1. Marine Brian Chontosh’s incredible response to an Iraqi ambush
Working Title: Killing Up Close
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Tom Hardy
Hollywood has a reputation for embellishing “true stories” with an extra dose of drama, special effects, and too-beautiful-to-be-real actors. “Brian Chontosh: The Movie,” however, would require no exaggeration — this story of military valor is unbelievably badass from start to finish.
Then-Lt. Brian Chontosh was a Marine platoon leader during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. On the morning of March 25, he was sitting shotgun in a Humvee when a large berm appeared in the distance. Before he and his men knew what was happening, Iraqi soldiers began showering the vehicle detail with machine gun fire, grenades and mortars from behind the shelter — instantly killing a medic and damaging a tank.
Most people would try to organize a hasty exit at this point. Not Brian Chontosh. As bullets and explosives screamed past their Humvee, Chontosh ordered driver Cpl. Armand McCormick to drive forward, straight through the berm. McCormick floored it as another Marine, Cpl. Thomas Franklin, manned the Humvee’s .50-caliber machine gun, crashing through the obstruction and into the trench on the opposite side.
As Iraqi soldiers began to swarm the Humvee, Chontosh swung out of his vehicle guns-a-blazing, firing from his pistol and rifle until he was out of bullets. Iraqi soldiers dropped dead left and right, and Chontosh continued to pull the trigger, machine gun fire clouding his senses as he pushed his way through the maw. It was the first time he had ever killed anyone.
“It’s nothing like TV,” Chontosh told Newsweek. “It’s ugly. It’s contorted. People fall how they fall. It’s not like the bullet hits and they’re blown back or anything like that.”
When his rifle jammed, Chontosh ripped an AK-47 off of a dead Iraqi, unloading every bullet in it before picking up a second AK as he ran, shooting everything he could. By the end of the battle, he would shoot and kill nearly two-dozen Iraqis single-handedly. At this point the exhausted Marine finally reconnected with his men and headed back towards the Humvee, when they noticed an Iraqi soldier huddled on the ground, playing dead but holding a grenade.
The men scrambled for weapons but were out of ammo. Amazingly, Chontosh saw a cluster of live M-16 rounds glinting in the dirt, where they had fallen when his rifle jammed. He dove for the rounds, loaded a single bullet — and shot the soldier in the head, saving himself and his men. Can you imagine that scene on an IMAX screen?
If that’s not Hollywood-blockbuster enough for you, they still had to get medical help for the Marines who had been wounded. Oh, and a sandstorm rolled in. Totally casual.
Chontosh would later be awarded the Navy Cross and two Bronze Stars for heroism, and is currently considered one of the top CrossFit athletes in the world. If that isn’t prime movie material, we don’t know what is. Your move, Hollywood.
2. The story of Larry Thorne’s military valor under three different flags
Working Title: Soldier Under Three Flags
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Aaron Paul
Have you ever watched a movie that you loved so much you didn’t want it to end? This is that movie — and don’t worry about a short running time, either. Lauri Törni’s story is filled with so many twists and turns that even a conservative film adaptation would give The Hobbit’s running time a run for its money — so maybe a two-part series would be best.
Törni’s story begins in Finland in 1938, when he joined the army at 19 years old, determined to fight the Soviet Union. It didn’t take long for his natural leadership skills and military instincts to shine, and he was soon promoted to captain — of a skiing troop. Törni and his men would pursue their enemies on skis, kicking up powder on the Finnish slopes. Is anyone else thinking of that chase scene from The Grand Budapest Hotel? Just add guns and Soviet Russians.
Everything was going great until Törni skied into a mine in 1942, leaving him badly wounded. The young soldier was soon back on his feet, however, and would later be honored with the Mannerheim Cross for his war efforts (the Finnish equivalent of the Medal of Honor).
But Törni wasn’t ready to give up the fighting — though he would give up his Finnish uniform. When Finland agreed to a ceasefire with the Soviet Union in 1944, he decided to switch teams to keep up with the action, joining the German SS for the promise of future combat against the Communists.
