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People Who Fought History’s Worst Crises With Compassion

Anxiety and desperation are how many people react to a disaster, but there are also those unique few that choose to take a different path - that of compassion and kindness. Even in the most dire of situations, they retain their humanity and act benevolently to provide much-needed relief, aid and inspiration to those who surround them. The heroes we’re about to tell you about are all such people and should be remembered as paragons of humanity and virtue. We hope the touching and inspirational stories of their acts of kindness will restore your faith in humanity and lift your spirits during these odd and challenging times.

1. Japanese Pensioners Back on Duty During the Aftermath of Fukushima

acts of kindness amid disasters Fukushima
The nuclear disaster that occurred on March 11, 2011, on the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in Japan is the largest nuclear accident after Chernobyl. The nuclear accident led to radiation being released both in the atmosphere and the water, the long-term negative effects of which will continue to affect the population and the environment for decades to come.
Part of the containment and damage control strategy was the creation of a 20-kilometer restricted zone around the nuclear power plant, and the brave volunteers who were among the first to tackle some of the most dangerous tasks on and around the power station were… pensioners.
A group of more than 200 Japanese retired workers of the plant that called themselves The Skilled Veterans Corps, all past the age of 60, volunteered to deal with the nuclear disaster instead of younger people. The group claimed that what they signed up for was not brave, but rather logical, as the negative effects of radiation will likely start affecting them decades after exposure, and so they have a much lower chance of experiencing them. The humility of these heroes is truly astounding.

2. The Only Lifeboat That Returned to Save the Victims of the Titanic Disaster

acts of kindness amid disasters Titanic
The story of the ill-fated RMS Titanic needs no introduction. On April 15, 1912, the ship struck an iceberg on its way from Southampton to New York City. The Titanic was the largest ship afloat then, and there were 2,224 people aboard the ship at the time of the disaster. More than 1,500 died that day, rendering the sinking of the Titanic as one of the most devastating peacetime commercial naval disasters in history.
One of the survivors was Harold Lowe, the ship’s fifth officer, who operated lifeboat No.14 during the disaster. Not only did he collect a group of boats together to be able to save more people immediately after the disaster without sinking the lifeboats, he was also the only one to return to the shipwreck, successfully saving three more souls from the freezing waters of the Atlantic.

3. The Heroes of the Galveston Hurricane (1900)

acts of kindness amid disasters Galveston Hurricane
Also known as The Great Storm of 1900, the Galveston Hurricane was the deadliest natural disaster in US history. The devastating Category 4 storm passed through Galveston, Texas, and the surrounding areas, reportedly killing between 8,000 and 12,000 people, destroying thousands of homes and nearly wiping out the entire city - the largest and most advanced one in the state at the time.
With destruction and terror taking over the area, the Ursuline Convent became the new retreat for those injured and otherwise affected by the storm. Under the lead of Mother Mary Joseph Dallmer, then the nun superior, the doors of the convent opened for 1,000 refugees.
Moreover, the nuns risked their lives and helped pull out survivors from the floods and were ordered “to strip the convent of linens and give up their own wardrobes to clothe the refugees, and to share what food was spared by the tidal wave,” reports the Texas State Historical Situation. For all her accomplishments in aiding the public, Mother Mary Joseph Dallmer is now considered one of the greatest heroes of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900.

4. He Refused to Fight But Still Volunteered to Save Lives in World War II

acts of kindness amid disasters Desmond Doss
World War II was the deadliest and most devastating war in human history, one in which the vast majority of countries were involved and one that resulted in an estimated 75-80 million fatalities. We mustn't forget just how horrifying this war was, how it included mass genocide, especially the Holocaust, and the use of nuclear weapons, how the utter depletion of the world economy caused starvation and utter destruction throughout the world.

One special person who refused to contribute to the violence he had seen both on the battlefield and in society at large was Desmond Doss. An American combat medic, Doss voluntarily enlisted to participate in World War II, but he refused to participate in any combat, being a conscientious objector for religious reasons. Despite peer pressure and abuse from military leaders, he refused to carry weapons but was heroically enthusiastic in saving wounded soldiers from the battlefield. Desmond Doss's actions during the Battle of Okinawa made him a legend, as the man managed to carry 75 wounded infantrymen to relative safety despite being wounded four times himself. 

The selfless actions of Desmond Doss were immortalized in the film documentary 'The Conscientious Objector' and the 2016 movie 'Hacksaw Ridge'. For his accomplishment, Doss was also awarded The Medal of Honor in 1945 by President Harry S. Truman (see picture above).

5. The Handshake of Compassion and Recognition

acts of kindness amid disasters Princess Diana
Image Source: Russ Quinlan/ Flickr
The rhetoric around HIV/AIDS was very different in the 1980s compared to today. To some extent, it is understandable, as the disease was only first discovered in 1981, and throughout the first decade after discovery, the public wasn't aware of the ways the virus can be transmitted and so any patient who ended up contracting the life-threatening disease was instantly isolated from society and sentenced to a life of seclusion and prejudice.
One seemingly minor event, a simple handshake, greatly influenced the conversation around HIV/AIDS. In 1987, Princess Diana was on an official visit to one of the hospitals in London. There, she met patients with AIDS and was photographed shaking the hand of one of the patients without wearing gloves. This single handshake of compassion and kindness from the Princess challenged the then pervasive myth that HIV/AIDS could be transmitted through touch and subsequently led to a shift in the public's perspective of the disease.
6. When the Enemy Saves Your Life
acts of kindness amid disasters World War II

Army doctors often face a conflict between their oath to save all lives and the interest of the camp they belong to. Luckily for Elmer "Curly" Richardson, an Iowan soldier drafted to the US troops during WWII, the doctor who treated him was a strong believer of the Hippocratic Oath. As the young soldier was on his way to the Battle of the Bulge on the border between Belgium and Germany, their division was ambushed by Nazis, and Richardson was shot and captured.

According to the Des Moines Register, the wounded soldier's life was saved by Ludwig Gruber, the doctor in the enemy camp, despite not being eligible for any medical care, “Elmer should have died. He was an enemy combatant and not entitled to the same care and comfort as a wounded German, or at least that is what the hospital's commanding officers told Ludwig. Ludwig ignored them.”

After a week, the US army came to collect the captives, and with the help of Richardson's negotiations, the two parties came to a truce, which ultimately saved many lives on both sides. The doctor and the American soldier continued corresponding even after the war.

7. How One Man, Henry Dunant, Changed the World for the Better

acts of kindness amid disasters Henri Dunant
The Battle of Solferino (June 24, 1859) was one of the largest and most decisive battles during the Second Italian War of Independence, a battle with nearly 260,000 collective participants. The excruciating battle lasted for over 9 hours, resulting in nearly 5,000 killed, over 23,000 wounded and many more missing and captured. One of the witnesses of the battle’s aftermath was Swiss businessman Henry Dunant, who was on a business trip while passing through Solferino.
Overwhelmed by what he had seen - thousands of bodies scattered through the battlefield with no one to help the wounded or bury the dead, Dunant couldn’t remain a passive bystander, so he organized the local civilians to provide assistance to the wounded and sick, and arranged the funds to build a field hospital. Revolutionary for the time, Dunant didn’t just save soldiers from the Austrian or the Allied French and Sardinian side, he urged to help everyone under the slogan Tutti fratelli, which means “all are brothers”.
Ultimately, Dunant recorded his experiences of the aftermath of the battle in the book ‘A Memory of Solferino’, which became the inspiration for the Red Cross Movement. For being a co-founder of the movement that helps everyone and for his humanitarian accomplishments at Solferino and beyond, Dunant was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901.
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