Among the many heros buried at the National Cementary in Chattanooga, Tn., is a fellow that is the subject of a new movie titled Hacksaw Ridge. Desmond Doss was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for gallantry in the Battle of Okinawa, a coral island that was the setting for perhaps the bloodiest battle of the war in the Pacific. The islands beauty today conceals the vicious fighting between Japan and America that resulted in 65,000 US wounded, of which some 14,000 were killed. Japan suffered some 77,000 casualties in this fight which occurred in the early summer of 1945. There was plenty of work for Desmond during this two month hell on earth.
Desmond was born on 2-7-19 somewhere in Virginia. He died in Piedmont, Alabama on 3-23-2006. That he lived through the fight on Okinawa is a clear indication of Devine Providence at work, and that so many wounded soldiers lived to return home, is further proof that Desmond was under God’s command. So, how did this deeply religious young man navigate through life from Virginia to Okinawa earning a Medal of Honor along the way? Let’s get to it.
Desmond was enlisted under a status that enjoys the moniker of Conscientious Objector. Typical of folks like him, he was assigned responsibilities that did not require the carrying of a weapon, instead they were issued a spoon or medical kit, among other less prestigious implements of war. Desmond rejected the notion that he objected to the waging of war, in fact, was deeply patriotic and wanted to do his part. He simply rejected the necessity of directly killing someone, thus referring to himself as a Conscientious Cooperator rather than Objector. In the testosterone driven environment that existed in the second world war, these folks were not popular and often subjected to harassment and belittlement. Desmond possessed an inner strength that saw him persevere through this treatment, and became an Army medic. Make no mistake, he possessed courage that his detractors would be pleased to have. His unit quickly found themselves in a vicious fight with maniacal Japanese fighters equipped with tanks that resulted in 75 wounded Americans within minutes. Desmond attended to these troopers, constantly exposing himself to withering gunfire and saved countless lives. During one particularly nasty fight near Shuri Castle, (I lived on Okinawa for four years and am very familiar with the island), Desmond personally carried 70+ wounded troopers to an escarpment (otherwise known to us as a bluff), lowering the wounded men to safer ground using a rope. There is more….
Desmond advanced, under fire, to the mouth of a cave where four Americans had been cut down, and rescued them all, carrying them back to the lines, one by one. He quickly returned to the fight and carried a another wounded man 100 yards, again under intense small arms fire, to safety. Finally, a barrage of grenades resulted in serious wounds to his feet and he found himself on a litter, on his way back to safety. Seeing another wounded man in worse shape than he was in, he crawled off the litter and gave it to the other trooper. There is more……a Japanese sniper shot Desmond through the arm resulting in a nasty compound fracture, and he splinted his own arm using a rifle stock, noting the jagged bone ends protruding through his makeshift splint and bandages. There is more to this story than I have described…..there simply was no quit in this man.
Desmond was one tough hickory knot……and the absence of a weapon of war did not diminish his efforts or patriotism. He held to his beliefs, did not directly kill a person, and saved countless American lives in the process. So it came to pass that Desmond, after healing up a bit, came to meet Harry, Truman that is, where he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
When you sit back in the climate controlled theater, a cold coke and large popcorn in hand to watch this movie……remember it is Hollywood and not an isolated coral outcropping in the Pacific, in another time, where uncommon valor was the order of the day. I am glad that Desmond met Harry……..two giants among men. Desmond Doss is a part of the fabric of America.