Would you risk your life to rescue others?
This is the incredible story of a man who did that, Desmond Doss, one of history’s most unlikely war heroes.
Doss, a conscientious objector, who would not kill nor harm anyone, received the Medal of Honor, the U.S.’s highest military award. Here’s his story.
A Seventh-day Adventist, Doss’ religious principles forbade him from bearing arms or working on the Sabbath and he took those principles seriously.
Employed in a shipyard when World War II broke out, Doss qualified for a military deferment but he refused it. He registered for the draft as a conscientious objector because he felt an obligation to his country and in its time of peril, he wanted to serve.
Drafted in 1942, Doss volunteered to become a medic and serve as a medic seven days a week, for as he said, “Christ healed on the Sabbath.”
Many of the other soldiers ridiculed him for refusing to carry weapons and for not working KP on his Saturday Sabbath. In place of a weapon, he carried a pocket-size bible and to make up for not working KP the one day a week, he did extra KP and cleaned latrines all week long.
But many viewed him as a coward and the resentment against him was strong. One soldier said, “When we go into combat Doss, I’m going to shoot you myself.” An officer tried to have him court-martialed or at least discharged as being “mentally unfit.”
And when he would take out his tiny bible and pray next to his bunk, some of the soldiers threw shoes and other items at him. It was a pretty lonely and hurtful time for Doss.
However, once his 77th Infantry Division went into battle, Doss soon earned the respect of his fellow soldiers. As a combat medic in Guam and in Leyte in the Philippines, he repeatedly risked his life in the face of enemy fire to rescue the wounded and was awarded a Bronze Star for valor.
But it was in the Spring of 1945 when Doss made history. His unit was sent into the fierce fighting on Okinawa. On his Sabbath, Saturday, May 5th the U.S. soldiers fought full-bore to try to capture a crucial steep, rock strewn hill which rose sharply for 400 feet. At the top, the last 40 feet was a sheer cliff.
The Japanese soldiers were dug in and fired on the Americans. The U.S. troops fought to the top of the hill where they were hit with heavy artillery, mortars and machine-gun fire, as the Japanese soldiers opened an all out attack.
155 U.S. soldiers went up that sheer cliff and only 55 were able to retreat under their own power. The wounded were pinned down by enemy fire and many were going to bleed to death when the most unlikely hero went into action.
Despite the thundering explosions rocking the ground around him and bullets continuously ripping the air, Doss dragged the wounded by their collars one by one, to the edge of the cliff.
In the middle of this frightening scene, Doss secured a rope to a tree stump and gripping the rope in his two hands slowly lowered each wounded soldier along the face of the cliff to safety.
Every time Japanese soldiers advanced on Doss, the wounded U.S. soldiers near him kept them back by firing at them.
The Army estimated that Doss rescued 100 men but he insisted it wasn’t more than 50. The Army then compromised and in his Medal of Honor citation, they said he saved 75 soldiers.
But there’s more to our Okinawa story. During a night attack on May 21st, Doss was treating the wounded when a grenade exploded near him, throwing him into the air. When he hit the ground, his legs were shattered and his body pierced with shrapnel.
Rather than endanger another medic, Doss bandaged his own wounds and waited five hours for daybreak to receive medical assistance. Then as he was being taken to an aid station, Doss saw a soldier whose wounds were more critical than his.
Doss rolled off the stretcher and had them take the other man instead. While waiting for them to return, a sniper’s bullet ripped through his arm. Doss used the rifle stock of another wounded man to make a splint and the two of them crawled 300 yards across open terrain to an aid station.
For Doss, the war was now over. But he spent nearly six years in hospitals, often in intense pain, recovering from his wounds and from tuberculosis, which would cost him a lung and five ribs. He later lost his hearing as well.
Because of the severity of his injuries, Desmond Doss who recently passed away at the age of 87 was unable to return to the workforce. Over the years there were many times when he nearly died from his injuries.
Yet he found happiness and a sense of purpose spending the rest of his life devoted to his church and helping others through church-sponsored or public service activities.
“All the glory should go to God,” Doss told The Richmond Times-Dispatch in 1998. “No telling how many times the Lord has spared my life.”
For many years, he and his wife Dorothy lived in a home they built on Lookout Mountain in Rising Fawn, Georgia, where they raised their son, Desmond Thomas Doss, Jr. Reflecting the love Doss had for his country; this gentle man in their front yard flew the U.S. flag and displayed a replica of the Statue of Liberty.(www.homeofheroes.com).
Success Tip of the Week: As Desmond Doss, a man of devout faith showed us, it can take great courage to stand-up for one’s principles. Would you risk your life to rescue others? You might for a religious or personal principle or if love for others burns strongly enough inside you.
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