Desmond Doss The Real Life Hero of Hacksaw Ridge

Created on Nov 03, 2016 by Kathy Pinna

Desmond Doss, born in Virginia in 1919, was the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor.

He saved by his count 50 (by the Army's count 75) men in the Battle of Hacksaw Ridge and was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his brave efforts. He was also left with one lung due to contracting TB and lost five ribs from injuries along with most of his hearing due to the antibiotics used to treat the TB.

After World War 2, Desmond returned home to his wife and bought a small farm in Georgia where he lived until his death in 2006.

This is his true story (all quotes are from The Conscientious Objector Documentary):

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Desmond Doss

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"I've pictured Christ for savin' life, I wanna be like Christ go savin' life instead of takin' life and that's the reason I take up medicine."

Mr & Mrs Desmond Doss

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On August 17, 1942, he married Dorothy Schutte - before he went on active duty. "He appreciated me because I've never kissed any other men. He was the first one I ever kissed."

In World War II, a white feather came to symbolize pacifism and courage

In World War 1, a white feather had been considered a mark of cowardice
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The Army labeled him a "conscientious objector" but he called himself a "conscientious cooperator." He believed that the war was just but that it was wrong for him to kill.


While there is no Adventist teaching prohibiting being a soldier, the church encourages pacifism

This is the actual bible that Doss carried
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"They made fun of me," says Desmond, who always carried a Bible in his pocket and prayed before bed. They called him "Holy Jesus" and "Holy Joe."

Jack Glover first thought that Doss should be transferred

After fighting with him, he changed his mind
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"He was one of the bravest persons alive, and then to have him end up saving my life was the irony of the whole thing."

Desmond and Dorothy Doss

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"When the train pulled out, I waved goodbye to her, and I tell you, it leaves you a very low feeling, knowing you may have seen your wife for the last time," recalled Desmond. "I tell ya it's hard to keep from cryin', but I try not to cry because we want to be brave to encourage each other. But the tears came through after the train pulled out."

The Battle of Okinawa began on April 1 1945 and lasted until June 22 1945

There were 100,000 Japanese casualties and 50,000 casualties for the Allies
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Doss' battalion was ordered to ascend a 350-foot long, steep slope called the Maeda Escarpment, which was heavily fortified with Japanese defenders.


Doss at the top of Maeda Escarpment (Hacksaw Ridge)

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"The Japanese had been there for years," said Desmond Doss. "They had that mountain honeycombed and camouflaged, it looked like natural terrain. That's what we had to face."

Medics on Okinawa

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"They preferred to get us above anyone else," Desmond said. "They would let the infantry get by just to pick off a medic, because if they killed the medics, it broke down the moral of the men."

Injured man on Okinawa

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"I had these men up there and I shouldn't leave 'em," said Desmond. "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."

A scene from the movie "Hacksaw Ridge" which is based upon the war experiences of Desmond Doss

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"I didn't have enough rope to do the job like it should be done," recalled the real Desmond Doss, "then the Lord brought to my mind that knot I learned in West Virginia that I'd never seen or heard of before."

Receiving the Medal of Honor

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It was for this feat that President Truman awarded Doss the Medal of Honor on October 12, 1945. "When my time came, I went up," said Doss of the ceremony. "President Truman, he came out and he stepped over the line, he caught me by my hands, shook my hand like I was an old-time friend, somebody he had known all his life. He didn't even give me a chance to get nervous"

After Hacksaw Ridge, his unit kept fighting

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May 21, 1945: "They begin to throw these hand grenades," recalled Desmond. "I saw it comin'. There was three other men in the hole with me. They were on the lower side, but I was on the other side lookin' when they threw the thing. I knew there was no way I could get at it. So I just quickly took my left foot and threw it back to where I thought the grenade might be, and throw my head and helmet to the ground. And not more than half a second later, I felt like I was sailin' through the air. I was seein' stars I wasn't supposed to be seein', and I knew my legs and body were blown up." (He had 17 pieces of shrapnel in his body)


He was injured and evacuated

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After 5 hours, a fellow soldier was able to evacuate him. Seeing, another soldier being shot, Desmond got off the litter, treated the man, and gave him his litter. While waiting again, his arm was shattered by a sniper's bullet.

Desmond Doss in 1966

There were times that he was tempted to shoot but . . .
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"I knew if I ever once compromised, I was gonna be in trouble," said Desmond, "because if you can compromise once, you can compromise again." So he never carried a gun. Ever.

5 missing ribs, only one lung left . . .

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After the war, he was 90% disabled due to his injuries. He was discharged in 1951, after spending 5+ years in and out of VA Hospitals.

He was able to buy a small farm after the war

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With the help of a small pension and cashing in his life insurance, he bought five acres in Rising Fawn, Georgia. He and his wife had a son and lived in a log cabin, eventually starting a small farm. He died in 2006.

Desmond Doss was a Seventh-Day Adventist who took to heart the Sixth Commandment (Thou Shalt Not Kill) so although he wanted to serve his country during World War II, he would not carry a gun. He asked to be a medic instead and through a lot of effort and time on his part (and resistance on the part of the Army), his request was finally granted.

Did you know? There have been only 3 conscientious objector Medal of Honor recipients in total. The other 2 were in Vietnam.

Click "next page" below to see more about historical "facts" you thought you knew.

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