An incredible hero

Just listened to a podcast about a true hero, . was a conscientious objector in WWII yet won the Congressional Medal of Honour for bravery.

He was a devout Seventh-day Adventist and took the sixth Commandment literally “Thou shalt not kill” and also the fourth “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy”.

He took this to mean he could not kill, or even hold a weapon, nor work on a Saturday. However he became an Army medic as even Christ healed people on the Sabbath. He could have tried to defer or stay home, but wanted to help the war effort – so long as it didn’t violate his religious beliefs.

He got many hassles for his devout beliefs and refusal to train on Saturdays or hold a weapon. One superior even tried to get him discharged on the grounds of mental illness. He refused to take this way out, saying how could he agree being a Christian is a mental illness.

He served initially in 1944 in Guam and the Philippines. He received two Bronze Stars (for valor). He went on hundreds of missions through the dense jungles going out with patrols even when he wasn’t assigned as the Medic. For his work dragging wounded and dying men out of killzones and giving them aid, Doss earned his first of two Bronze Stars. His second Bronze Star was when he ran 100 metres through open brush to save two wounded soldiers who had been shot from two Japanese machine guns. Doss single-handedly carried the surviving man back to jungle, built a stretcher out of bamboo and dragged him past several snipers shooting at them.

Then in 1945 he served in the battle for Okinawa. A camouflaged Japanese counter attack saw 500 US soldiers killed and wounded out of 800. The remaining 300 US forces retreated but Doss stayed behind with the wounded and one by one carried wounded servicemen to safety using a rope supported litter to lower then 35 feet from the exposed ridge they were on to safety. All while under active fire. He spent five hours by himself moving the men to safety.

His CO estimated he saved 100 men that day. He modestly insisted it was “only” 50. They compromised and agreed on 75 to be the official record.

He carried on rescuing people over the next two weeks. He got wounded by a grenade and treated himself for five hours, insisting it was too dangerous for another medic to come out to where he was. When finally it was safe to come to him, he was being carried out on a stretcher. He saw another wounded soldier and jumped off the litter insisting it be used for the other soldier.

His service came to an end when he was shot in the arm which fractured it. For the first time he handled a weapon, turning a rifle stock into a splint. He then crawled 300 metres to safety. He was distraught that the Bible his wife gave him had fallen out of his pocket. Later when his CO visited him in hospital to tell him he was receiving the Medal of Honour, he brought the waterlogged, semi-charred pocket Bible to him. After the hill was taken, every man in the Company searched for it until they’d found it for him.

When asked about why he risked his life to help the wounded men, he said it was for the same reason a mother will run into a burning house to save her baby – she does it for love of her baby, and he did it for love of his brothers.

He spent five years in hospital (he also got TB) and then led a long life dying at the age of 87 in 2006. President Truman awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour to him in October 1945. He was the first ever conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honour.

A film of his exploits called Hacksaw Ridge is due to be released this November. I’ll certainly be watching it. Hopefully it will do justice to an incredible man.

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