Sunday, March 26, 2006

Desmond Doss (1919-2006)

Desmond T. Doss, a devout member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, went through life with a framed poster of the Ten Commandments depicting Cain holding a club with the supineAbel beneath him. It was an unusual image for a conscientious objector, but served him well.

Doss, who died Thursday at age 87, was the first conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, the U.S.'s highest military honor, after the unarmed Army medic saved dozens of fellow soldiers under fire on Okinawa in World War II.

(One other C.O., a Vietnam veteran, also has received the award.)

Doss was drafted in 1942, was given C.O. status and became a medic. He was harassed by fellow soldiers for his refusal to take up arms, devotion to prayer and refusal to work on the Sabbath, which he later went back on when he realized that Christ healed on the Sabbath and as a medic he could, too.

Doss was sent to the Pacific and served as a combat medic on Guam and at Leyte, where he received the Bronze Star, before landing at Okinawa.

On Saturday, May 5, 1945 -- his Sabbath -- the Japanese counterattacked an American position on Maeda Escarpment.

The Americans retreated, but many wounded were standed on the ridgetop and Doss stayed with them. Refusing to seek cover despite enemy fire, he improvised a litter with double bowline rope knots that he had learned to make as a youngster growing up in Virginia. Using a tree stump as an anchor, he lowered each soldier 35 feet from the ridgetop before coming down himself. His Medal of Honor citation stated that he rescued 75 men, but Doss later said the number was closer to 50.

Doss was wounded twice in the following weeks, spent more than five years in hospitals and lost a lung to tuberculosis. He was unable to work a steady job and devoted himself to his religion and working with young people in church-sponsored programs in Georgia and later in Alabama.

Late in life, he told a reporter that

From a human standpoint, I shouldn't be here to tell the story. All the glory should go to God. No telling how many times the Lord has spared my life.


Anonymous said...

Desmond T. Doss visited Broadview Academy (LaFox, IL) in 1962 for a weekend. He was the paragon for young Seventh-day Adventists males who would be called to serve in the US military in the medical corps. Adventists were opposed to the taking of human life and refused to bear arms, but would serve as medics. His military service was exemplary of his faith that God truly watched over those who obeyed Him, even in the most dire of circumstances, and the power of prayer. He told us that one time in the heat of battle he encouraged many of those with him to pray to God for protection, and there was not one casualty that day.

He wrote a paragraph in my Bible and included the text which he believed was God's promise to guard those to believed in Him. He was an extremely humble human being, and an inspiration for others. His life was a testament to his belief. His legacy will always be a paradigm for others who seek to live their life according to God's precepts, especially Seventh-day Adventists who will always memorialize his example.

Michael M. Yugovich

Shaun Mullen said...

What a beautiful comment, Mr. Yugovich. I am so glad that you got to meet Desmond Doss.

I have met two Medal of Honor winners in my time. Both, like Mr. Doss, had a humility born of conviction and experience that I found to be awe inspiring.