Okinawa, May 21, 1945
Private Desmond Doss and his battalion were ordered to ascend a jagged 350-foot escarpment called the Maeda Escarpment, which was heavily fortified with Japanese defenders. “The Japanese had been there for years,” said Doss. “They had that mountain honeycombed and camouflaged, it looked like natural terrain. That’s what we had to face.”
At the top of the ridge, facing heavy mortar, artillery and machine gun fire, the majority of the battalion retreated back down the Maeda Escarpment, leaving dozens of casualties behind to face death or capture at the hands of the Japanese. Doss did not join the retreat. Knowing that Japanese soldiers sometimes tortured wounded U.S. soldiers, Doss refused to leave a single man on top of the ridge. “I had these men up there and I shouldn’t leave ’em,” said Doss. “They were my buddies, some of the men had families, and they trust me. I didn’t feel like I should value my life above my buddy’s, so I decided to stay with them and take care of as many of them as I could. I didn’t know how I was gonna do it.” Private Doss risked his life to save 75 of his buddies, lowering them from the ridge. He accomplished this and many other acts of bravery during WWII without ever carrying a weapon–Doss’s religious beliefs forbade killing. He would receive the Medal of Honor for his actions.
If you saw the Movie, “Hacksaw Ridge”, then you know about Private Doss and his bravery that day. Here are some details about Doss and his valor that the Movie doesn’t show.
Doss spent 12 hours up on the ridge rescuing the men. While lowering the men down the ridge, the Japanese had a clear shot at Doss. One Japanese soldier recalled having Desmond in his sights, but every time he went to fire, his gun jammed.
After taking the brunt of a grenade blast to save his fellow soldiers, Doss was being carried to safety on a stretcher. Seeing a badly wounded man on the ground, Doss rolled off the stretcher to bandage him, then gave the man his stretcher. Doss stayed behind, and while waiting for help to return, was shot in the arm by a sniper. He fashioned a splint out of a rifle stock and crawled 300 yards under fire, eventually reaching the safety of an aid station.
In addition to his Medal of Honor, Desmond Doss received a Bronze Star for valor with one Oak Leaf cluster (signifying he received 2 Bronze Stars); a Purple Heart with two Oak Leaf clusters (signifying he received 3 Purple Hearts); the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three Bronze Stars and beachhead arrowhead (signifying he served in 4 combat campaigns including an amphibious landing under combat conditions) and several others.
President Truman shook Doss’s hand at the Medal of Honor award ceremony, and then held it the entire time his citation was read aloud. “I’m proud of you,” Truman said. “You really deserve this. I consider this a greater honor than being president.”
When he was just a child, Doss walked six miles to donate blood to an accident victim — a complete stranger — after hearing about the need for blood on a local radio station. A few days later, Doss traveled down the same long stretch of road to give even more blood.
In 1965 the U.S. Congress voted to provide each living recipient of the Medal of Honor a monthly stipend of $100. Desmond Doss used much of his stipend, as well as his other income, to fund the Civilian Defense Rescue Service for Walker County, Georgia.
When a group of seven Boy Scouts and their leader became lost in a dark, wet, gas-filled cavern, the Rescue Service worked around the clock to find and rescue them. Despite poor health from his time in the service, Doss spent more time in that cave, working harder, than anyone else.
Doss’s story is told in the documentary The Conscientious Objector. (Doss disliked the term, “conscientious objector”, preferring “conscientious cooperator.” He did not object to the war, and believed in military service. Although he was drafted, he could have obtained a deferment because he worked as a ship joiner at a shipyard in Newport News, Virginia, but he wanted to serve his country.