The World War II left many unknown stories in the generation today, one of which is Desmond Doss. Desmond is a World War II medic who saved 75 lives while risking his own.
The young World War II medic singlehandedly saved the lives of more than 75 American soldiers on the Maeda Escarpment of Okinawa in 1945. He never carried any weapon of any kind since he was in the business of saving other people’s lives.
The Academy Award-winning film entitled Hacksaw Ridge brought Desmond Doss to the attention of many people who had never heard of the man’s name nor the incredible story he ever did.
From a young age, Desmond Doss, born in February 7, 1919, showed the kind of empathy he displayed as a solider later in his life. When he was a child, he once walked more than six miles to donate blood to an accident victim, a complete stranger and never in his life he met. After hearing about the need of a blood donor while listening to a local radio station, he decided to travel and lend his blood to the person in need. A few days after learning about the incident, Desmond traveled down the same long stretch of road to give more than what he can give.
At a young age, Desmond developed a hatred of using weapons, a belief that he persisted throughout his life, even during his time in combat during the war. His hatred of weapons started from watching his drunken father pulling a gun on his uncle during an argument as well as his beliefs as a Seventh-Day Adventist. His mother managed to confiscate her husband’s .45 pistol and asked the young Doss to run and hide it. He was visibly shaken and vowed that it’s the last time he would ever hold a weapon.
Desmond spent his childhood doing thinks such as flattening pennies on the railway near his home in Lynchburg, Virginia and wrestling with his young brother named Harold. Harold said that his brother wasn’t much fun to wrestle with because you could never win. Not because he is skilled or strong — but because he would never surrender and didn’t know the word “give up.”
His physical resilience is what helped him to earn a Medal of Honour.
At the age of 18, Desmond dutifully registered for the draft and worked at a shipyard in Newport News, Virginia. When the World War II broke out, he jumped at the opportunity to help the cause.
However, he refused to carry a weapon or to kill anyone, earning him the widely unflattering label “conscientious objector,” a label that even him hated. He did not refuse to perform military service but insisted to work as a medic. In the hopes that he would just leave, the military assigned him to the rifle company.
According to filmmaker Terry Benedict, who made The Conscientious Objector, a 2004 documentary about Desmond:
He just didn’t fit into the Army’s model of what a good soldier would be.
Desmond appealed the Army’s decision up through the ranks until they unwillingly made him a medic. Still, his fellow soldiers in the training camp could not understand why Doss was still there. They mercilessly teased him to man up and carry a rifle. They also launch their boots at him while he’s praying by his bunk at night.
Soldiers hated him getting a pass on the Sabbath because to work on a holy day was against his religion. Officers gave him all the worst work to complete by himself on Sundays. Nobody even wants to be friends with him, friends who have each other’s back. Without any defense weapon, other soldiers think that he is just useless to them.
Desmond did not only dismiss their cruel behavior, they also rose above it. He believed that his purpose in life is to serve God and the country. He wanted to prove that these two tasks were not mutually exclusive.
Then came the battle at the Okinawa Made Escarpment also known as the Hacksaw Ridge. It fell on May 5, 1945, a Saturday, the day of Sabbath. It was a grueling onslaught, with artillery coming too fast and too furious that the men’s number was cut in half. The Japanese army’s plan is to wait until all of the Americans reach the plateau to open fire, creating a huge amount of wounded soldiers. However, the Japanese didn’t know that the American troops had Desmond Doss.
In an act that still astounds the surviving members of Desmond’s company today, he fearlessly held his ground at the plateau. In the middle of never-ending gunfire and mortar shells, he treated the wounded American soldiers that many people have left for dead.
Hours after hours, as the explosions rang in his ears, he tied tourniquets. Covered from head to toe in blood, he crawled and dragged each hurt member of his company to the edge of the ridge and carefully lowered them down to facilitate medical help. For more than 12 hours, he labored under fire and saved human lives.
Knowing that some Japanese soldiers sometimes torture wounded soldiers, he refused to leave a single man on top of the ridge.
Desmond did not only left a man behind. He also miraculously escaped with his own life and avoided serious injury. He always claimed that God spared his life. According to The Conscientious Objector, the Japanese soldiers repeatedly claim that they had Doss in their sights but their guns always jam.
Two weeks later, he was in battle again a few miles away from the escarpment. A Japanese grenade landed in a foxhole containing him and his patients. He attempted to kick the grenade to save their lives but it detonated. Desmond ended up with deep shrapnel lacerations all down his leg.
Rather than having another medic emerge from safety to help, he treated himself and dressed his own wounds. Five hours later, someone arrived with a stretcher. But as soon as he saw a soldier in need, he rolled off, surrendered his own stretcher, and patched up his comrade.
While waiting for help, a sniper shot and shattered all the bones in the fearless medic’s left arm. He crawled 300 yards to the aid station without any accompaniment. However, he didn’t realize that he’d lost his Bible on the battlefield.
Due to his amazing display of heroism and bravery, he finally won the respect of his fellow soldiers. His commanding officer visited him at the hospital and informed him that he will earn the Medal of Honour for his service, making him the very first conscientious objector to earn it. After awarding Desmond his Medal of Honour, President Harry Truman reportedly said:
You really deserve this. I consider this a greater honor than being president.
The commanding officer also brought him a surprising gift: a slightly burned Bible. After the US force captured the area from the Japanese, every soldier from his company combed through the rubble to find his bible.
His service during the World War II earned him two Bronze Star Medal for his actions in Guam and in the Philippines. Desmond Doss lived to be 87 years old but until today, he will continue to be remembered as the man who saved 75 lives while risking his own.