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Doss about to receive the Medal
of Honor in October 1945
|Birth name||Desmond Thomas Doss|
February 7, 1919|
Lynchburg, Virginia, United States
|Died||March 23, 2006
Piedmont, Alabama, United States
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1942–1946|
|Unit||B Company, 1st Battalion, 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division|
Desmond Thomas Doss (February 7, 1919 – March 23, 2006) was a United States Army corporal who served as a combat medic with an infantry company in World War II. After distinguishing himself in the Battle of Okinawa, he became the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor for actions above and beyond the call of duty. He is also the only conscientious objector to receive the medal during World War II.
Desmond Doss was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, the son of William Thomas Doss, a carpenter, and Bertha Edward Doss (née Oliver), a homemaker and shoe factory worker. His mother raised him as a devout Seventh-day Adventist and instilled Sabbath-keeping, nonviolence, and a vegetarian lifestyle in his upbringing. He grew up in Fairview Heights, Virginia, alongside his older sister Audrey and younger brother Harold.
Doss attended the Park Avenue Seventh-day Adventist Church school until the eighth grade, and subsequently found a job at the Lynchburg Lumber Company to support his family during the Great Depression.
Before the outbreak of World War II, Doss was employed as a joiner at a shipyard in Newport News, Virginia. Doss enlisted – despite being offered a deferment for his shipyard work – and entered military service on April 1, 1942 at Camp Lee, Virginia. He was sent to Fort Jackson in South Carolina for training with the reactivated 77th Infantry Division. Meanwhile, his brother Harold served aboard the USS Lindsey. Doss refused to kill an enemy soldier or carry a weapon into combat because of his personal beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist. He consequently became a medic assigned to 2nd Platoon, B Company, 1st Battalion, 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division. While serving with his platoon in 1944 on Guam and the Philippines, he was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for aiding wounded soldiers under fire. During the Battle of Okinawa, he saved the lives of 75 wounded infantrymen[DTD 1] atop the Maeda Escarpment. Doss was wounded four times in Okinawa, and was evacuated on May 21, 1945 aboard the USS Mercy.
After the war, Doss initially planned to continue his career in carpentry but extensive damage to his arm left him unable to do so. In 1946, Doss was diagnosed with tuberculosis which he contracted in Leyte. He subsequently underwent treatment for five and a half years – which cost him a lung and five ribs – before being honorably discharged in August 1951 with 90% disability. Doss continued to receive treatment from the military but after an overdose of antibiotics rendered him completely deaf in 1976, he was given 100% disability; he was able to regain hearing after receiving a cochlear implant in 1988. Despite the severity of his injuries, Doss managed to raise a family on a small farm in Rising Fawn, Georgia.
Doss married Dorothy Schutte on August 17, 1942 and they had one child, Desmond "Tommy" Doss Jr., born in 1946. Dorothy died on November 17, 1991 due to a car accident. Doss remarried on July 1, 1993 to Frances Duman.
Doss died on March 23, 2006 at his home in Piedmont, Alabama, after being hospitalized for difficulty breathing, the same day as another Medal of Honor recipient, David Bleak. A horse-drawn hearse delivered the flag-covered casket to the grave site while military helicopters flew overhead in a tribute formation. He was buried on April 3, 2006 in the National Cemetery in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Doss' awards include:
|Combat Medical Badge|
|Medal of Honor|
|Bronze Star Medal
with one Oak leaf cluster and "V" Device
with two Oak leaf Clusters
|Good Conduct Medal|
|American Campaign Medal||Asiatic–Pacific Campaign Medal
with arrowhead device and three 3⁄16" bronze stars
|World War II Victory Medal|
|Philippine Liberation Medal
with one 3⁄16" bronze star
|Army Presidential Unit Citation||Meritorious Unit Commendation|
|77th Infantry Division SSI-FWTS|
Entered service at: Lynchburg, Virginia
Birth: Lynchburg, Virginia
G.O. No.: 97, November 1, 1945.
The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Private First Class Desmond Thomas Doss, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty from April 29 – 21 May 1945, while serving with the Medical Detachment, 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division, in action at Urasoe Mura, Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands. Private First Class Doss was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet 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 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 eight yards 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 from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards 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 one arm. With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards 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.
Doss was also featured in the Medal of Honor Special comic written by Doug Murray and published by Dark Horse Comics. The comic was a special edition of the series Medal of Honor, published April 1, 1994. The title was sanctioned by the United States Congressional Medal of Honor Society. The issue features Corporal Desmond Doss along with another Medal of Honor recipient, Lieutenant Charles Q. Williams.
The feature film Hacksaw Ridge, based on his life, was directed by Mel Gibson, and was released nationwide in the U.S. on November 4, 2016, to positive reviews. Doss is portrayed by Andrew Garfield, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance.