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Allen, William Henry (21 October 1784–18 August 1813), U.S. naval officer and hero of the War of 1812, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of militia general William Allen, a veteran of the Revolution, and Sarah Jones, sister of William Jones, future governor of Rhode Island. William Henry’s parents were prosperous members of Providence society and intended for him to follow a civilian career. His early education provided him with a good grounding in penmanship and mathematics (the latter proved useful in his naval career) and also with considerable skill as an artist. He made very competent sketches in his letters and the blank pages of his journals and did pen and ink portraits of his family. His only surviving likeness, a profile portrait, is probably based on a sketch done by Allen himself....

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Bailey, Ann Hennis Trotter (1742–22 November 1825), revolutionary war scout, was born in Liverpool, England. Little is known about her parents, although it is believed that her father had been a soldier under the duke of Marlborough’s command. As Bailey was literate, she received an education in Liverpool, although details of it are not recorded. Orphaned as a young adult, she immigrated to America in the wake of relatives named Bell. She arrived in Staunton, Virginia, at the Bells’ home, in 1761. In 1765 she married Richard Trotter, a frontiersman and Indian fighter, and they had a son in 1767. Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, recruited men in 1774 to fight the marauding Indians who were disrupting the settlers on or near the Scioto River. Richard Trotter volunteered and followed Colonel Charles Lewis to the point where the Kanawha and Ohio rivers meet, known as Point Pleasant. He was killed in the battle there on 10 October 1774....

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John Birch. In uniform with the rank of captain. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Birch, John (28 May 1918–25 August 1945), Baptist missionary and military officer, was born John Morrison Birch in Landaur, India, the son of George S. Birch and Ethel Ellis Birch. Both parents were Methodist missionaries under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. George Birch was also an agricultural professor at Ewing Christian College, Allahabad, India, while Ethel Birch tutored English there and conducted women's Bible classes nearby. In 1920 the family returned to the United States. George Birch became a fruit farmer in Vineland, New Jersey, where John Birch first went to school. In 1930 the family, by then including seven children, moved to Rome, Georgia, where Birch attended high school. After graduating at the head of his class, he entered Mercer University; there, he deepened his religious convictions and evangelical passion and graduated magna cum laude in 1939. He completed a two-year course at the Bible Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, in one year and then left in July 1940 for China, sponsored by a World's Fundamentalist Baptist Missionary Fellowship....

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Carney, William Harvey (1840–after 1901), Union army sergeant and first African American awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the son of William Carney and Ann, a former slave. Little is known of his early years. As a young boy he expressed an interest in the ministry, and at the age of fourteen, in 1854, he attended a covertly run school under the tutelage of a local minister. Later he moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he took odd jobs in the hope of saving sufficient funds to acquire his religious training....

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Kit Carson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-107570).

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Carson, Kit (24 December 1809–23 May 1868), mountain man, army officer, and Indian agent, was born Christopher Houston Carson in Madison County, Kentucky, the son of Lindsey Carson, a farmer and revolutionary war veteran, and Rebecca Robinson. In 1811 Lindsey Carson moved his family to Howard County, Missouri, to find “elbow room.” He died in 1818, hit by a falling limb while clearing timber from his land. Christopher enjoyed no schooling and never learned to read or write, other than signing his name to documents. In 1825 his mother and stepfather apprenticed him to David Workman, a Franklin, Missouri, saddler whom Kit described as a kind and good man. Nevertheless, he ran away because he found saddlemaking tedious and distasteful work and yearned to travel. Following in the footsteps of a brother and a half-brother who were in the Santa Fe trade, Carson joined a caravan as a “cavvy boy” (an assistant to the wrangler in charge of the horse and mule herd). Though not unsympathetic, Workman was obliged by law to advertise for his runaway. But he misleadingly suggested to readers of the ...

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Buffalo Bill Cody. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111880).

