Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Conscientious Objector Wins Medal of Honor

            When I was in the Seventh-Day Adventist school system, I read an SDA-published biography about Desmond Doss, an Adventist Conscientious Objector who won the Medal of Honor. A movie is now in the works, Hackshaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson and starring Andrew Garfield as Doss. Who was he, and what did he do?

            Throughout his military training, he had been subjected to the ridicule and hate his fellow soldiers. He came close to being court martialed or discharged as unfit for military service.
            On May 5, 1945, he saved 100 men on Okinawa, according to an army estimate. Doss didn’t believe the number could be so high. “Couldn’t be. It couldn't have been more than 50. I wouldn’t have had the time to save 100 men.” 
In deference to him, the army split the difference when it came time to write up the citation for his Medal of Honor was written.
The citation reads:
He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet (120 m) high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machine gun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying all 75 casualties one-by-one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands.
On May 2, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards (180 m) forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards (7.3 m) of enemy forces in a cave’s mouth, where he dressed his comrades’ wounds before making 4 separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety.
On May 5, he unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist an artillery officer. He applied bandages, moved his patient to a spot that offered protection from small arms fire and, while artillery and mortar shells fell close by, painstakingly administered plasma. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, Pfc. Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet (7.6 m) from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards (91 m) to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire.
On May 21, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of a grenade. Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his own injuries and waited 5 hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover.
The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Pfc. Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby, crawled off the litter; and directed the bearers to give their first attention to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearers’ return, he was again struck, by a sniper bullet while being carried off the field by a comrade, this time suffering a compound fracture of 1 arm.
With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards (270 m) over rough terrain to the aid station.
Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.

Aboard the hospital ship off the coast of Okinawa, Doss realized he’d lost his Bible. His wife had given it to him on their wedding day. It brought him solace through months of combat at Guam, Leyte, and Okinawa. Now it was lost somewhere on the top of the Maeda Escarpment. He asked someone, “Please get word back to my men.  I’ve lost my Bible.”

On October 12, 1945, President Harry S Truman hung the Medal of Honor around the neck of Corporal Desmond T. Doss. He told him, “I would rather have this Medal than to be the President.”
He got a surprise when he returned home. His request to find his Bible had been heeded. His men, who once derided the young Christian who refused to compromise, had returned to the rocky Maeda Escarpment and searched until they found, and mailed home, Desmond's Bible.


  1. WOW! God was certainly with during the war. What bravery to rescue all those men. I'll have to remember to see that movie when it comes out. We have to remember to stand up for our faith knowing that God will be with us- following his example.

    1. Doss showed that being a conscientious objector did not equate with being a coward.