|Born||20 May 1916
|Died||19 May 2001
|Allegiance||Soviet Union Russia|
Maresyev was born in Kamyshin to Russian parents. His father was a skilled laborer who died shortly after he had returned from World War I. Before joining the army in 1937 Maresyev worked as a turner and then participated in the construction of Komsomolsk-on-Amur. In 1940 he graduated from Bataysk Military School of Aviation. He began his flights as a fighter pilot in August 1941. He had shot down four German aircraft by March 1942, but on April 4, 1942 his Polikarpov I-16 was shot down near Staraya Russa and captured by Nazi forces.
Despite being badly injured, Alexey managed to return to the Soviet-controlled territory. During his 18-day long journey his injuries deteriorated so badly that both of his legs had to be amputated below the knee. Desperate to return to his fighter pilot career, he subjected himself to nearly a year of exercise to master the control of his prosthetic devices, and succeeded at that, returning to flying in June 1943.
During a dog fight in August 1943 he shot down three German Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters. In total, he completed 86 combat flights and shot down 11 German warplanes. He was awarded the Golden Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union (August 24, 1943), the highest military decoration of the USSR. In 1944 Maresyev joined the Communist Party and two years later retired from the army.
In 1952 Maresyev graduated from the Higher Party School. In 1956 he obtained a Ph.D. in History and started working in the Soviet War Veterans Committee. Eventually he became a member of the Supreme Soviet.
He died of a heart attack on May 19, 2001, just an hour ahead of his official 85th birthday celebration.
His story served as a basis for the novel by Boris Polevoy The Story of a Real Man and a subsequent film (1948) directed by Aleksandr Stolper where his name was changed to Meresyev. The novel also inspired Sergei Prokofiev's last opera The Story of a Real Man. In 2005 a documentary called Alexey Maresyev. The Fate of a Real Man was produced by Channel Russia.
Honours and awards
- Golden Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union
- Order of Merit for the Fatherland, 3rd class
- Order of Lenin, twice
- Order of the Red Banner
- Order of the October Revolution
- Order of the Patriotic War, 1st class
- Order of the Red Banner of Labour, twice
- Order of Friendship of Peoples
- Order of the Red Star
- Order of the Badge of Honour
- Medal "For Distinction in Guarding the State Border of the USSR"
- Medal "Veteran of Labour"
- Gheorghe Bănciulescu - a Romanian aviator, the first pilot in the world to fly with his feet amputated
- Douglas Bader - a World War II Royal Air Force fighter pilot with amputated legs