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Cody, William Frederick (26 February 1846–10 January 1917), frontiersman and entertainer, better known as “Buffalo Bill,” was born in Scott County, Iowa, the son of Isaac Cody and Mary Ann Bonsell Laycock. Cody’s father managed several farms and operated a state business in Iowa. In 1854 the family moved to the Salt Creek Valley in Kansas, where Cody’s father received a government contract to provide hay to Fort Leavenworth. After his father died in 1857, Cody went to work as an ox-team driver for fifty cents a day. Shortly thereafter, the firm of Majors and Russell hired him as an express boy. Cody attended school periodically, although his formal education ended in 1859 when he joined a party heading to Denver to search for gold. He prospected for two months without any luck. He arrived back in Kansas in March 1860 after a trapping expedition. He rode for a time for the Pony Express during its short lifetime (Apr. 1860–Nov. 1861). After the start of the Civil War he joined a group of antislavery guerrillas based in Kansas. Later the Ninth Kansas Volunteers hired him as a scout and guide. On 16 February 1864 Cody enlisted into Company F of the Seventh Kansas Volunteer Cavalry. He saw quite a bit of action in Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas during his one year and seven months of duty. He was mustered out of the army as a private on 29 September 1865....

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Dooly, John (1744–1780), Georgia Revolutionary War leader and folk hero, was likely born in Ireland or Pennsylvania, the son of the frontier farmers Patrick and Ann Dooly. In the late 1760s John became a frontier South Carolina merchant, surveyor, and land developer. He had a son from a first marriage (wife unknown) and at least one daughter and two sons by Dianna Mitchell. In January 1772 he mortgaged 2,050 acres of his lands to finance a major investment in neighboring frontier Georgia, where he became a surveyor and took over a five‐hundred acre plantation on the Savannah River. He borrowed heavily to make improvements on the property....

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Fink, Mike (1770–1823), scout, keelboatman, and trapper, was born at Fort Pitt, part of present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His ancestry was probably Scotch-Irish and Pennsylvania German. It is hard to separate fact from fiction concerning Mike Fink. Early in his life he was an expert marksman with his Kentucky rifle. While still a teenager, he was probably a hunter who sold meat to Pittsburgh butchers and was surely a scout who gathered information for the settlements about Indian activities beyond the western frontier. The battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, followed by the Treaty of Greenville a year later, guaranteed the security of the Northwest frontier and established a boundary in the Northwest Territory between Indian lands and areas open to further white settlement. So Fink moved into his second career, that of a keelboatman....

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Hale, Nathan (06 June 1755–22 September 1776), martyr of the American Revolution, was born in Coventry, Connecticut, the son of Richard Hale and Elizabeth Strong, successful farmers. A sickly infant, he barely survived his first year, but as he grew he became an outdoorsman and a powerful athlete. He enjoyed reading, and his father decided to prepare him for the ministry, first by hiring Rev. Joseph Huntington to tutor him and then by sending him in 1769 to Yale College. At Yale he was widely admired by his teachers and fellow students. Dr. ...

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John Paul Jones. Color lithograph with the inscription "Painted after an etching by Moreau made from the life in 1780." Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZC4-2761).

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Jones, John Paul (06 July 1747–18 July 1792), revolutionary war naval officer and hero, was born John Paul in Kirkbean, Kirkcudbrightshire, on the southwestern coast of Scotland, the son of John Paul, a gardener, and Jean MacDuff. After attending the local Presbyterian school, he apprenticed at age thirteen to a shipowner at the nearby port of Whitehaven. His first ship made several voyages that carried provisions to Barbados, thence rum and sugar to Virginia, and returned to Whitehaven with tobacco. The postwar economic slump ended his apprenticeship and sent him briefly into the slave trade, which he called “abominable.” At twenty-one Paul was master and supercargo of a ship sailing out of Kirkcudbright to the West Indies. Returning to Scotland from Tobago, he was briefly jailed in 1770 on a charge of murder, for having flogged a sailor who later died. Exonerated, Paul became the master of a large West Indies trader out of London. Again he found trouble in Tobago: during a mutiny he killed a sailor in what he claimed was self-defense. Perhaps in fear for his life, he fled to Virginia in October 1773 and became “Mr. John Jones.”...