Unfortunately, as we know, Törni picked the wrong team. When the war ended, he was arrested by British forces for being a Nazi officer. Didn’t think the protagonist was going to get tangled up with the bad guys, did you? But he wasn’t in prison for long. Törni successfuly escaped his POW camp and snuck back into Finland, where, unfortunately, he was arrested again, this time by his own people. Things really went downhill after that skiing accident.
Luckily, however, the president of Finland had a soft spot for this adventurous turncoat, and Törni only served half his sentence before he was pardoned and released in 1948.
But wait, the story’s not over. In June of 1950, America would pass a law that would create an opportunity for foreigners to serve under the U.S. military, granting them citizenship if they stuck with it for five years. It was called the Lodge-Philbin Act, and it came right around the same time a new military unit was created — The Special Forces.
Törni, along with 200 other Eastern Europeans, joined the American military under this law. This wasn’t merely an opportunity to continue military service, however — the Soviet Union forced Finland to arrest Törni for his time fighting alongside the Nazis. When he found out he would be shipped to Moscow and tried for war crimes, Törni knew it was time to get out of dodge and start a new life. So he escaped — again — and changed his name to Larry Thorne, ready to embrace an American identity.
Not surprisingly, Thorne thrived in his new military environment. Originally enlisting as a private, he was quickly singled out for his skill and experience, and began teaching at the Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, where he instructed recruits on guerrilla fighting tactics and survival skills. Soon after, he would become a Captain in Special Forces, and successfully retrieved classified documents from a U.S. Air Force plane that went down in the mountains near the Turkish-Soviet border.
The U.S. Army details:
Thorne quickly made it into the U.S. Special Forces and in 1962, as a Captain, he led his detachment onto the highest mountain in Iran to recover the bodies and classified material from an American C-130 airplane that had crashed. It was a mission in which others had failed, but Thorne’s unrelenting spirit led to its accomplishment. This mission initially formed his status as a U.S. Special Forces legend, but it was his deep strategic reconnaissance and interdiction exploits with Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and Observation Group, also known as MACV-SOG, that solidified his legendary status.
If this wasn’t cool enough, Thorne was also awarded five Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star medal for his military bravery. His last ever mission was in Vietnam in 1965, when he led the premiere MACV-SOG cross-border mission into Laos. While his men successfully entered a clearing within Laos, Thorne watched and waited in a chase helicopter, ready to provide assistance if necessary. When his men had made it safe, he began flying his helicopter back to base.
Only a few minutes later, the helicopter lost control and crashed — likely the result of stormy weather conditions. The Army reported Thorne as MIA, and many of his comrades refused to believe this military legend was dead. Their beliefs were further cemented when the chopper and air crew were found without Thorne’s body, and many hoped that he had escaped the crash and was still making his way out of the jungle.
The legend of Larry Thorne and his mysterious disappearance lived on until 1999, when a second exploration of the crash site produced a body who’s DNA and dental records matched that of the beloved Special Forces soldier. His life was cut short, but the legacy he left behind was larger than life, and completely worthy of a couple hours on the big screen.
3. The story of the orthodontist who became America’s first Navy SEAL
Working Title: Another Navy SEAL Movie
Director: Stephen Spielberg
Starring: Christoph Waltz
Everyone loves a good underdog, and Navy Lt. j.g. Jack Taylor is one of the best “little guys” we’ve ever heard of. Before the start of World War II, Taylor was an orthodontist in Hollywood, California. When the U.S. declared war on Japan, however, Taylor swapped his dental scrubs for a Navy uniform, planning to teach boat handling skills to American and Allied servicemen — a pretty safe wartime occupation.
Fate had other plans for Taylor however, and they were way more exciting than pulling teeth or rigging sails.
He didn’t know it yet, but DDS Jack Taylor would soon become Lt. j.g. Taylor, and would prove his worth as the first ever Navy SEAL, undertaking ocean operations in Greece, land operations in Albania, and parachuting into Austria — 20 years before the first SEAL team had ever been assembled.
