Desmond Doss (Desmond Thomas Doss, Desmond T. Doss) story also has an unlikely quality to it that makes it all the more appealing. The future war hero was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, the son of a carpenter. He was devoutly Christian, a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and was unusually, unfashionably (even for America, even for the 1940s) tenacious in his beliefs. Unable to reconcile his adherence to the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” with a role as a soldier, but nonetheless patriotic, he was classed as a conscientious objector and joined the army as a medic.
A quiet, skinny kid from Lynchburg, Va., Doss was a Seventh-day Adventist who wouldn’t touch a weapon or work on the Sabbath. He enlisted in the Army as a combat medic because he believed in the cause, but had vowed not to kill. The Army wanted nothing to do with him. “He just didn’t fit into the Army’s model of what a good soldier would be,” says Terry Benedict, who made a documentary about Doss called The Conscientious Objector.
Desmond Doss is credited with saving 75 soldiers during one of the bloodiest battles of World War II in the Pacific — and he did it without ever carrying a weapon. The battle at Hacksaw Ridge, on the island of Okinawa, was a close combat fight with heavy weaponry. Thousands of American and Japanese soldiers were killed, and the fact that Doss survived the battle and saved so many lives has confounded and awed those who know his story.
Unlike many other medics, he also refused to carry any form of knife or gun, determined that, no matter what situation he found himself in, he would not take the life of another human being. Instead, Doss’s heroism took another form: he is remembered today for the number of lives he saved.
His first major feat occurred in 1944 in Guam, where, across a period of several months, he repeatedly braved enemy gunfire and torrential rain and mud to rescue his companions (an excellent detailed account of these exploits, which earned Doss two Bronze Star Medals, can be found on the aptly-named website Badass of the Week).
Chillingly, his status as a medic (identifiable by the Medical corps emblem worn on the helmet) put him in even more danger.
“The Japanese were out to get the medics,” he later recalled. “To them, the most hated men in our army were the medics and the BAR men…they would let anybody get by just to pick us off. They were taught to kill the medics for the reason it broke down the morale of the men, because if the medic was gone they had no one to take care of them. All the medics were armed, except me.”
The following year, in Okinawa, Doss proved again that he was a man of exceptional bravery, performing the actions that would lead to his being awarded the Medal of Honor.
Desmond Thomas Doss Full Biography and Profile
Desmond Thomas Doss (February 7, 1919 – March 23, 2006) was a United States Army corporal who served as a combat medic with an infantry company in World War II. He was twice awarded the Bronze Star Medal for actions in Guam and the Philippines. Doss further distinguished himself in the Battle of Okinawa by saving 75 men,[a] becoming the only conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Second World War.[b] His life has been the subject of books, the documentary The Conscientious Objector, and the 2016 film Hacksaw Ridge.
Desmond Doss Early life
Desmond Doss was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, to William Thomas Doss (1893–1989), a carpenter, and Bertha Edward Doss (née Oliver) (1899–1983), a homemaker and shoe factory worker. His mother raised him as a devout Seventh-day Adventist and instilled Sabbath-keeping, nonviolence, and a vegetarian lifestyle in his upbringing. He grew up in the Fairview Heights area of Lynchburg, Virginia, alongside his older sister Audrey and younger brother Harold.
Doss attended the Park Avenue Seventh-day Adventist Church school until the eighth grade, and subsequently found a job at the Lynchburg Lumber Company to support his family during the Great Depression.
Desmond Doss World War II service
Before the outbreak of World War II, Doss was employed as a joiner at a shipyard in Newport News, Virginia. Doss entered military service, despite being offered a deferment for his shipyard work, on April 1, 1942, at Camp Lee, Virginia. He was sent to Fort Jackson in South Carolina for training with the reactivated 77th Infantry Division. Meanwhile, his brother Harold served aboard the USS Lindsey.
Doss refused to kill an enemy soldier or carry a weapon into combat because of his personal beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist. He consequently became a medic assigned to the 2nd Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division.
While serving with his platoon in 1944 on Guam and the Philippines, he was awarded two Bronze Star Medals with a “V” device, for exceptional valor in aiding wounded soldiers under fire. During the Battle of Okinawa, he saved the lives of 50–100 wounded infantrymen atop the area known by the 96th Division as the Maeda Escarpment or Hacksaw Ridge. Doss was wounded four times in Okinawa, and was evacuated on May 21, 1945, aboard the USS Mercy. Doss suffered a left arm fracture from a sniper’s bullet and at one point had seventeen pieces of shrapnel embedded in his body. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in Okinawa.
Desmond Doss Post-war life
After the war, Doss initially planned to continue his career in carpentry, but extensive damage to his left arm made him unable to do so. In 1946, Doss was diagnosed with tuberculosis, which he had contracted on Leyte. He underwent treatment for five and a half years – which cost him a lung and five ribs – before being discharged from the hospital in August 1951 with 90% disability.
Doss continued to receive treatment from the military, but after an overdose of antibiotics rendered him completely deaf in 1976, he was given 100% disability; he was able to regain his hearing after receiving a cochlear implant in 1988. Despite the severity of his injuries, Doss managed to raise a family on a small farm in Rising Fawn, Georgia.
Doss married Dorothy Pauline Schutte on August 17, 1942, and they had one child, Desmond “Tommy” Doss Jr., born in 1946. Dorothy died on November 17, 1991, from a car accident. Doss remarried on July 1, 1993, to Frances May Duman.
