The WWII Fighter Pilot Who Refused To Die
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18 Days Of Hell
Aleksey Maresyev was a Soviet fighter pilot during WWII. Maresyev, in one way or another, is one of the historical figures that aren’t as well known around the world – even though he had quite a remarkable story during his deployment.
The young pilot first saw action in August 1941 and managed to shoot down six German planes in just six months. However, his luck would end on April 5, 1942, when his Yak-1 was hit by the Luftwaffe, forcing his aircraft to crash into a forest behind German lines.
With his plane in pieces, Maresyev remained alive but in terrible condition. Both his legs were damaged, yet he still managed to crawl away before German forces found the wreckage.
And so Maresyev crawled for another 18 days until he arrived in Soviet-controlled territory. Most remarkably, he did this with open wounds on both legs, limited food, and only a knife to protect himself. Maresyev ate bark and pinecones for food and relied on rivers for fresh water.
Unfortunately, his legs were gangrenous and frostbitten when he arrived, forcing doctors to amputate his legs. Maresyev received prosthetic legs and was told his flying career was over.
Much to their surprise, Maresyev spent months training to walk again with his artificial legs with one goal in mind – go back in the air.
His persistence paid off a year later when he was cleared to fly again. In total, Aleksey Maresyev flew 86 combat sorties and claimed 11 German kills. He would later receive the Hero of the Soviet Union award, the highest military decoration in the country.