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Desmond Doss: Refused to carry a weapon & saved the lives of 75 men during the Battle of Okinawa

Marija Georgievska

Desmond Thomas Doss is best known to the world as the war hero who refused to kill. He was a United States Army corporal who served as a combat medic during the Second World War.

Unarmed, Doss saved the lives of dozens of fellow soldiers while under fire in the Battle of Okinawa. For his actions, he became the first and only conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor. His only weapon was his faith in God and his little Bible which he carried with him into battle.

His mother was the main reason for his nonviolent behavior. She raised him as a devout Seventh-day Adventist and a vegetarian. Born in Lynchburg, Virginia, Desmond stopped attending school very young because he wanted to help his parents during the Great Depression.

Desmond Doss.

Desmond Doss.

After his 18th birthday, he started working on Navy Ships at the Newport News docks doing defense work. Doss decided to take a little medical training because he wanted to help people and refused to ever kill an enemy soldier or carry a weapon.

He enlisted as a medic and was assigned to 2nd Platoon, B Company, 1st Battalion, 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division.

Desmond Doss, on top of the Maeda Escarpment.

Desmond Doss, on top of the Maeda Escarpment.

 

President Harry Truman awarding the Medal of Honor on conscientious objector Desmond Doss.

President Harry Truman awarding the Medal of Honor on conscientious objector Desmond Doss.

During the Battle of Okinawa, the fighting took place on the Maeda Escarpment in April 1945. The battlefield was located on top of a sheer 400-foot steep cliff which was nicknamed Hacksaw Ridge.

The battalion had to climb on the top of the cliff and face a deadly network of Japanese machine guns and traps.

After a horrifying battle, the battalion was ordered to retreat and Doss was the only one who stayed behind because he didn’t want to leave his fallen friends to suffer. Alone, he carried his wounded comrades to the edge of the cliff and one by one he lowered them down to safety.

Singlehandedly, he saved the lives of 75 soldiers. Doss was evacuated from Okinawa on May 21, 1945, aboard the USS Mercy.

The grave of Desmond Doss in the Chattanooga National Cemetery. – By Fred Bullmer – CC BY-SA 4.0

The grave of Desmond Doss in the Chattanooga National Cemetery. – By Fred Bullmer – CC BY-SA 4.0

In 1946, before being discharged from the Army, Doss was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He spent five and a half years in hospitals before being honorably discharged in August 1951.

As the illness progressed, he lost his left lung and five ribs and because of an overdose of antibiotics in 1976, he became completely deaf.

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Desmond Thomas Doss died on March 23, 2006, and is buried in the National Cemetery in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Mel Gibson’s 2016 movie Hacksaw Ridge is based on his life. Doss is played by Andrew Garfield, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance.