History Mighty Heroes

4 Quiet badasses who were accused of being cowards in war

desmond doss
Corporal Desmond Doss receiving the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman on October 12, 1945.

Just because someone isn’t a door kicker (and may not want to be) doesn’t mean they aren’t important to a fight. It also doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of doing the amazing — or the impossible. Here are a few examples of those quiet few who were terribly misjudged as cowards in war. Luckily, they were vindicated.

Service to one’s country can come in many forms, and all of them are more difficult than outsiders might expect, as all veterans know. Some have volunteered to lead, been forced to lead, or have been forced to serve. Not everyone shares the same beliefs or the same vision. It’s really easy for outsiders to judge the actions of another, especially when they don’t have all the information. That’s why it’s critically important for us to reserve judgment of others for how they serve. 

Take a look at these 4 quiet badasses who were accused of being cowards in war

1. Lew Ayres

When actor Lew Ayres starred in the 1930 film “All Quiet on the Western Front,” it made him a Hollywood name, secured a contract with Universal Pictures, and made him a conscientious objector for life. When World War II came around, he signed up as just that, and tried to be a medic but the Army doesn’t let soldiers choose. So he was sent to a special camp.

When word spread a Hollywood actor was a conscientious objector, public outrage was swift. Branded a coward, he was fired from his latest movie and his films were banned from theaters. When he finally got the chance to be a medic, among the places he served with distinction was in the Philippines, setting up hospitals under heavy enemy fire.

Best of all, being a wealthy actor, he donated his military salary to the Red Cross for the duration of the war. 

lew ayres
Lew Ayres in the 1940s.

2. Desmond Doss

Perhaps well-known these days for being the subject of the film “Hacksaw Ridge,” Desmond Doss was a much-maligned conscientious objector because he joined the military as a Seventh-Day Adventist who wouldn’t carry a weapon. He was given hell through much of his Army career for being a coward.

What they didn’t realize was that Cpl. Doss may not have wanted to kill for them,  but he was willing to do anything to save his fellow soldiers. And he did, receiving the Medal of Honor for saving the lives of up to 100 troops during the Battle of Okinawa. He was wounded twice, treated himself twice, and got back out there. 

3. Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus

When Hannibal led Carthage’s best troops through Roman territory, there was really little Rome could do about it. Idiot Roman leaders kept raising armies trying to beat Hannibal, but all came up short. When five-time consul turned dictator Fabius took over, things began to change.

Instead of giving Hannibal the grand battle he sought, Fabius simply harassed the Carthaginian forces, denying them anything of use in the countryside, and killing its foragers and stragglers. He was still accused of cowardice because he refused to fight a battle — one he knew he couldn’t win. 

Even after the success of his plans, Fabian’s strategy got respect only after Hannibal handed so many Romans their own asses at Cannae. The Roman Senate began to listen to what Fabius actually told them to do, and they eventually turned the tide and kicked Carthage back to Africa. 

4. George Washington 

george washingotn before siege of boston
Washington taking command of the Continental Army just before the Siege of Boston on April 19, 1775.

Throughout the American Revolution, Gen. George Washington employed a Fabian strategy in fighting the British. If that word sound familiar, it’s because it’s based on the third entry in this list, Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus. Washington was faced with much the same situation Fabius was, commanding a smaller force against an unstoppable juggernaut. 

So rather than fight the British for the look of the thing, he mastered the strategic retreat. Washington chose to fight the battles he could win. Unfortunately, this didn’t earn him widespread acclaim early on. He was almost replaced as Commander-In-Chief, but like Fabius, the powers that be saw how effective his plan actually was, and the rest is history.