After being hospitalized for difficulty breathing, Doss died on March 23, 2006, at his home in Piedmont, Alabama. He was buried on April 3, 2006, in the National Cemetery in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Frances died three years later on February 3, 2009, at the Piedmont Health Care Center in Piedmont, Alabama.
Desmond Doss Awards and decorations
Desmond Doss Medal of Honor
Rank and organization: Private First Class, United States Army, Medical Detachment, 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division.
Place and date: Near Urasoe Mura, Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands, April 29, 1945 – May 21, 1945.
Entered service at: Lynchburg, Virginia
Birth: Lynchburg, Virginia
G.O. No.: 97, November 1, 1945.
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of The Congress the MEDAL OF HONOR to
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS DESMOND T. DOSS, UNITED STATES ARMY
For service as set forth in the following:
Private First Class Desmond T. Doss, United States Army, Medical Detachment, 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division. Near Urasoe-Mura, Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands, 29 April – 21 May 1945. He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back.
Private First Class Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying them one by one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands.
On 2 May, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and two days later he treated four men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within eight yards of enemy forces in a cave’s mouth, where he dressed his comrades’ wounds before making four separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety.
On 5 May, he unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist an artillery officer. He applied bandages, moved his patient to a spot that offered protection from small-arms fire and, while artillery and mortar shells fell close by, painstakingly administered plasma. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, Private First Class Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire.
On 21 May, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of a grenade.
Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his own injuries and waited five hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover. The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Private First Class Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby, crawled off the litter and directed the bearers to give their first attention to the other man.
Awaiting the litter bearers’ return, he was again struck, this time suffering a compound fracture of one arm. With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards over rough terrain to the aid station. Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Private First Class Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.
October 12, 1945, THE WHITE HOUSE
Other awards and decorations: Including the Medal of Honor, Doss’ awards are:
Other honors and recognition
- A portion of US Route 501 near Peaks View Park is named “Pfc. Desmond T. Doss Memorial Expressway.” Local veterans of the area honor him by decorating the signs marking this portion of road several times during the year, particularly around patriotic holidays.
- In 1951, Camp Desmond T. Doss was created in Grand Ledge, Michigan to help train young Seventh-day Adventist men for service in the military. The camp was active throughout the Korean and Vietnam Wars before the property was sold in 1988.
- In the early 1980s, a school in Lynchburg was renamed Desmond T. Doss Christian Academy. The school was founded by the Lynchburg Seventh-Day Adventist Church, the home church of Desmond Doss during his years in Lynchburg. The church wanted to honor Doss for standing strong in his faith despite facing great adversity. Doss visited the school that bears his name three times before his death.
- On July 10, 1990, a section of Georgia Highway 2 between US Highway 27 and Georgia Highway 193 in Walker County was named the “Desmond T. Doss Medal of Honor Highway.”
- On March 20, 2000, Doss appeared before the Georgia House of Representatives and was presented a special resolution honoring his heroic accomplishments on behalf of the country.
- On July 4, 2004, a statue of Doss was dedicated at the National Museum of Patriotism in Atlanta, Georgia, which remained until the museum’s closure in July 2010.
- In May 2007, a statue of Doss was dedicated at Veterans Memorial Park in Collegedale, Tennessee.
- In July 2008, the guest house at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., was renamed Doss Memorial Hall.
- On August 30, 2008, a two-mile stretch of Alabama Highway 9 in Piedmont was named the “Desmond T. Doss Sr. Memorial Highway.”
- On October 25, 2016, the City of Lynchburg, Virginia, awarded a plaque in his honor to Desmond T. Doss Christian Academy.
- On February 7, 2017, PETA posthumously honored Doss with a Hero to Animals award in recognition of his lifelong commitment to vegetarianism.
Television and cinema
On February 18, 1959, Doss appeared on the Ralph Edwards NBC TV show This Is Your Life.
Doss is the subject of The Conscientious Objector, an award-winning documentary by Terry Benedict in 2004.
The feature film Hacksaw Ridge, based on his life, was produced by Terry Benedict and directed by Mel Gibson. The film was released nationwide in the U.S. on November 4, 2016, to positive reviews. Doss is portrayed by Andrew Garfield, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance, and won Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Actor in an Action Movie, and Satellite Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture. Desmond’s wife, Dorothy, is played by Teresa Palmer.
Doss was profiled in a three part TV series by It Is Written in November 2016.
Doss is the subject of four biographical books:
- The Unlikeliest Hero; The Story of Desmond T. Doss, Conscientious Objector Who Won His Nation’s Highest Military Honor, 1967 by Booton Herndon
- Desmond Doss Conscientious Objector: The Story of an Unlikely Hero, 2015 by Frances M. Doss
- Redemption at Hacksaw Ridge: The Gripping True Story That Inspired The Movie, 2016 by Booton Herndon
- The Birth of Hacksaw Ridge: How It All Began, 2017 by Gregory Crosby and Gene Church
Doss has been featured in major publications and media including:
- Time Magazine
- People Magazine
- Library of Congress
- Pritzker Military Museum & Library
Doss was featured in the Medal of Honor Special comic written by Doug Murray and published by Dark Horse Comics. The comic was a special edition of the series Medal of Honor, published April 1, 1994. The title was sanctioned by the United States Congressional Medal of Honor Society. The issue features Corporal Desmond Doss along with another Medal of Honor recipient, Lieutenant Charles Q. Williams.
- Desmond Thomas Doss Biography and Profile (Wikipedia)