Doss grew up in Lynchburg, Virginia, and was a Seventh Day
Adventist, which meant he was a pacifist – he didn’t believe in
violence and chose not to bear arms. His beliefs and his job as
a defense industry worker provided him draft exemption during
the war, but he dismissed that chance to defer. Doss wanted to
serve his country, so he enlisted in the Army Medical Corps as a
But because of his conscientious objector
status ... including his refusal to handle duties on the
Saturday Sabbath – boot camp wasn’t easy for him. He was
threatened and harassed. Many of the other recruits threw shoes
at him while he prayed, and they tried to have him transferred
out of their unit.
They weren’t successful, though, and
Doss proved them all wrong during his service with the 307th
Infantry, 77th Infantry Division.
In late April 1945, 26-year-old Doss and his battalion were
called upon to help fight near Urasoe Mura, Okinawa, in a
campaign that would be one of the last and biggest in the
Pacific. Using cargo nets, Doss’ battalion was tasked with
climbing a treacherous, 400-foot-high jagged cliff, nicknamed
Hacksaw Ridge, to get to a plateau. Waiting for them were
thousands of heavily armed Japanese soldiers entrenched in
hidden caves and holes.
During the month-long campaign,
Doss treated several injured men, dressing their wounds right in
front of the enemy before dragging them to safety.
a week into the fight, Doss was the only medic available to
advance with the rest of the men, who were close to taking the
ridge from the enemy. It was his Sabbath, but Doss joined his
men anyway, just as the Japanese concentrated massive artillery
and other heavy fire on them.
The assault left many dead
and injured soldiers in its wake. The remaining Americans were
driven back down the escarpment, except for Doss. He was the
only one to remain with the wounded.
Over the span of
several hours, Doss treated the injured and, one by one, dragged
them to the edge of the cliff, where he lowered them to safety
in a rope sling. After each successful delivery, he reportedly
said, “Dear God, let me get just one more man.”
nightfall, he had rescued 75 soldiers, including many of the men
who had berated him earlier in his military career.
April 1945 - During the Okinawa campaign, Army Pvt. Desmond Doss (seen here
at the top of Hacksaw Ridge) dragged severely injured men to the
edge of the cliff and lowered them down to other medics below.
(Photo courtesy of the Desmond Doss Council)
His heroics didn’t end there, though.
as the Americans continued their slow advance, Doss was
seriously wounded in the leg by a grenade. Instead of
calling on another medic for help, he treated himself and
waited five hours to be rescued.
As he was being
carried back to an aid station, his unit was attacked again.
Doss ended up insisting that another badly injured soldier
take his spot on the stretcher.
As he continued his
trek on foot, Doss was hit by a sniper, shattering his arm.
He managed to make a splint out of a rifle stock, and he
eventually made it to the aid station for treatment.
There was confusion over Doss’ whereabouts, though, so he
was reported dead. The news even made it back to his
hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia, where it made the front
page. Doss was able to clear up the confusion by writing a
letter to his mother proving he was, in fact, alive.
In October 1945, Doss was brought back to the states and had
the bullet removed from his shattered arm. After the
surgery, he was taken straight to Washington, D.C., where
President Harry Truman placed the Medal of Honor around his
October 12, 1945 - Army Cpl. Desmond Doss receiving the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman. (U.S. Army photo)
During his military career, Doss also received the Purple
Heart and a Bronze Star, all without harming another human
As for the men who had shamed him during boot
camp? They had nothing but praise for him after the war.
“He was one of the bravest persons
alive, and then to have him end up saving my life was the
irony of the whole thing,” said Capt. Jack Glover in a
documentary about Doss’ life. Glover had wanted Doss out of
the unit when he first joined up.
Doss died in 2006
at the age of 87. He was always proud of his service, saying
being a medic was “the most rewarding work there is.”
By Katie Lange
Medal of Honor Citation |
Video about Desmond Doss' Heroics
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