‘Hacksaw Ridge’ tells the story of WWII medic and hero Desmond Doss

Doss objected to killing but enlisted and served without a weapon, earning the Medal of Honor.


By Megan Wells, EMS1 Contributor

Hacksaw Ridge a new film directed by Mel Gibson – recounts the incredible story of WWII Army medic Desmond Doss, who is credited with saving 75 lives during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. 

Doss is known as the first conscientious objector in the military, not because he didn’t want to serve, but for his persistence to remain a non-combatant while serving. According to the Library of Virginia, Doss preferred the term "conscientious cooperator," stating, "While I believe in the commandment 'Thou shall not kill’ and that bearing arms is a sin against God, my belief in freedom is as great as that of anyone else, and I had to help those boys who were fighting for it.” 

President Harry Truman pins the Medal of Honor on conscientious objector Desmond Doss. (Photo/Public Domain)
President Harry Truman pins the Medal of Honor on conscientious objector Desmond Doss. (Photo/Public Domain)

Doss specifically requested assignment to medical duty so he could help save, rather than take, human lives. He was the only soldier on the front lines without a weapon. 

His stance on violence was not widely accepted in the military, and he was often harassed for his religious beliefs. His courageous rescue efforts while under fire during operations on Guam in 1944 and in the Philippines between 1944 and 1945, earned him a pair of Bronze Stars, and the harassment ceased. 

Doss, a Private First Class, U.S. Army, Medical Detachment, 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division was deployed during the Battle of Okinawa, one of the bloodiest and largest battles of World War II. 

A biography of Doss states, “Doss was in the thick of the battle and ministered to the wounded between 29 April and 21 May. On the first day, he was credited with rescuing 75 men who had come under withering artillery, mortar, and machine-gun fire at the top of a cliff.”

His courage earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor, presented by President Harry Truman in 1945. His Medal of Honor citation lists unbelievable details of his extreme bravery, for example, “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 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.”

Doss was disabled by the injuries he sustained during the war. He died in 2006 at age 87, but his legacy lives on. ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ premieres November 4 with Andrew Garfield as Doss.

 

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