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Unsung Hero: Vasili Arkhipov, A Name Every Human Should Know

Joined: 1/28/2015
Posts: 3
His name appears in some books, perhaps the classroom. Yet, it’s like a burning star behind an opaque cloud. Not many people look up, and those who do can’t see him. But without a doubt- Vasili Arkhipov was a hero. An unsung hero, whose name was lost. He was Soviet Union submariner. He saved the world. He did so during the Cuban Missile Crisis, thirteen days of the Cold War when the future of the world wavered.

The Soviet Union, Cuba and the United States held nuclear stockpiles that threatened hundreds of millions with unforeseeable consequences. The US had quarantined Cuba and Russia secretly sent nuclear-armed submarines there. However, US military watched the ocean, forcing them to stay submerged. The conditions onboard deteriorated- the sweltering temperatures rose, rations dropped to one glass of shining water. An American called it “passive torture”. Then the US began dropping practice depth charges into the water, hoping for the submarine to surface. They had informed Soviet officials, but the submarine commanders didn’t know.

World War II had ended, bloodshed and fire finally put to rest. But these Russians didn’t share it. The Iron Curtain fell. The Cold War rose from the ruins. The nuclear arms race threatened all living creatures. This Crisis erupted and froze into a standoff. And these submariners of the B59 were waiting under water, under stress, and now as the grenades fell, under the impression the nuclear war had started. The captain ordered the launch of the nuclear torpedoes.

However, our unsung hero had the final say. He stood against his men, against what they claimed was the salvation of Russia’s pride. He said no. Instead, he convinced them to surface. And so, Arkhipov saved the world and doomed himself to humiliation. Back home, an admiral said they should have gone down with their ship. And the first time the world recognized Arkhipov was in 2002, when his story came to light.

It’s hard to comprehend days during this War. I doubt my imagination can do it justice. It was a time of nuclear weapons and their devastation and death and destruction. The government endorsed fallout shelters. The sky didn’t just hold the beauty of the sun; it held the possibility of the last day.

Now we often see apocalypses in pop culture. And I wonder if we forget that it was almost real. Because a simple spark could have ignited all the nuclear arsenals, until no one was left to fire. Arkhipov put out that spark. He’s an unsung hero because he dared to stand alone. He dared to say no. He dared to face uncertain consequences. His name has been lost, hidden behind sealed doors of communism or the dust of history. His deed has gone unsung. Yet, if you were alive on October 27th, 1962, or any day after- he saved your life.

So, next October 27th, don’t forget to thank him, Vasili Arkhipov. And maybe, his story won’t be unsung anymore.
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Comment by thiegsr

Joined: 11/6/2008
Posts: 702
On behalf of the entire editorial board, I would like to congratulate you for your Unsung Hero essay being selected as one of our top 10 teen essays for our January writing contest.

To view all the results of our January 2015 contest, please check our winners page on or after February 28th:

Our editors are voting on the winners and we will have our results completed by Thursday.

Thanks for adding your voice to our mission “Changing the World . . . One Story at a Time” and feel free to share your accomplishment with the world.

Rebecca Thiegs Co-Founder and Education Consultant
Posted: Monday, February 16, 2015 2:46:41 PM
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Comment by thiegsr

Joined: 11/6/2008
Posts: 702
We have tallied our results and your essay is a Runner up in our January 2015 Unsung Hero teen writing contest. You should be very proud of your accomplishment.

Thanks for sharing your story on and feel free to share your accomplishment with the world.

Rebecca Thiegs
Stageoflife Co-founder and Education Consultant
Posted: Wednesday, February 18, 2015 6:51:05 PM
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