It was only April, but private Desmond Doss of the 307th Infantry, 77th infantry division was sweating under the Okinawa sun. For two years, Doss had trained as hard as the other men of his division, beating his body into submission while back in the states, so that he would be ready to bear the physical and mental torture of what was about to happen. Young Desmond Doss had trained as hard as his comrades, but he had earned none of their respect. In fact, most of the men of the 77th considered him a coward. Why? Desmond Doss refused to carry a gun into battle.
Born in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1919 to Thomas and Bertha Doss, Desmond Doss was raised under the teachings of his Seventh Day Adventist mother. Doss’s mother taught him that the sixth commandment forbade killing of any sort, including war. Doss had seen the violence of his drunken father and took his mother’s teachings to heart.
In 1942, Doss enlisted in the US Army. Doss was disgusted and personally offended when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, so he saw it as his patriotic duty to fight on behalf of his country. However, Doss’s conscience forbid him to carry a weapon into battle, so he enlisted as a combat medic. Doss performed well in training, but quickly lost the respect of his fellow trainees and commanding officers. Desmond Doss refused to touch a gun. Legally, Doss didn’t have to train with a rifle. He was in a medical detachment, which didn’t require rifle training, however, most medics trained with a rifle so they could protect themselves in battle. All the same, his comrades called him a coward and made their disdain for him known. During the months of training, Doss was subject to the abuse and scorn of his comrades. While Pvt. 1st class Doss was preparing to save the lives of his fellow soldiers, they were making his life miserable, all for his belief in the Word of God.
And now, in mid-May of 1945, as Doss prepared to climb the four hundred ft. cliff known as “the Maeda Escarpment”, he prayed for the courage to enter the hellfire of island warfare. Doss was about to engage in the bloodiest battle of World War Two without a weapon, or the “shoulder to shoulder brotherhood” of the 77th infantry division. All that morning, U.S. naval guns had bombarded the ridge. Smoke and craters from the shells provided cover for the 307th as they climbed up the four hundred foot cliff, and crawled over the ledge. Once the entire 77th infantry was on the ridge, all hell broke lose. Japanese guns focused on the narrow ridge, turning it into a fiery inferno. Japanese infantrymen and sharpshooters had a clear view of the US soldiers and shot at them with deadly precision. While most of the 77th infantry dove for cover in an effort to shield themselves from their unseen enemy, one man stayed in the open. Desmond Doss ran in full view of the enemy from soldier to soldier to treat their wounds and carry them to safety. “Doss the coward” was proving himself to be the bravest of them all.
That night, the 77th dug in atop “The Maeda Escarpment” and slept through the night without any incident. The next morning, Doss and his men were awoken to another attack from the Japanese. This time, the 77th was driven back off of the ridge, leaving 75 of the dead and wounded to the mercy of the enemy. Rather than join his fellow soldiers in fleeing down the four hundred foot cliff, Demond Doss stayed behind. For two years Doss had been abused as a coward by his fellow soldiers. Now in the moment of greatest fear, Desmond Doss stood alone on the edge of hacksaw ridge with no weapon. Doss turned around, facing the unseen enemy, and charged into the fire and smoke to rescue his comrades.
One by one, Desmond Doss carried the wounded men of the 77th to the edge of the cliff and lowered them down by a rope. As the day turned to night, Doss’s body began to weaken from fatigue. Halfway through the night, a bullet shattered the bone in his upper left arm. Every time he would turn from the cliff to find more wounded, he would pray “please God, help me get one more.” And so it was, that “Doss the coward” proved himself that he was the bravest man in the 307th. All through that night Doss dodged and evaded the Japanese to rescue those who had made themselves his enemy. As morning broke, the men of the 77th down below saw what had happened. Seventy of their wounded that were left behind on top of Hacksaw Ridge had been lowered down the four hundred foot cliff by a rope and taken to the hospital tent. To them “Doss the coward” was now “Doss the hero”.
For his heroic deeds, Desmond Doss was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman, the highest military honor one can receive.