Medal of Honor recipient Desmond Doss – A simple question – yet the answer led to the rescue of 75 men on the battlefield of Okinawa

Jeff Edwards
 
 
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Once Hollywood gets hold of a story it often becomes difficult for the viewer to separate fact from Hollywood fiction.  With the upcoming release in November of Mel Gibson’s, Hacksaw Ridge, the lover of history would do well to take a minute to study the truly inexplicable story of Medal of Honor recipient Desmond Doss.

Those familiar with the story of Doss are hoping Hollywood keeps the cinematic embellishments to a minimum for his is a story which actually needs none.

Refusing to touch a weapon due to his religious beliefs, Doss volunteered for service during the greatest war the world had ever seen.  After much opposition, he eventually found his way to combat as a medic.  The 80 plus men he saved were very likely extremely pleased he never picked up a weapon.

For nearly a month on Okinawa, Doss simply could not be stopped from saving his men. Anything from a 400-foot escarpment, grenades, mortars, machine gun fire, and significant wounds to himself.

Desmond Doss was there for a reason, and that reason will give us what we hope is one of the greatest Hollywood accounts of inexplicable gallantry.  Here is the true story of Desmond Doss on Okinawa.

To Battle

Members of the 77th Infantry Division on Okinawa.
Members of the 77th Infantry Division on Okinawa.

Born in 1919 Lynchburg, Virginia, Doss was a 7th Day Adventist morally bound to do no man harm.  As the story will play out, his religious beliefs said nothing about forbidding the saving of lives.

When war broke out, Doss volunteered with the understanding of what this meant for him.  After much difficulty, Doss found his way to the Medical Detachment, 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division on the island of Okinawa.  When the Americans invaded the island on April 1st, 1945 they began a fight which would carry on for nearly three months.

By late April, Doss and his unit would find themselves facing the jagged feature that would subsequently be known as Hacksaw Ridge and the rest is history.  And now Hollywood.

As the men of the 1st Battalion looked up at the 400-foot jagged escarpment, they knew a battle lay ahead of them.  They had been fighting viciously for every inch of the island and scaling this ridge was certainly going to make the assault much more treacherous.

Just as the men reached the top and began to press forward, a storm of pre-fixed artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire began to rain down upon them.  With the 400 foot drop behind them and the ferocious Japanese fire ahead, the casualties quickly began to mount.

Within a short time, over 75 men became casualties and the rest of the unit was forced back.  But not Desmond Doss.

Desmond T. Doss (1919-2006), Medal of Honor recipient.
Desmond T. Doss (1919-2006), Medal of Honor recipient.

Refusing to exit the kill zone, he instead crawled from casualty to casualty rendering aid and comfort to the fallen.  Then, in what can only be described as a remarkable physical feat surpassed only by the gallantry it required, he did the inexplicable.

One by one, Doss carried each man to the edge of the cliff and then lowered them in a rope-supported litter over the edge and back to friendly lines.  All of them.

While that action itself could easily be worthy of the Medal of Honor alone, Doss was not finished as more fight lay ahead, and more men would need him.

On May 2nd, a soldier was wounded and quickly found himself 200 yards ahead of the lines caught between intense Japanese and American fire.  While this could easily have been a certain death sentence for the average man, the average man doesn’t have Desmond Doss on their team.

Braving over 200 yards of machine gun swept ground, he rescued the man and returned him to safety.  Just two days later four men found themselves fallen and wounded while assaulting a heavily defended Japanese cave.

Only 8 yards from the enemy, these men were in a dire situation until Doss came along.  Braving a shower of grenades, Doss advanced to the men, treated their wounds, and once again carried them all back out one at a time.  Still, he was not finished.

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