Manfred von Richthofen, 1892-1918
You probably know this guy. But let’s talk about him anyways. Because honestly. The Red Baron? You can’t get much better than this. Not only does he have an excellent brand of frozen pizza named after him, but this badass motherfucker is generally accepted to be the best ace fighter of the entirety of World War One, having won (officially, it could be more for all we know, this fucker was sly) 80 air battles. Richthofen was born into the Prussian aristocracy, and while in some countries being nobility means lying around on cushions being fed grapes all day in Prussia they get shit done and our boy Manfred began his military training at eleven. When WWI began Richthofen signed up with the cavalry, but one day he saw a plane and was all ‘that looks nice’ and joined the air service. He didn’t really expect to get in but apparently those recruiters could sense the badass in this guy just waiting to claw its way out and they admitted him. Richthofen was initially not an awesome pilot, and crashed on his first flight, which only goes to show that the whole ‘if at first you don’t succeed’ thing is not total bullshit because a few months later he shot down his first plane and apparently decided never to stop shooting stuff.
And so you might think of the Red Baron as a brutish dude barrelling around firing randomly but my friend, you are mistaken. Richthofen was one tactician to rule them all and he basically rocked the proverbial socks off of any plane that came near him. And plus, he took measures to make sure he and his fellow pilots were as safe as they could be. Although he is most well-known on his own, he was an excellent squadron leader of his men, who were nicknamed ‘The Flying Circus’. Whatta guy.
Richthofen was finally shot down in April of 1918, taking a bullet to the chest, and despite his heart/lungs/general vital organs failing, managed to make a nicely controlled landing amid an Australian regiment. His plane wasn’t even damaged, despite Richthofen, you know, DYING as he landed it. Serious props.
So he shot down about 80 Allied planes, but the respect demanded by Richthofen’s sheer badassery was so universal that the Australian unit buried him with full military honours and ceremony. You don’t just put “To Our Gallant and Worthy Foe” on the tombstone of any old dude. This one was special, man.
I would list all of his medals but they would make you feel insecure and inadequate because please. Can’t touch this.