Honoring Desmond Doss: A Conscientious Objector And Medal Of Honor Recipient

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center provides classes for public and private school students and participants in the City’s Community Recreational Centers. One of the most successful lessons focuses on the character, courage and commitment demonstrated by Medal of Honor recipient Desmond Doss.


Desmond Doss, a young Seventh-Day Adventist, was one of the 431 recipients of the Medals of Honor awarded for valorous service during World War II.

His designation as a Medal of Honor recipient become even more significant when one realizes that more than 16 million men and women served during World War II and that Desmond Doss refused to carry a gun into combat, armed instead with his faith, a Bible and a medic’s kit.


President Harry S. Truman, when awarding the citation and medal on 12 October, 1945, announced to Doss and the audience that “I’m proud of you. You really deserve this. I consider this a greater honor than being president.”


The recent award-winning movie, HACKSAW RIDGE, depicted Doss’s challenge to serve his nation and spotlighted his courage during the Battle of Okinawa in the Pacific theater of World War II.


Doss, a devout member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, was working at the Newport News Naval shipyard when Pearl Harbor was attacked on 07 December, 1941. While he could have remained at the shipyards on a deferment, Doss chose to join the Army, claiming a conscientious objector status. While Doss wanted to be an Army combat medic, he was instead assigned to an infantry rifle company where his refusal to carry a gun caused conflict with his fellow infantrymen. They taunted him with calls of ‘coward and misfit’; the unit’s officers agreed that an unarmed soldier was a liability for the unit. Most men would have returned home after having attempted to serve but Desmond Doss, guided by his strong faith and patriotism, refused to withdraw from service.


Even though the U. S. Army attempted to court martial him for refusing a direct order - - to carry a gun, Doss believed that he was needed in combat as a medic and that his faith in God would allow him to serve others. Doss observed his Sabbath during his time in the military and, equally important, treated his unit members with kindness, gentle courtesy and profound medical skill, a nod to Matthew 7:12, “ . . . do unto others what you would have them do to you . . .”

Desmond Doss served in combat on the islands of Guam, Leyte and Okinawa, in each action exhibiting extraordinary dedication to his men. He answered continuous calls for “medic” and repeatedly charged into the heat of battle to treat fallen comrades and then carry each to safety. On Okinawa, the American soldiers repeatedly attempted to capture Maeda Escarpment, known by the soldiers as Hacksaw Ridge. After finally taking the top of the cliff, the soldiers found themselves rushed in a counterattack, requiring a full retreat. However, many members lay wounded on the field and a lone soldier refused to retreat. Charging back into enemy fire, Desmond Doss saved more than 75 lives on that day, May 5, his Sabbath.

Eventually, the Americans took Hacksaw Ridge and captured Okinawa. During that battle, Desmond Doss was severely wounded by a Japanese grenade, shrapnel tearing up his leg to his hip.  He was further wounded by a sniper’s bullet that shattered his arm. As he was being evacuated from the field, Doss noticed a badly wounded soldier and ordered his litter-bearers to leave him and take the other man. From conscientious objector to demonstrated courage and patriotism, Desmond Doss had taught his colleagues that all can serve.


In addition to his Medal of Honor, Desmond Doss received a Bronze Star for valor with one Oak Leaf cluster (signifying he received 2 Bronze Stars); a Purple Heart with two Oak Leaf clusters (signifying he received 3 Purple Hearts); the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three Bronze Stars, and beachhead arrowhead (signifying he served in 4 combat campaigns including an amphibious landing under combat conditions); the Good Conduct Medal; the American Defense Campaign; and the not so common, Presidential Unit Citation given to the 1st Battalion, 307Inf,

77th Infantry Division for securing the Maeda Escarpment.

The Medal of Honor was established during the Civil War under President Abraham Lincoln in 1862. At the one hundredth anniversary in 1962, the other recipients of that award selected Desmond Doss to represent them at a White House ceremony.


“Before being discharged from the Army in 1946, Desmond developed tuberculosis. He would spend most of the next six years in hospitals. Cold, wet, sleepless nights, shivering in a muddy foxhole on the islands of the Pacific, had taken their toll. As the illness progressed his left lung had to be surgically removed along with five ribs. For the rest of his life, he survived on a single lung, until it too failed. At the age of 87, Corporal Desmond Thomas Doss died on March 23, 2006, after being hospitalized with difficulty breathing. He is buried in the National Cemetery, Chattanooga, Tennessee.” [https://desmonddoss.com/bio/bio-real.php]


On the anniversary of his recognition, members of the Chief John Ross Chapter, NSDAR, placed flowers and a U. S. flag at his gravesite at the Chattanooga National Cemetery.

Desmond Doss
Desmond Doss

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