Alexey Maresyev

by Philipp from Victoria

 (Unknown (presumably 1945), unknown, unknown name.  6:34 PM, October 10, 2011)
(Unknown (presumably 1945), unknown, unknown name. 6:34 PM, October 10, 2011)

As time passes, things are forgotten. Unfortunately, this applies to heroes too, no matter how great their feats are. Alexey Maresyev is one of those heroes. Despite his terrible injuries (he lost both his legs) he was a fighter ace in World War 2.

Maresyev was born on May 20, 1916 in the city of Kamyshin, Russia. His father died in 1919. After finishing school, he applied to Moscow Aviation Institute, but was turned down because of his poor health. Immediately after that he joined the Komsomol effort, building a new city in taiga. While the city was still being finished, he was already a respected member of the community. He had the ability to ask to be sent to any branch of service, and he asked to be sent to the aircraft branch. He learned to fly quickly and went to the Bataysk flight school to perfect his abilities. On graduation, he was approached by the school and asked to become their instructor. He agreed. It happened in 1940.

The first two months of the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) he was an instructor, training Soviet pilots. But on August 23, 1941 Alexey was transferred to a wing in Krivoy Rog. He shot his first plane down five months later.

 (2005, Evgeni Gusev. “The story of a real man in pictures”.  5:45 PM, October 10, 2011)
(2005, Evgeni Gusev. “The story of a real man in pictures”. 5:45 PM, October 10, 2011)

In the first three months of 1942, Alexey shot down 3 more German planes, bringing his kill count to 4. This number wasn’t very different from other Russian pilots’ kills.

Soon he was transferred to the West front and it was there, over the Demyansk, that his Polykarpov I-16 was shot down. In the crash, Maresyev was thrown out of the cockpit and both his legs were shattered. For the German airmen, it was just one more kill (or so they thought). For Alexey, it was the beginning of a new time.

 (Unknown, unknown, “Statue of Maresyev”  5:56 PM, October 10, 2011)
(Unknown, unknown, “Statue of Maresyev” 5:56 PM, October 10, 2011)

Stranded in the German territory, he crawled for 18 days towards the fighting. He was ultimately found by friendly villagers, who alerted the Soviet Air Force. He was evacuated to Moscow, where the doctors found that he had gangrene. They fought to save Maresyev’s legs, but were unsuccessful. The doctors had to amputate both his legs. A normal person, if put in his place, would give up. But he did not. He received two prosthetic legs for free, courtesy of the Soviet Union, and immediately started training. At first, Alexey was unsuccessful. He nearly gave up; ultimately he forced himself to exercise. At first, he couldn’t even walk. In the end, he was able to run, dance, and even ride a bike!

However, he didn’t give up on being a fighter pilot. After countless examinations, half a year of ground school and another half year of learning to fly a new plane, Maresyev was finally back in action in June 1943.

In August 1943, he shot down 3 FW-190 fighters in one dogfight. That removed any doubts that he wasn’t effective from the minds of the Soviet commanders and brought him the Gold Star, the highest military decoration of the USSR. During the course of the war, Alexei shot down 4 more planes, bringing his kill count all the way up to 11. He retired from the Air Force in 1946. The rest of his life was uneventful. In 1952, he graduated from the Higher Party School, the Soviet equivalent of college. In 1956 Maresyev obtained a PHD in history and started working in the Soviet War Veterans Committee. Eventually he became a member of the Supreme Soviet.

Maresyev died on May 19, 2001, of a heart attack, just hours shy of his 82nd birthday. Veterans who assembled for his birthday party cried when they heard the news. Alexey Maresyev was buried in the Novodevich’s graveyard with full military honors.

 (Unknown, unknown, Russian poster for the movie “The story of a real man”.  3:15 PM, October 10, 2011)
(Unknown, unknown, Russian poster for the movie “The story of a real man”. 3:15 PM, October 10, 2011)

His story inspired the writer Boris Polevoy to write a book titled “The Story of a Real Man”, which in turn gave the composer Sergey Prokofiev the idea for his last opera, which was called “Story of a Real Man”, same as the book. The book was adapted into a movie in 1948 with the name... You guessed right! “The story of a real man”!

In my opinion, Maresyev is a hero. Despite his injuries, he displayed a remarkable strength of spirit even when his dream looked impossible and never gave up. He inspired many people to do the same, which, even though he did it unwittingly, makes him an even bigger hero. And finally, he was humble. He didn’t brag about what he has done. In fact, he despised fame! His exact words on that were “I am a man, not a legend!”. All that combined makes him a real hero.

Page created on 11/1/2011 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 1/5/2017 11:39:21 PM

Extra Info

Douglas Bader - another pilot that lost both legs yet still flew.