The Bottom Line: “Am I to try him? Do I have the right to try deny him of his right to life? For what guilt must he pay?” ~Mick Terry
…at first they didn’t want him…
Desmond T. Doss had strong beliefs and he followed them to the letter. Raised in a home with an alcoholic father with a short fuse and a mother with high religious standards, Doss followed the teachings of the Seventh Day Adventists to the letter. From birth he believed that you should never take the life of another and that, according to the teachings, you respect the holy day as a day of worship. As a young child he went out of his way to help others, as a teen he twice donated blood for an accident victim. Desmond Doss was a person that was in peace with his soul.
With Pearl Harbor came the war and Doss, although he didn’t believe in killing, enlisted. Branded a Conscientious Objector, he was placed in a camp with other CO’s. This is not what he wanted. Although he personally would not touch a weapon, he was willing to go to the front lines and serve in the medical unit. Receiving special orders, after much arguing on his behalf, he was finally allowed to move to the medical staff, while still refusing to handle any weapons. His immediate superiors didn’t give a flying frig what special orders he had, they put him into the infantry division instead.
Again, because he handled no weapons, and because of his religious dedication, he was at constant odds with fellow soldiers and his superiors. Many times during his nightly prayers, bunkmates would throw boots and articles of clothing at him. He was refused weekend leave to attend church because he would not qualify on the shooting range. He fought a constant battle to be recognized for the man he was and not what the others thought he should be. Finally, after many battles, he was granted his status in the medical division and made his way into battle.
…and then they gave him the Medal of Honor…
In May, 1946, on Hacksaw Ridge in Okinawa, Pfc. Desmond T. Doss walked into history as the first conscientious objector to receive a Medal of Honor by performing the following deeds: ~he personally, with no other help, rescued 75 men that were wounded. Refusing to seek cover while under fire, he carried them, one at a time, to a ledge where he lowered them on a rope litter down a cliff to fellow soldiers. ~he rescued, under mortar and rifle fire, a wounded man over 200 yards from the same ledge. ~two days later he treated four men shot in a cave assault, going through a grenade shower to within 8 yards of the enemy, dressing the wounds before making 4 separate trips under fire to bring them to safety. ~three days later he treated an artillery officer, under fire, moving him to safer quarters, giving him plasma in a rain of mortar shells. Later the same day, he crawled to a soldier, 25 feet from enemy lines, burned by fire, gave him aid, and carried him 100 yards to safety. ~May 21, near Shuri, he stayed in an exposed area until his company found cover, aiding the injured, until he was hit by a grenade in the legs. Rather than risk a fellow soldier from being injured, he tended his own wounds, waiting 5 hours before help could reach him. While attempting rescue, they were fired on and, Doss, seeing another man more critically wounded, crawled off his litter and told them to give their attention to the other man. Waiting for them to return to him, he again was injured by a sniper, giving him a compound fracture of the arm. He strapped a rifle stock to his arm as a splint, crawling 300 yards to safety.
Desmond T. Doss; Jan 17, 1919-March 23, 2006, was a real person. Only one other person has received the Medal of Honor as a conscientious objector beside him. This documentary was written and directed by Terry Benedict, winning three awards. Not a high budget production, it was still finely filmed and followed a cohesive timeline. It is full of stock footage of actual battles, as well as interviews with soldiers that served at Doss’s side. Some of the same soldiers that heckled him at the beginning owned their lives to him when push came to shove.
There was a good deal of time spent with Doss, who returned with Benedict to his childhood home, bases where he trained, and at his present home. This film was released just two years prior to his death and he appeared still spry and witty, although his speech is difficult to understand. His hearing is gone and he wears cochlear implants. All interviewed had a good bit of detail to offer about Doss, including the fact they couldn’t believe he stayed with it when so many were against him.
Doss never used a weapon during his time in the service. He maintained his religious conviction and followed his beliefs throughout his service and life. This is what real heroes are made of, the likes of Pfc. Desmond T. Doss.
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