Hero Without a Gun

Updated: October 10, 2014


By Left of the Boom

Hero without a Gun

I read about a man who went to war without a gun and I was puzzled because not only was he considered one of the most heroic men of his day, he was recognized for his bravery publicly.

I resolved to learn more and this is what I learned.

His name was Desmond T. Doss, he passed away at the age of 87 23 March 2006.

He was drafted in 1942 into the U.S. Army.  Private Doss however, had a problem, and so did the Army.  Private Doss, a Seventh-Day Adventist, was a registered as a conscientious objector.  He did not have to join but when he was drafted, instead of using his status to get out, he simply asked where he could serve and not carry a rifle.

He loved his country, but he was devout in his religious belief and while he would serve, he would not kill.  The Army made him a medic.  Some decisions you are forced into by circumstances tend to not work out well, this time, this time it was a blessing. DesmondDossGrave

He went through basic training with his unit and had to deal with repeated harassment from his fellow soldiers who derided him for not carrying a gun, for his beliefs and as one point his service was in jeopardy of termination after they attempted to discharge him for mental illness.

America was at war, had been viciously attacked at Pearl Harbor, and everyone in America was in full patriotic fervor.  But fighting for your country meant, well, fighting, and that requires a gun and Desmond did not have one.  He carried no weapons, just a devotion to serve his country and his God even in a conflicting moment and his bible.

He served with the 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division as a combat medic on Guam and in the Philippines and received the Bronze Star Medal before the unit was sent to the Okinawa to take part in the conquest of the island.

May 5th, 1944 Private Doss and the rest of his company were moving along a 400 foot high ridge on the island of Okinawa, the Maeda Escarpment, when they came under heavy fire from a Japanese counter attack involving rifle, machinegun, artillery, and mortars.  Japanese soldiers charged at the men of Company B from every direction and 75 men were wounded in the first hellish minutes of the fight, the rest of the company retreated down the cliff to the ground below in order to counter attack and left those 75 wounded men behind, and Private Desmond Doss.

What happened next is something that only true legends are made of.

Private Doss refused to leave the men behind and he found a way to save them.  He tended to the wounded and pulled them to what safety that he could all the while moving under sustained enemy fire with bullets and shrapnel flying all around him.  The wounded could not move under their own power in the face of enemy fire.  The only way to escape was the cliff down the side of the ridge on ropes, which the rest of the company had taken.

The rest of the company was forming a counter attack of their own but fighting a determined assault and they could only listen to the fury that was taking place above them with helpless anguish.  To their astonishment appeared one of the wounded dangling from a rope, he slowly descended to them and they untied him only to watch the rope pull back up.

For five brutal hours Combat Medic Desmond Doss performed a super human effort.  75 men were wounded at the top of that ridge, and he lowered 75 living comrades one at a time down that ridge to safety.  Desmond Doss was once described as a small and perpetually thin man, the description is apt because it was accurate, and yet he found the strength to perform a task that other men, with pride in their strength, thought impossible.

The wounded told of countless moments where Japanese soldiers tried to cut Private Doss down but they were thwarted by those same wounded men as they watched over Desmond while he worked fiercely to save them.  He said his only thought, “Lord, help me get one more. Just ONE more!”

So humble is this man that when the official report claimed he had saved 100 men, he would not accept that and claimed 50, even when one was a miracle, so the Army split the difference and credited him with only 75.

On May 21st, 1944, Desmond remained in without cover as he treated the wounded.  After holding up in a foxhole in the darkness, he was wounded by a grenade blast.  A grenade as tossed into the foxhole and Desmond Doss did the only thing he could, he stepped on it and his daring allow the two men with him to escape without injury but Desmond was blasted from the hole.

Instead of calling for help, he checked his own wounds and bandaged himself.  He knew the value of a medic and was not going to risk a life while he was still able.  At dawn stretcher bearers found him and were carrying him to the rear when they encountered another wounded soldier who, in Doss’s opinion, was in greater need than himself so he had the bearers leave him behind while allowing the other soldier his place on the stretcher.  DossDesmondT_USArmy

He was joined shortly by another wounded soldier who was walking back and together they were making their way when enemy fire targeted them.  A sniper’s bullet smashed into his arm and he and his wounded comrade hit the ground.  Using his remaining bandages and skill, he took care of his arm and he and his comrade managed to crawl to safety.  The doctors on removed 17 pieces of shrapnel from his leg and splinted his arm.  For Private Doss, the war was over.

There was only one thing plaguing his conscience, sometime during that final day, he lost his bible a present from his wife on their wedding day.  It had been his comfort in the dark times of war and now it was gone.  He asked someone to get word back to let his unit know, “Please get word back to my men, I’ve lost my Bible.”

“On October 12, 1945 Desmond Doss was invited to the White House.  President Harry S Truman held a Medal of Honor in his hand as he looked at the brave young medic.  “I would rather have this Medal,” he said, “than to be the President.”  Then, with those words, he hung the Medal of Honor around the neck of Corporal Desmond Thomas Doss.

At home another surprise awaited the young man.  His men hadn’t forgotten the brave medic or his love for the Word of God.   The message about “Doss’ Bible” had been delivered.  Incredibly, the men who once mocked the Godly Seventh-Day Adventist who would not compromise, had returned to the Maeda Escarpment with a new mission and purpose.  After soundly defeating the Japanese they fanned out across the rocky terrain and conducted a search until they found, and mailed home, Desmond’s Bible.”

Valor on the battlefield can take many forms and while I deeply honor all the men and women who have served and sacrificed for this our Nation, if I had to pick one out of the multitude of heroes, this is the one I would pick.

Citation: http://projects.militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=650






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