During the ferocious battle for Okinawa in World War II, American troops fought pitched battles against seemingly unending waves of Japanese attackers. Night after night the forces of the Rising Sun were reinforced by troops who hid in complex tunnel networks dug into the island. And day after day American troops there had to fight yet again for the same ground against a relentless foe.
While the battle has many stories of heroism and bravery, few are as incredible as that of Army Pfc. Desmond Doss.
For two weeks, American and Japanese forces fought over the Maeda Escarpment, a battleground accented by steep cliffs and riddled with caves and tunnels full of Japanse soldiers. In order to face their Japanese foe, American soldiers literally had to scale rope ladders for hundreds of feet just to get to the battlefield.
The Army’s 1st Battalion of the 77th Infantry Division assaulted part of the escarpment dubbed “Hacksaw Ridge” that sat atop 400 feet of sheer rock. As soon as the soldiers summited the ridge, they were pummeled by heavy artillery, mortars, and machine gun fire.
Luckily for them, Doss, a company medic who volunteered for service despite his religious beliefs that prevented him from touching a weapon, was with is unit during a fateful battle that saw much of his unit wiped out.
In today’s military, Doss would never make it past MEPS. As a Seventh Day Adventist he refused to train or work on Saturdays, wouldn’t eat meat and wouldn’t carry a weapon. Even in the face of taunts and threats from other members of his unit, he stood fast to his beliefs. His commander tried to get him a Section-8 discharge, but Doss fought the charges on principle.
He wanted to serve; he just wasn’t willing to kill to do it. So it was by saving lives that earned him a Medal of Honor.
During the battle for Hacksaw Ridge, Doss carried 75 casualties to the cliff face, loaded them on a rope-supported litter, and lowered them to safety below. He advanced 200 yards ahead of the front lines to rescue one of them, and he treated four wounded men and carried them off the battlefield, four separate times – just 24 feet from Japanese positions.
Doss repeatedly exposed himself to small arms fire, machine gun fire, friendly fire, and a dizzying number of hand grenades to save and treat wounded soldiers. When he was wounded and being carried off the battlefield, he crawled off his litter to evacuate a more critical patient first.
That’s when he was shot by a sniper.
Doss crawled 300 yards to an aid station to save his own life. He never carried a weapon and never threatened a single human life. He was presented with the Medal of Honor on November 1, 1945, by then-President Harry S. Truman at the White House.
He survived the war and lived a full life until he died in 2006. Soon, you can see his story come to life in the critically acclaimed film “Hacksaw Ridge.” Directed by Mel Gibson and starring Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, Sam Worthington, and Vince Vaughn – this is one not to miss.
“From a human standpoint, I shouldn’t be here to tell the story,” Doss told The Richmond Times-Dispatch in 1998. “All the glory should go to God. No telling how many times the Lord has spared my life.”
“Hacksaw Ridge” opens in theaters November 4th.