Sunday, January 29, 2006

Profile of a hero - Desmond Doss.

When you are a lifelong Seventh-day Adventist, there are some people you just grow up knowing about.
Desmond Doss is one of them.

Before I tell the story, I should start by saying that the Adventist church encourages its members to serve their country as noncombatants, and not carry weapons. I happen to not agree with that position for a variety of reasons, but those are my convictions.

And Desmond Doss surely had some convictions.

When he was young, experiences served to convict him never, ever to take human life.

Then WWII broke out.
Although eligible for a deferment, 23-year-old Desmond willingly entered service as a medic for the 77th Infantry Division.
It wasn't easy.
In addition to being determined never to carry a gun, Desmond Doss also had another conviction. A Seventh-day Adventist, he was determined to always honor the seventh day Sabbath.
Desmond endured months of torment from his fellow soldiers and from commanding officers alike. But they soon learned he would not compromise.
Paperwork was then initiated to declare him unstable, a miss-fit, discharge him from service with a Section-8 discharge as "unsuitable for military service."

But he didn't want a discharge.

He performed all of his other duties with dedication, was an exemplary soldier in every other way. At his hearing he told the board, "I'd be a very poor Christian if I accepted a discharge implying that I was mentally off because of my religion. I'm sorry, gentlemen, but I can't accept that kind of a discharge."

And so they were 'stuck'.

Then came Guam. Soon after landing, Desmond earned the respect of the men, and stories began to circulate about his bravery on the battlefield and his willingness to treat anyone, no matter how gravely wounded.

The 'stories' followed him to Leyte, and one typical exploit was when he dashed out into the open to rescue a wounded man while the area was still riddled with sniper fire.
From a distance his fellow soldiers watched in horror as a Japanese sniper aimed his rifle at Doss.
Because of the sniper's position they could not return fire for fear of injuring some of their own.

Doss treated the wounded man, evacuated him, and returned to his position, safe. (Years later a missionary in Japan related a story in which after the service a Japanese man in the back of the room told a deacon, "That could very well have been me. I was there, and I remember having a soldier in my gun site, but I couldn't pull the trigger.")

Desmond made it through Leyte and he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his bravery.

It was the morning of April 29th, 1945.
By then his devout religious practices were well-known, so no one was surprised when he suggested prayer.

And they frankly needed quite a bit right then. The men were about to face a sheer 400-foot cliff that split the island of Okinawa known as the Maeda Escarpment. It would be necessary to attack and capture this area. The men of Company B bowed their heads as Doss offered a prayer for safety. Then they began to struggle up the sheer cliff face, in an attempt take the important area.

His unit captured the 400-foot Maeda Escarpment in an incredible sweep in which not one man was killed and only one minor injury was sustained.
When a photographer arrived to capture the moment and asked how they pulled it off, Doss' company commander answered, "Doss prayed!"

However on May 5th the tide turned against the Americans as the Japanese launched a huge counterattack. Enemy fire raked Company B and 75 men fell wounded.

Those who were still able retreated back down to the base of the escarpment.
At the top of the cliff were the wounded men, the Japanese, and Desmond T. Doss.
For the next five hours, while his wounded comrades fought back their attackers, Desmond began to lower one after another wounded man to safety down the face of the cliff using nothing but a rope tied around a tree stump.

He later said that he just kept praying, "One more, Lord!"

No one knows for sure how many men Doss lowered to safety that day.
One hundred and fifty-five soldiers went up the escarpment that day, and only 55 were able to retreat without assistance
The Army determined that Desmond Doss had personally saved 100 lives.
Doss replied, "Couldn't be, I wouldn't have had the time to save 100 men."

Because of Doss' humble insistence, when the citation for his Medal of Honor was written, they 'split the difference' and he was credited with saving the lives of 75 of his wounded soldiers.

On May 21st, the battle was raging again, and the soldiers were under fire while Doss remained in the open to help a wounded soldier. He and three other soldiers had crawled into a hole to wait for until dark to escape... when a grenade was thrown into their hole. The other three men jumped out to safety, but Desmond instinctively placed his foot on the grenade. It blew up right under him. Although he miraculously survived and did not lose his leg, he was gravely wounded.
He didn't want to endanger anyone else so he bandaged his own wounds and waited five hours until daylight for help to arrive.
He was being carried off the field when they passed another critically wounded soldier.

Doss rolled off the litter and insisted the medics take the other man.

He and another wounded soldier started to hobble off while supporting each other. Doss had his arm across the other man's neck when he felt a bullet slam into his arm. It shattered Doss upper arm but saved the other man's life.

On the way out to a hospital ship offshore, Doss discovered that he had lost his treasured bible,
a gift from his wife. He sent word asking if the men could keep an eye out for it.
The word passed from man to man, and an entire battalion combed the war-torn battlefield.
They found it.
A sergeant carefully dried it out and mailed it to Doss.

On October 12, 1945 Desmond Doss was invited to the White House. As he shook his hand, President Harry S Truman said to the brave young medic, "I consider this a greater honor than being President."

Then he hung the Medal of Honor around the neck of Corporal Desmond Thomas Doss.

(Sources: Home of Heroes,