The True Story of Army Medic Desmond Doss, the Soft-Spoken Christian Superhero

President Harry S. Truman presented Doss with the Medal of Honor on Oct. 12, 1945

Doss should be listed among the “most heroic figures in American history. He was singular,” said “Hacksaw Ridge” director Mel Gibson, during 2016 commencement rites at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., in the hills where Doss grew up.

 

Facing a wall of flames and shellfire, Army medic Desmond Doss had to make an agonizing decision – retreat with his 77th Infantry Division or stay behind to save the wounded.

On the big screen, this true story is the stuff of Academy Award nominations. The “Hacksaw Ridge” script gave actor Best Actor nominee Andrew Garfield few words to say, but his face had to display shock, confusion, doubt and determination. The film has been nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture.

“What is it you want from me?”, Doss prays, in his slow Virginia mountains drawl. “I don’t understand. I can’t hear you.”

Then a distant voice screams: “Medic! Help me!”

Doss quietly says, “Alright,” and runs back into the flames.

Working alone, Doss – who refused a weapon, because of his Seventh-day Adventist convictions – lowered at least 75 injured men over a 400-foot cliff during the World War II Battle of Okinawa. He collapsed several times during that night, but kept going with these words on his lips: “Please Lord, help me get one more.”

A Japanese soldier later testified that he aimed at Doss several times, but his rifle kept jamming when he tried to fire.

President Harry S. Truman presented Doss with the Medal of Honor on Oct. 12, 1945 – the first conscientious objector to receive that honor. It took Doss years to recover from his war injuries – he lost a lung to tuberculosis – and he devoted his life to church work, dying in 2006 at age 87.

Doss should be listed among the “most heroic figures in American history. He was singular,” said “Hacksaw Ridge” director Mel Gibson, during 2016 commencement rites at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., in the hills where Doss grew up.

Medal of Honor winners are usually recognized for amazing, singular acts in combat, noted Gibson, a Best Director Oscar nominee. But Doss “kept crawling into enemy fire to rescue his buddies. … He stuck by his convictions. He was a man of tremendous faith and it was these things that enabled him to display this courage over and over and do superhuman things – superhuman in that he could go outside himself and depend on something greater than himself to achieve something truly extraordinary and miraculous.”

While few Americans may have heard of Doss, Hollywood had long sought his cooperation in telling his story, beginning soon after the war, said Terry Benedict, who produced and directed the 2004 documentary, “The Conscientious Objector.” Benedict was on the “Hacksaw Ridge” production team.

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