raised American morale at home. Doolittle was promoted two grades and received the Medal of Honor.

10. Ulysses S. Grant

(Library of Congress)

In 1863, the Union Army was fighting for its life, but by Independence Day of that year, everything would change. The Union Army won the Battle of Gettysburg, ending the Confederate invasion of the North, but an even more important victory happened in the West. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant captured Vicksburg, Mississippi, splitting the Confederacy in two.

Grant was the aggressive commander President Abraham Lincoln had been searching for since the Civil War began. Lincoln created the new rank of lieutenant general for Grant and gave him command of the Union Army. Grant immediately went on the offensive, defeating the rebels less than two years later.

11. Jimmy Stewart

(Library of Congress)

World War II was an interesting time to be in the military. It was a time when every American had something to contribute, and all contributions were desperately needed. Hollywood stars were not exempt. Yet, where many stars took lighter assignments or roles in making pro-war films, some, like Jimmy Stewart, fought to get to the front. He would become the highest-ranking actor ever to serve.

Stewart was already a big star, releasing "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and "The Philadelphia Story" before the war. He put his career on hold to fly missions over Hitler's Europe, receiving a Distinguished Service Cross and five Air Medals. He stayed in the Air Force Reserve for 27 years, even flying a mission in Vietnam and retiring as a brigadier general.

12. Doris "Dorie" Miller

(U.S. Navy)

Dorie Miller joined the Navy in 1939, at a time when very few career options were available to Black recruits. He became a mess attendant, which was the only rating he could get. After a stint on an ammunition ship, he was transferred to the USS West Virginia, a Colorado-class battleship.

While he was a messman, he was also the ship's heavyweight champion boxer, and his size led to gunnery training aboard the USS Nevada, training that would be crucial on Dec. 7, 1941. That morning, he woke up to the Japanese attacking the fleet. After first helping the ship's captain, Miller jumped on a .50-caliber gun crew and began returning fire on the planes and downing two.

Miller was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions at Pearl Harbor, but he would not survive the war. He was aboard the escort carrier Liscome Bay when it was torpedoed by the Japanese in November 1943.

13. Michael Murphy

(U.S. Navy)

Michael Murphy was a college graduate looking at law schools in 2000, but joined the Navy instead. He became a SEAL and graduated from training in November 2001, in time to join American troops in fighting the Global War on Terrorism. By 2005, he was an experienced officer on his way to Afghanistan.

While there, he was part of the team conducting surveillance of Taliban leader Ahmad Shah as part of Operation Red Wings in remote areas of the country's Kunar Province. Their presence was uncovered by local goat herders who alerted the Taliban. Under attack and outnumbered, Murphy got a message to friendly forces to retrieve the SEAL team, but it cost him his life.

Two others were killed in the fighting, and 16 more special operators were killed when their helicopter tried to retrieve the besieged SEAL team.

14. Eddie Rickenbacker

(Library of Congress)

Eddie Rickenbacker was a self-taught engineer, World War I ace, race car champion, artist and entrepreneur. At the outbreak of World War I for the U.S., he wanted to put together a flying squadron made up entirely of race car drivers. Although that failed, he visited wartime France with Gen. John J. Pershing. The experience led him to enlist while in France.

He began his career as a driver for officers, but soon became the chief engineer of an airfield in France. Eventually, his superiors allowed him to learn to fly at a local flying school. It turned out he was really good at it. By 1918, he was in gunnery school and would finally become a pursuit pilot.

His first sortie came in April 1918, and his first shootdown of an enemy aircraft came two weeks later. In the seven months between his first mission and the armistice that ended World War I, Rickenbacker would shoot down 26 enemy planes and return home a hero.

15. Chris Kyle

(Cpl. Damien Gutierrez/U.S. Marine Corps)

Alternately known as either "The Legend" or "The Devil of Ramadi," depending on which side of the Iraq War you were on, Chris Kyle was a Navy SEAL who served four deployments to Iraq, where he was one of the deadliest snipers of the war and provided overwatch for U.S. Marines. He recounted his time as a sniper in his 2012 book, "American Sniper."

Kyle dedicated a lot of time, effort and money toward helping disabled veterans and vets suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder during his post-military career. Tragically, Kyle and friend Chad Littlefield were killed by one of those veterans while shooting at a gun range in 2013. A memorial to Kyle was dedicated in Odessa, Texas, in 2016.

16. The Four Chaplains

(U.S. Army)

In January 1943, the SS Dorchester left New York Harbor in a fleet of other troop and cargo ships, along with Coast Guard escorts. It was bound for Greenland, but would never make it. On Feb. 3, it was torpedoed by the German U-boat U-233. Only 230 of the 904 passengers and crew would survive the attack and their time in the freezing waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Four U.S. military chaplains, Methodist minister George L. Fox, Reformed Church in America minister Clark V. Poling, Catholic Church priest John P. Washington and Rabbi Alexander B. Goode were also aboard. They died helping troops get into lifeboats and gave up their own life jackets to save others. It's said they joined arms and sang as they went down with the ship.

17. Pat Tillman

(U.S. Army)

Pat Tillman was a star linebacker for the Arizona State University Sun Devils and was drafted by the NFL's Arizona Cardinals as a safety in 1998. After the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Tillman famously finished his contracted 2001 season with the Cardinals, turned down a $3.6 million contract extension and joined the U.S. Army.

He deployed to Iraq as part of the initial U.S.-led invasion before attending Ranger training at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 2003. He was then deployed to Afghanistan. In 2004, he was killed in action. Tillman's death was originally attributed to enemy fire, but a 2007 report found that he was instead killed by friendly fire.

