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Russian Personalities

People well-known in art, sport, film, fashion

Alexei Maresyev – Hero with no legs

Aleksei Maresyev
Aleksei Maresyev was born in Russia on May 20, 1916. Although his three elder brothers were strong healthy boys, Aleksei’s own health was not so good. He particularly suffered from pain in his joints. The nearest school was four kilometers away and sometimes Aleksei’s brothers almost had to carry him back. Aleksei always wanted to become a pilot but with health problems like these, there was no chance.
Aleksei became an active Komsomol member and after finishing school he was sent to the Far East to build Komsomolsk-upon-Amur. Although Aleksei didn’t particularly want to go so far away, he didn’t have very much choice.
However, it all turned out for the best. Much to Aleksei’s own surprise, after a few months of being in the Far East his health started to improve. Eventually, Maresyev joined an air club. After serving in the army in the Russian Air Force, Maresyev went on to study at a professional college for military pilots. He finished the college just in time to put his newly learned skills into practice.

When the Nazis invaded Russia in 1941, Maresyev was sent to the front to serve as a fighter pilot. By April 1942, Maresyev had shot down 4 German planes. However, on the 4th of April Maresyev’s luck ran out. He was shot down and had to make an emergency landing. He tried to land on a frozen lake but lost control of the plane and crashed over a forest.
Badly injured, he crawled on his hands for eighteen days and nights to reach the Russian frontlines. By that time, his legs had become badly frostbitten and had to be amputated.
But Maresyev refused to give up. After a long and painful struggle he learned how to fly with prosthetic legs. In 1943, he became a squadron leader. During one mission Maresyev shot down 3 enemy planes.
In August 1943, Aleksei Maresyev was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union medal, the highest military award in the Soviet Union. When ‘The Story of a Real Man’ by Boris Polevoy came out after the war, Maresyev became a national hero. After the book, there was a film and an opera. For many years to come every generation of Soviet school children read Aleksei Maresyev’s epic story.
But Maresyev didn’t like the title of a living legend. “I’m a man, not a legend,” he said. “There is nothing special in what I did.”
Aleksei Petrovich died in 2001, just 2 days before his 85th birthday. In one of his last interviews he said: “I think young people can learn a lesson or two from what I went through in my life. First of all, never be scared, go for it and hold out whatever happens.”
by M. Garibyan
From: Speak Out 2\2005

Alexei Maresyev – Hero with no legs