Memorial Day is a time to pay tribute and remember those men and women who died while serving in our nation’s armed forces. And just as families across the country today are honoring those who have served and made the greatest sacrifice, we are also reminded of those who are still in the trenches, both in war zones and here at home
PEOPLE’s ongoing series Heroes Among Us profiles everyday Americans who are going the extra mile to help neighbors and strangers, and the seven amazing men highlighted below – all retired from, or affiliated with, the armed services – deserve another round of applause for their inspiring acts of kindness.
Brian Taylor Urruela
Army Sgt. Brian Taylor Urruela was wounded by a roadside bomb in 2006; his injuries resulted in the amputation of his right leg. But he bounced back after a battle with PTSD and founded VETSports, a sports league with 100 players in several cities, aimed at getting veterans active and interacting with each other. Read our profile of VETSports.
Former U.S. Army officer Bruce Mendelsohn, 44, served during the Persian Gulf War. This year, he was present at the Boston Marathon and wound up becoming one of the first responders to the scene of the bombing. He gave a harrowing account of that afternoon to PEOPLE.
Matt Kinsey is a former Army sergeant who lost his right foot in 2010 after stepping on an IED in Afghanistan. Today, he works with the the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team, traveling around the country playing other teams and coaching younger amputees. Read more about his inspiring journey.
Joseph Pinsky served in the Philippines during World War II. Because he’d enlisted immediately after graduating high school in 1944, he never found the time to go to college. But in 2012, at age 85, Pinsky returned to academia, graduating some 68 years later from Brooklyn’s Kingsborough Community College with an associate’s degree. Read more about Pinsky’s journey.
While Earl Morse is not himself a veteran, the work he’s done for World War II veterans has earned him a spot on our Veterans Day list. Morse founded the Honor Flight Network, a nonprofit that has flown over 100,000 veterans to Washington, D.C., so they could see the nation’s World War II memorial in person. Read our full report about Morse’s flights.
Within four days of seeing footage of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Jake Wood, a former Marine, assembled a group of other vets and left L.A. for Port-au-Prince. That group grew into Team Rubicon, which has deployed over 3,000 volunteers to disaster zones ranging from the Sudan to Joplin, MO. Read more about Team Rubicon.
Andrew Litz enlisted in the Marines after 9/11 and was deployed to Iraq soon after. In 2005, he was wounded and two of his buddies were killed by an IED. Though his world will never be the same, Litz can now at least count on a new home for his family, thanks to Operation Finally Home, a Texas-based nonprofit that has built over 856 homes for wounded soldiers in 17 states. The charity singled out Litz earlier this year, and his family moved in just this month. Read more about Operation Finally Home.