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Kelly, Colin Purdie (11 July 1915–10 December 1941), army pilot, was born in Madison, Florida, the son of Colin Purdie Kelly, Sr., and Mary Mays. After attending high school in his hometown, Kelly spent a year at the Marion Military Institute in Florida before receiving an appointment to West Point in 1933. While there, he met Marion Wick, a stenographer, whom he wed in 1937, shortly after graduation; they had one son. Although commissioned as a second lieutenant in the infantry, Kelly requested to be assigned to the Army Air Corps, and in September he was sent to Randolph Field to receive his pilot’s training. In October 1939 he went to Texas for advanced training. In January 1940 formal induction into the Army Air Corps followed and Kelly was assigned to the Nineteenth Bombing Group at March Field, California. Kelly made captain on 9 September 1940. His career would have been similar to that of most young officer graduates in World War II had it not been for circumstances surrounding his death....

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Lafayette, James (1748–09 August 1830), patriot spy, also known to history as James Armistead, was born in slavery; little is recorded of his parentage or early life except that he belonged to William Armistead of New Kent County, Virginia. In the summer of 1781 James was attending his master while Armistead worked as a commissary in Richmond, supplying patriot forces under the command of the ...

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Dorie Miller. In background, ships at Pearl Harbor are depicted sinking. Poster by David Stone Martin, 1943. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZC4-2328).

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Miller, Dorie (12 October 1919–24 November 1943), African-American war hero, was born Doris Miller in Waco, Texas, the son of Conery Miller and Henrietta (maiden name unknown), sharecroppers. Miller attended Waco’s segregated Moore High School and became the school’s 200-pound star fullback. As the third of four sons in a family engaged in subsistence farming, however, he was forced to drop out of school to find work. In September 1939 he joined the navy as a mess attendant....

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Murphy, Audie (20 June 1924–28 May 1971), soldier and film actor, was born Audie Leon Murphy in Hunt County, Texas, the son of Emmett Murphy and Josie Bell Killian, tenant farmers. Murphy was reared in the rural poverty familiar to Texas sharecropping families in the 1920s and 1930s. With barely a fifth-grade education, he left home at fifteen, facing what looked to be a bleak future. Then came Pearl Harbor, and, just after his eighteenth birthday in June 1942, he enlisted in the army. Shorter, thinner, and younger than the average GI, Murphy as an infantryman capitalized on his hunting skills and, from Sicily, through Italy and France, and into Germany, exhibited uncommon aggressiveness against the enemy. His prowess and initiative in combat earned him a battlefield commission and his country’s highest decorations, including the Congressional Medal of Honor for his daring standoff (firing a machine gun atop a burning tank destroyer) against a German counterattack at the Colmar Pocket in Alsace in January 1945....

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Rocco, Louis Richard (19 November 1938–31 October 2002), soldier and Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the son of Louis Rocco, an Italian American, and Lita Rocco, a Mexican American. He always went by the name Richard Rocco. Growing up in a poor family with eight siblings and a father often unemployed, Richard experienced much hardship. As a youngster in the Albuquerque suburb of Barelas, he stole potatoes and corn from local fields to provide for his family. When he was ten years old, the family moved to the San Fernando Valley in California. As a teenager, Richard joined a barrio gang in Wilmington, spent time in jail, and found himself in constant trouble with the authorities. At the age of sixteen, he prepared to be sentenced for armed robbery. While expecting the worst, Richard visited an army recruiting station in Los Angeles and talked candidly to a sympathetic recruiter about his problems. The recruiter talked to the judge, who decided to send Richard to a delinquency home for a year and then allow him to join the army when he turned seventeen after his parents signed a waiver. Richard was also ordered to stay in school and avoid involvement with the gang....