Desmond Doss: The Conscientious Objector

Desmond Doss photo

Desmond Doss
– photo by Wesley Schultz

“Desmond T. Doss, Sr., the only conscientious objector to win the Congressional Medal of Honor during World War II, has died. He was 87 years old.”

Mr. Doss never liked being called a conscientious objector. He preferred the term, conscientious cooperator. Raised a Seventh-day Adventist, Mr. Doss did not believe in using a gun or killing because of the sixth commandment which states, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). Doss was a patriot, however, and believed in serving his country.

During World War II, instead of accepting a deferment, Mr. Doss voluntarily joined the Army as a conscientious objector. Assigned to the 307th Infantry Division as a company medic he was harassed and ridiculed for his beliefs, yet he served with distinction and ultimately received the Congressional Medal of Honor on Oct. 12, 1945 for his fearless acts of bravery.

“God hasn’t called me to be successful. He’s called me to be faithful.”
—Mother Teresa

According to his Medal of Honor citation, time after time, Mr. Doss’ fellow soldiers witnessed how unafraid he was for his own safety. He was always willing to go after a wounded fellow, no matter how great the danger. On one occasion in Okinawa, he refused to take cover from enemy fire as he rescued approximately 75 wounded soldiers, carrying them one-by-one and lowering them over the edge of the 400-foot Maeda Escarpment. He did not stop until he had brought everyone to safety nearly 12 hours later.

When Mr. Doss received the Medal of Honor from President Truman, the President told him, “I’m proud of you, you really deserve this. I consider this a greater honor than being President.”..” —Obituary, 3/23/06, The Chattanoogan

Medal Of Honor Citation for Desmond Doss
G.O. No.: 97, November 1, 1945.

Citation: He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet (120 m) high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machine-gun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying all 75 casualties one-by-one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands. On May 2, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards (180 m) forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards (7.3 m) of enemy forces in a cave’s mouth, where he dressed his comrades’ wounds before making 4 separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety. On May 5, he unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist an artillery officer. He applied bandages, moved his patient to a spot that offered protection from small arms fire and, while artillery and mortar shells fell close by, painstakingly administered plasma. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, Pfc. Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet (7.6 m) from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards (91 m) to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire. On May 21, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of a grenade. Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his own injuries and waited 5 hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover. The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Pfc. Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby, crawled off the litter; and directed the bearers to give their first attention to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearers’ return, he was again struck, by a sniper bullet while being carried off the field by a comrade, this time suffering a compound fracture of 1 arm. With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards (270 m) over rough terrain to the aid station. Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.” Wikipedia

There is an excellent documentary, The Conscientious Objector, about this extraordinary man that can be found by clicking here. It is also available on DVD, or for Instant Viewing, through Netflix.

  5 comments for “Desmond Doss: The Conscientious Objector

  1. November 11, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    Thanks for posting this. I’m reading a book by a Conscientious Objector who could no longer do his classified job and moved to Sweden, as many did. This is an interesting and valuable “rest of the story.”

    As a head’s up, I wrote about you today in my post. Hope it’s okay.

    Like

    • November 12, 2015 at 10:03 am

      Your post that mentioned me touched me, Janet. Thanks for the kind words and I am glad that you have found some inspiration in what we corresponded about.
      Ω

      Like

  2. June 19, 2012 at 7:43 pm

    I had heard being a medic was very dangerous. Interesting story.

    Like

    • June 20, 2012 at 6:34 am

      The irony of Demond Doss’ story is that he endured bitter verbal attacks throughout Boot Camp, and in the field, and ended up saving the lives of several of his worst critics, including his commanding officer. These men were among the ones who nominated him for the Medal of Honor.

      Like

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