Desmond T. Doss
U. S. Army, 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division
Medic on Guam, Leyte, Okinawa earned Medal of Honor
Desmond Thomas Doss was born February 7, 1919 to parents William Thomas Doss and Bertha Edward (née Oliver) Doss in Lynchburg, Virginia. Raised as a devout Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) by his parents and attended Park Avenue Seventh-day Adventist Church until the 8th grade then began working at the Lynchburg Lumber Company to support his family during the Great Depression.
At the start of the Pacific War, Doss was employed as a joiner at a shipyard in Newport News, Virginia and was offered a deferment as a defense worker. On April 1, 1942 in the U. S. Army enlisted at Camp Lee, Virginia with serial number 33158036 as a conscientious objector and refused to learn to shoot a rifle. He was sent to Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina for additional training and refused to learn to shoot a rifle. On August 17, 1942 he married Dorothy Pauline Schutte.
He became a medic assigned to the 2nd Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division. During 1944, served on on Guam and Leyte and earned the Bronze Star with V device (second award) for aiding wounded soldiers under fire.
During April 1945, landed on Okinawa Island and participated in the Battle of the Okinawa. Between April 29, 1945 to May 21, 1945 he distinguished himself. At the summit of the Maeda Escarpment (Hacksaw Ridge) when his 1st Battalion reached the summit they were hit by Japanese artillery, mortar and machine gun fire causing roughly 75 casualties. Without cover, Doss came to their aid carrying the wounded one by one to the edge and attaching them to a rope litter and helped lower them down the side of the cliff. Afterwards, he was photographed standing atop the summit near the cargo net and ladders used for the evacuation showing the difficult terrain.
On May 2, 1945 he again exposed himself to fire to rescue a wounded solider 200 yards ahead of the front lines at the escarpment. On May 4, 1945 he braved grenades to reach four men assaulting a cave and was only eight yards from the enemy defenders, then made four trips back and forth to rescue each man. On May 5, 1945 he aided a wounded artillery officer despite enemy artillery and fire, moving him into cover and administered blood plasma. Later that same day he crawled to a wounded solider only 25' from an enemy position to provide first aid then carried him 100 yards away while exposed to fire.
On May 21, 1945 during a night attack against high ground near Shuri, Doss remained exposed to enemy fire and risked being mistaken as an enemy infiltrator in order to give first aid to wounded Americans until injured in the legs by a grenade and tended to his own wounds. Instead of exposing anyone else, he waiting five hours before litter bearers reached him but were caught by an enemy tanks and had to take cover. Spotting a more wounded solider nearby, he crawled off the stretcher and directed his rescuers to help the other man first and was hit in his left arm causing a compound fracture. Doss used a rifle stock as a splint for his arm and crawled 300 yards over rough terrain back to the aid station. Afterwards, his injuries were severe enough that he was evacuated to USS Mercy (AH-8). On Okinawa, he was wounded four times and would later earn the Medal of Honor for his actions saving lives.
On October 12, 1945 Doss earned the Medal of Honor from U. S. President Harry S. Truman Truman at the White House. He was the first conscientious objector to the receive the nation's highest award and was one of only two conscientious objector recipients (the other was U. S. Army medical aid Cpl Thomas W. Bennett during the Vietnam War). When Doss passed away he was the last surviving medic from World War II that earned the Medal of Honor. He also earned the Bronze Star with V device (second award). For his injuries he earned the Purple Heart with two oak leaf clusters.
Medal of Honor Citation (April 29, 1945–May 21, 1945)
G.O. No.: 97, November 1, 1945: "Private First Class Desmond T. Doss, United States Army, Medical Detachment, 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division. Near Urasoe-Mura, Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands, 29 April – 21 May 1945. He 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 machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Private First Class Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying them 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 2 May, 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 two days later he treated four 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 four separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety. On 5 May, 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, Private First Class 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 21 May, 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 five hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover. The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Private First Class 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, 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 Private First Class 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."
The wounds Doss sustained during World War II caused ongoing health impacts. His arm injury prevented him from pursuing a career in carpentry. He went to live on a small farm in Rising Fawn, Georgia and he and his wife had one child: Desmond "Tommy" Doss Jr.
In 1946 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis from his time on Leyte and underwent treatment for five and a half years, loosing a lung and five ribs before he was discharged with 90% disability in August 1951. Although he received Veterans Administration (VA) medical treatment, in 1976 was given an overdose of antibiotics that made him deaf and became 100% disabled until he receiving a cochlear implants in 1988. His wife died in a car accident in 1991 and he remarried two years later Frances May Duman.
Doss passed away on March 23, 2006 after a brief hospitalization in Piedmont, AL at age 87. On April 3, 2006 he was buried at Chattanooga National Cemetery at section P, site 6399-A.
Doss has a marker outside the Okinawa International Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Kitanakagusuku on Okinawa. It reads: "Pfc Desmond T. Doss - This Seventh-day Adventist Medical aid man of of the 77th Infantry Division received the Congressional Medal of Honor for Valor during the battle for the Maeda Escarpment Pfc Doss remained on top of the escarpment after his unit was driven off searched for the wounded men carried 75 of them to the edge of the cliff and lowered them over the side in a rope litter."
World War II Army Enlistment Records - Desmond T. Doss
U. S. Army in World War II - Okinawa: The Last Battle Chapter XI Assaulting The Second Shuri Defense Ring pages 281
"One of the most remarkable incidents of the battle for the Maeda Escarpment was the performance of Pfc Desmond T. Doss, a medical aid man attached to Company B, 307th Infantry. Doss was a Seventh Day Adventist and would not touch a gun, but time after time he remained on top of the escarpment after the others had been driven off, lowering the wounded over the side in a rope litter. He went repeatedly to within a few yards of caves to administer first aid to men who had been cut down trying to assault the positions, and then carried these men to safety under the very guns of the enemy. For his valor Doss later received the Congressional Medal of Honor."
FindAGrave - Desmond Thomas Doss, Sr (photos, obituary, grave photo)
The Unlikeliest Hero The Story of Pfc Desmond T. Doss (1967) by Booton Herndon
The Conscientious Objector (2010) director Terry L. Benedict
Hacksaw Ridge (2016) director Mel Gibson drama based on Desmond Doss life story