His military career began when he was ordered to serve with the OSS, or the Office of Strategic Services in 1942. He then became the Chief of the Office of Strategic Service Maritime Unit, and things only got cooler from there.
According to David Nye from WATM:
In the Maritime Unit, Taylor personally commanded fourteen missions into the enemy-occupied Greek and Balkan coasts. He and his team delivered spies, weapons, explosives, and other supplies to friendly forces from Sep. 1943 to March, 1944.
Taylor also commanded a land team in Central Albania around this time, escaping near-capture by enemy forces at least three times. For his valor, he received the Navy Cross.
Unfortunately, Taylor and his men would run into trouble after their drop into Austria during the “Dupont Mission,” where he and his men rallied Austrians sympathetic to the Allied cause, formed a network of cities and towns that would support them, and photographed German defense strategies and equipment.
Before Taylor and his men could head to Italy to meet up with American troops, the group was captured on Dec. 1, 1944, and sent to prison in Vienna before being transferred to Mauthausen, a camp that was notorious for its cruel treatment and deplorable living conditions. There Taylor was jailed as a political prisoner, and watched as inmate after inmate was executed — a brutal reminder of what his own fate would surely be.
Taylor was nearly executed on two different occasions. The first time a friend who worked in the camp’s office found his papers among a stack of to-be executed prisoners and removed it, burning it before his superiors noticed it was gone.
Eventually the Nazis realized Taylor had evaded his sentence, and scheduled a second execution. But just when it seemed that his number was up, the 11th Armored Division liberated the camp, only days before he would have been killed.
When an American film crew arrived and asked him for an interview, Taylor got the chance to tell the world what he and so many others had experienced under Nazi prison conditions, later recounting the same information at the Nuremberg trials, where his testimony of the horrors of Mauthausen would lead to the conviction of all 61 camp personnel.
4. “Mad Jack” Churchill’s sword-wielding World War II victories
Working Title: Mad Jack
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Star: Harvey Keitel
When it comes to movie characters, American viewers seem to agree on the same cinematic mantra: The more eccentric, the better. If you’re skeptical, just Google John Malkovich, or ponder how “The Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise continues to grind out terrible sequels that people continue to pay for. Sometimes, people don’t want quality, they just want crazy.
Luckily, however, we’ve found a story that fits the bill in both categories: A war account so bizarre it sounds more like an urban legend than a part of America’s WWII history.
Lt. Col. John Malcom Thorpe Fleming Churchill, or “Mad Jack” as he would later be known, may have been one of the most badass — and insane — people to ever walk the earth. Picture the weirdness of Jeff Bridges a la “The Big Lebowski” crossed with sheer majesty of Mel Gibson in “Braveheart” and you’ll be in the ballpark.
Churchill joined the British military in 1926 at age 20, only to leave shortly after to pursue professional bagpiping and compete in the World Archery Championship in 1939 — because why not. But when WWII rolled around, Churchill was more than ready to jump back into the fray, and racked up a war record so unbelievable we’re shocked his story hasn’t already made it to the big screen.
Churchill stormed the beaches of Normandy carrying a Scottish sword, wore his bagpipes in battle and made many of his kills with a longbow he wore on his back. During a night raid on the Nazi lines, Churchill led his men to capture 136 enemy soldiers — and he himself captured 40 plus Germans at sword point. During a different battle on the Nazi-controlled island of Brac, “Mad Jack” fought until he was the last of his men standing. Then when he ran out of ammo, he stood his ground, playing his bagpipes on top of a hill until a grenade knocked him out and he was captured by the Germans. That scene alone could win an Academy Award.
Churchill would later escape his POW camp and meet up with American troops, only to find out — to his profound disappointment — that two atomic bombs had been dropped, and the war was essentially over. According to Vice, Churchill reportedly complained, “If it hadn’t been for those damn Yanks, we could have kept the war going for another ten years!”
Who knows, with the film industry being so sequel-happy these days (we’re looking at you, Peter Jackson), maybe his movies could go on for ten years.