He was a Seventh Day Adventist, an ordinary man whose extraordinary faith and courage has left an indelible mark on the combat history of our nation. He never touched a gun or killed an enemy soldier. He was the first conscientious objector to win our nation’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor. His name is Desmond T. Doss.
Growing up in a Christian home Desmond was appalled to learn of the story of Cain and Abel. He could not understand why a man would kill his brother. He vowed to never take another man’s life.
When the attack on Pearl Harbor ushered the United States into World War II, Doss thought it was his patriotic duty to enlist. That first night in the Army barracks as, he knelt to pray, his fellow recruits taunted and threw their boots at him. When he refused to train on the Sabbath or touch a firearm, he was ridiculed. Doss vowed while others would take lives he would be by their side to save lives. His commanding officer, Captain Jack Glover, told him if he refused to carry a rifle he would never stand beside him in battle.
Despite the repeated humiliation heaped on him, he never took offense nor compromised his faith. When the 77th was deployed to the Pacific Theatre, in one engagement after another, Doss distinguished himself in providing lifesaving aid to those who fell in battle.
Eventually the 77th was sent to Okinawa to reinforce the American troops attempting to take the island. The Japanese had retreated to the Shuri escarpment, a plateau three hundred feet above the island. The Americans called it Hacksaw Ridge.
In nine successive assaults the Americans had reached the plateau only to be thrown back by withering fire. On April 29, 1945, A Company tried again. As the day closed, A Company was forced to retreat leaving seventy-five casualties behind. During the next twelve hours, Doss climbed to the top, alone and under constant fire, he rescued every single man by dragging each one to the edge of the escarpment and letting them down by a rope. Doss prayed, as he let each man down to safety, “Lord, let me get one more.”
Amid the fighting, Captain Jack Glover was felled by a Japanese artillery shell. Slowly bleeding to death he was pleasantly surprised to see the face of Desmond T. Doss at his side. Doss had crossed two hundred yards of open ground under enemy fire to bind Glover’s wounds and drag him to safety. The man who said Doss would never stand by his side in battle was glad to see him crawl to his aid.
Doss said of himself, “I was not a conscientious objector, I was a conscientious cooperator.” Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).” This Memorial Day, let us remember men like Desmond T. Doss.