18. Douglas MacArthur

(U.S. Army)

Gen. Douglas MacArthur was a legend in U.S. military circles long before World War II. He served at Veracruz, fought in World War I, expelled the Bonus Army and became the youngest-ever major general. In World War II, he escaped capture by the Japanese in the Philippines, famously promising: "I shall return."

He did return and helped fight the Japanese Army there as the war was wrapping up. MacArthur was the principal planner of the United Nations' response to the communist invasion of South Korea. While the UN fought for its life at the Pusan Perimeter, he launched the daring Incheon Landing, which forced the communist army to crumble. Eventually, MacArthur's public statements led to his firing by President Harry S. Truman, and the old soldier faded away.

19. John F. Kennedy

(U.S. Navy)

Before becoming president, John F. Kennedy joined the Navy and became commander of a patrol torpedo boat in the Pacific Theater. One night, during the Solomon Islands Campaign of 1943, his boat was rammed by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri, which completely destroyed it, killing two of its crew.

The others might have died, too, if not for Kennedy directing them to nearby islands and towing wounded crew members, pulling their life jacket strap with his clenched teeth for miles at a stretch. Kennedy moved his crew this way between two islands and swam to look for aid on two others. Eventually they found a canoe with supplies and native coastwatchers, who would go and find help from friendly forces.

20. Billy Mitchell

(Library of Congress)

Have you ever believed so strongly in something you were willing to risk your entire career over the issue. That’s Billy Mitchell’s primary claim to fame. The Spanish-American War and World War I veteran was positioned as deputy director of the Army Air Service, where he argued that air power was the future of naval combat, and even proved it in an exercise.

Despite the proof, the U.S. military still invested in warships instead of aviation technology, a move Mitchell called “almost treasonable.” For his efforts, he was court martialed and stripped of the temporary rank of brigadier general. He left the military as a colonel. It wasn’t until after his death that his efforts were recognized and rewarded.

21. John Paul Jones

(U.S. Navy)

"The Father of the American Navy" began his career as a Scottish merchant but was forced to flee Great Britain for the Americas after killing a mutineer aboard one of his ships. When it came time for the colonies to declare independence, he joined the Continental Navy, attacking British ships from French ports.

Although he brought the war to English shores by raiding the town of Whitehaven, his most famous battle pitted his former merchant ship, the 42-gun USS Bonhomme Richard against the 44-gun British frigate Serapis at the Battle of Flamborough Head. Jones' ship couldn't match British firepower so he locked the ships together and fought the British until they surrendered. The Bonhomme Richard was destroyed, but Jones took command of the Serapis and sailed for safety.

22. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson

Thomas J. Jackson before the Civil War. (U.S. Army)

Jackson is the second Confederate to make the list of America's most beloved veterans. Before joining the Confederacy, Jackson was a West Point graduate who distinguished himself in the Mexican-American War. He refused an order to withdraw from Chapultepec Castle, just outside of Mexico City, and then refused to fire into a crowd of civilians, both of which he believed were bad orders.

During the Civil War, he soundly defeated the Union Army from the outskirts of Richmond to the Shenandoah Valley. President Lincoln declared Jackson's defeat to be a high Union priority. Still, it would be Jackson's own troops who delivered his death blow, shooting him after mistaking the general and his entourage for a Union cavalry force.

23. Bruce Crandall

(White House Photo)

The 1965 Battle of Ia Drang was one of the most intense firefights of the Vietnam War, using large-scale helicopter air assault and B-52 Stratofortress bombers as tactical support for the first time ever. To mitigate this, the North Vietnamese engaged the Americans at close range, focused around two helicopter landing zones.

One of the helicopter pilots flying into the maelstrom at Ia Drang's Landing Zone X-Ray was Bruce Crandall, who led 22 flights in and out of the LZ to bring the soldiers more ammunition while evacuating the wounded, all under intense close-range enemy fire. He is credited with saving 70 wounded troops from the fighting. He was originally awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, but in 2007, it was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

24. Omar Bradley

(U.S. Army)

There's a reason Omar Bradley was known as "The G.I.'s General." Before he attended West Point, he worked as a boilermaker in rural Missouri. His humble background led him to use the same gear, eat the same food and sleep in the same conditions as his men, even as he led them through North Africa, Sicily, Normandy and into occupied Europe during World War II.

After the war ended, he became the Army chief of staff and later chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before becoming the last officer to pin on a five-star general's rank. Bradley was also the highest-ranking military officer during the Korean War. He officially retired after the Korean War ended.

25. Lewis "Chesty" Puller

(U.S. Marine Corps)

Still the Marine Corps' favorite Marine, Chesty Puller rounds out the list of most beloved veterans at No. 25. Although he's perhaps best known for his actions (and quotes) from his time in World War II and the Korean War, his service began in the Marine Corps occupations of Nicaragua and Haiti in 1918.

Puller arrived in the Pacific Theater in 1942, with his previous service adequately preparing him for island fighting. He led Marines at Guadalcanal in 1943, New Guinea and Peleliu in 1944. In Korea, he was the commander of the 1st Marine Regiment and fought in the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir.

Over his career, he earned five Navy Crosses, an Army Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star, two Legions of Merit, a Bronze Star, three Air Medals and a Purple Heart, just to name a few. It's no wonder Marines are still wishing Chesty Puller goodnight.

-- Blake Stilwell would like to remind you he didn't create this and is only repeating what others voted on. He can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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