As always, the most astounding stories are the ones that are true. We’ve all heard, “the truth is stranger than fiction.” But more than that, the truth is more amazing and incredible than fiction! The truth can even be more terrible than fiction. We realize this whenever we take the time to consider the bravery, sacrifice, and service of our veterans. In honor of all veterans, I want to dedicate this particular blog to the unbelievable story of one, Private Desmond Doss. His service and experience in WWII has recently come to life in the movie, Hacksaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson.
PEOPLE.COM gives this account of Private Doss’ courage and sacrifice and the movie that tells the epic story of his heroism:
Private Desmond Doss walked into the bloodiest battle of World War II’s Pacific theater with nothing to protect himself save for his Bible and his faith in God. A devout Seventh Day Adventist and conscientious objector, Doss had enlisted as a medic and refused to carry a rifle.
The fighting took place on the hellish Maeda Escarpment in April 1945. The battlefield, located on top of a sheer 400-foot cliff, was fortified with a deadly network of Japanese machine gun nests and booby traps. The escarpment, nicknamed Hacksaw Ridge for the treacherously steep cliff, was key to winning the battle of Okinawa. The mission was thought to be near-impossible, and when Doss’s battalion was ordered to retreat, the medic refused to leave his fallen comrades behind.
Facing heavy machine gun and artillery fire, Doss repeatedly ran alone into the kill zone, carrying wounded soldiers to the edge of the cliff and singlehandedly lowering them down to safety. Each time he saved a man’s life, Doss prayed out loud, “Lord, please help me get one more.” By the end of the night he had rescued an estimated 75 men. (The always modest Doss reckoned he saved about 50, but his fellow soldiers gauged it closer to 100. They decided to split the difference.)
Doss’s faith and courage were forged growing up in Lynchburg, Va., the middle child of William Doss, a carpenter and WWI veteran, and Bertha Doss, a homemaker. His father, played by Hugo Weaving in the movie, suffered from alcoholism and depression relating to the PTSD he suffered in the war. In the movie, a young Doss wrestles a gun out of his father’s hand during a fight between his parents. The scene draws on a real event in Doss’s life, in which a fight between his father and uncle made him swear off guns.
Doss hoped that by joining the army as a medic, he could avoid carrying a weapon. He viewed himself not as a conscientious objector, but a conscientious cooperator, his fellow infantrymen and superiors did not see it that way. When he arrived for basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., he quickly became an outcast from the rest of the recruits. His slight stature and shyness did not improve the situation, and many soldiers believed he would be a major liability in battle. As shown in the film, Doss was subjected to physical and psychological abuse, and endured several attempts by his superiors to have him discharged from the military.
President Harry S. Truman presented Doss with the Medal of Honor on October 12, 1945. He was the first conscientious objector to receive the honor. He spent the first five years after the war recovering from his injuries, and ultimately lost a lung to tuberculosis. His injuries prevented him from working full time, and he devoted the rest of his life to working with his church.
Doss never lived to see his story on the big screen. He died in March, 2006 at his home in Piedmont, Alabama. He was buried at the National Cemetery in Chattanooga, Tennessee. While he spent much of his later life retelling the incredible events of that night, he was always reluctant to trust Hollywood with his story. Doss’s only child, Desmond Jr., says, “The reason he declined is that none of them adhered to his one requirement: that it be accurate. And I find it remarkable, the level of accuracy in adhering to the principal of the story in this movie.”