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‘Hacksaw Ridge’ Biopic Commemorates Selfless Service of Desmond Doss

The following is a guest post by Owen Rogers, Liaison Specialist for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP).

To date, nearly 5,000 men (and one woman) have received the Congressional Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military decoration. Within this exceptional minority, however, only one recipient was awarded with this honor while serving under conscientious objector status. In anticipation of the Hollywood biopic, “Hacksaw Ridge,” you can listen to his story, in his own words, through the VHP collections.

Corporal Desmond Doss Receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman, October 12, 1945

Corporal Desmond Doss Receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman, October 12, 1945.

During the Second World War, Desmond Thomas Doss dismissed several opportunities for military deferment. As a war industry worker at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, and a Seventh Day Adventist, both his profession and personal beliefs afforded draft exemption. Morally conflicted, he said, “I felt like it was an honor to serve God and my country, according to the dictates of my conscience.” In accordance with his values, which forbade “participation as a combatant in war in any form, but whose convictions are such as to permit military service in a non-combat status,” he registered for the draft as a conscientious objector, and was sworn into the Army in 1942.

The difference between these designations is significant. Men who are classified as “1-0” conscientious objectors do not serve in the military in any capacity. On the other hand, non-combatants enlist in the armed forces and receive the classification 1-A-O. This exemption removes personnel from roles in which they may cause harm, however, their assignments may nevertheless place them in direct combat. In the case of Desmond Doss, his peaceful nature contradicted the violence he witnessed through multiple island campaigns of the Pacific War.

Desmond Doss shares his story for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project

Desmond Doss shares his story for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, 2003.

Donning the yoke of a combat medic, Doss saw service in the Marianas, Philippines, where he received a Bronze Star, as well as the Ryuku Islands campaigns, where his actions merited the Congressional Medal of Honor. On the Japanese home island of Okinawa, Doss rescued 75 wounded soldiers who were stranded atop the Maeda Escarpment. Improvising a rope extraction system, he lowered each wounded man to the safety of their comrades below.

Certificate Accompanying Award of the Congressional Medal of Honor, October 12, 1945

Certificate Accompanying Award of the Congressional Medal of Honor, October 12, 1945.

By war’s end, Doss received the Purple Heart with two Oak Leaf Clusters, a Bronze Star with an Oak Leaf Cluster and the Congressional Medal of Honor, all without taking the life of another human being. In memory of his service, the manuscripts, media and memories that he donated to the Library of Congress Veterans History Project are available as part of the institution’s permanent collections.

Who is your hero? Have you asked them to share their story? Learn how to add their voice to the nation’s largest collection of oral histories here.

3 Comments

  1. tim
    August 31, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    It is not called “Congressional” Medal of Honor, it is called the Medal of Honor.

  2. Anthony Vaughan
    September 5, 2016 at 12:46 pm

    Tim, in early 1942 my father spent time in the stockade, 2 1/2 months to be exact, BEFORE the President allowed men their concientious status, he didnt win the Medal of Honor but he faithfully executed his duty as a medic winning several honors inLuding a bronze star.

    I met Desmond Doss in 2004 at a pre-screening of Terry Benadict’s fim “Concientious Objector” and Desmond Doss signed the my copy of his book “Unlikeliest Hero” “CMH – Desmond Doss”, so while its technically called The Medal of Honor, even recipients acknowledge the body authorizing the award (congress) and call it THE CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF HONOR.

    My advise to you Tim is to get over yourself, and instead of focusing your your energies on nuances that actually don’t matter, and instead focus them on details worthy to write home about.

  3. Edward J. Wietecha
    January 8, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    As a child, I heard stories of combat and valor from my father and uncles who served in combat during WWII. In Vietnam, I saw both combat and valor from men younger and the same age as Mr. Doss. I never saw anything nor heard anything like what I have just read about him. Thank God for people like him who have protected us from 1775 to today.

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