The truly amazing thing is how many amazing people there are and have been. We could be here all year.
One of my personal favorite heroes is Eugene Bullard.
An African-American born in Georgia, he ran away from home as a teenager, supported himself as a jockey among other things, travelled for a time with gypsies, eventually stowed away to Scotland, in another year or two made it to France, became a boxer, enlisted in the French Foreign Legion during the First World War when Germany invaded France, was wounded in combat, while recovering seized an opportunity to train as a pilot (note on the famous Tuskegee Airmen who came later, in the next world war: the Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-Americans to fly for the U.S. - Bullard fought and flew for France, making him the first African-American combat aviator, and before him had been an African-NOT-American in the Ottoman Air Force.) He flew in combat and was shot down at least once, but when the U.S.A. entered the war, he was the only one of the American volunteer fliers who were NOT incorporated into the American Army Air Corps. Between the wars he was a jazz drummer, owned and managed both a night club and an athletic club (his wounds had ended his career as a boxer) and married into a wealthy French family, fathering two daughters. He had learned German (as well as obviously French, English being his native tongue) and his nightclub proved popular with Germans, making him valuable to French intelligence as the next war loomed on the horizon. The reason I personally consider him a hero I admire is that when everyone in Paris was fleeing before the German invasion of 1940, Bullard gave his daughters to a friend he trusted to get them out of the country while he packed up some food and money and headed TOWARD the fighting, to volunteer to fight the Germans again. He was no longer a young man, he still bore the wounds of the last war that had ended his athletic career, no one in France could have pointed to him and said "You, Bullard, you have not done enough for France!" but he went out and put his life on the line again. After being wounded yet again, to the point he really couldn't keep fighting (his back would give him trouble the rest of his life) he finally fell back, made his way to Spain and took passage back to America, the land he had left more than twenty years earlier. He spent his last two decades in America in relative poverty and obscurity in between trips back to France for little things like accepting their highest military honors and accolades or being invited to rekindle the flame at the Tomb of their Unknown Soldier, but even on his deathbed one of his friends remarked that he looked less like an old man dying of cancer, and more like a prizefighter just resting between bouts.
I have an excellent biography of the man somewhere around here, if the palindromedary hasn't eaten it....