Sunday, March 23, 2008

America's Peaceful Warrior

On this day two years ago a hero died and most Americans didn't notice. Like me, they had no idea that he even existed, yet he was one of the bravest participants in World War II. He was a conscientious objector who didn't want to be called or treated like a conscientious objector. Though he refused to carry a gun he desperately wanted to serve his country in the titanic struggle of that time. He wasn't willing to kill for his country, but he was more than willng to die for it. This hero was Army medic Desmond T. Doss, the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, America's highest military medal.

I first heard of Desmond Doss totally by accident. It was Memorial Day weekend '06, if memory serves, and I was channel surfing trying to find something to ease my boredom. I landed on the Christian tv station Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) and a movie caught my eye. I soon realized that the movie wasn't a movie at all but a documentary. Not in the mood for anything serious, I was going to change channels when something said don't. I put down the remote and soon became engrossed in the unlikely story of Desmond Doss, a pacifist who joined the United States Army.

Desmond Doss' story moved me deeply. Naturally, the sheer unlikeliness of a pacifist becoming a war hero drew me in, but it was Doss himself who touched my heart. As he told his story he revealed a gentleness, kindness, and humility that most people usually associate with the Amish. How could such a harmless soul win the Congressional Medal of Honor? Listen.
Desmond Doss was a devout Seventh Day Adventist who took the Ten Commandments, especially the sixth one, seriously. He resolved in childhood never to harm another human being. Yet when WWII broke out Doss was eager to serve his country, but the Army didn't want him. It had no need, it thought, of a soldier who wouldn't carry a gun. An effort was made to send him to a conscientious objectors' camp but Doss refused. He didn't consider himself a conscientious objector because he wanted to wear the uniform and serve his country, he just didn't want to kill anyone. So he kept trying to get into the Army until he was finally allowed to enlist and was assigned to the 77th Infantry Division as a medic. That's when his trouble started.
This was the hardest part of the documentary for me to watch. It almost made me cry. Once Desmond Doss was in the barracks with his fellow soldiers he was badly mistreated by them. He was cursed. He was taunted. He was ridiculed. He had boots thrown at him. His life was even threatened. All because he prayed every night, was a vegetarian, and refused to work on Saturday, the Adventists' sabbath. And because he wouldn't carry a gun. Listening to Desmond Doss recount this abuse in his humbly dignified way, free from all bitterness, sent chills down my spine. It made me understand what real strength he had and why he walked off the battlefields of the Pacific with two Bronze Stars, three Purple Hearts, and the nation's highest military honor. All without firing a shot.
Desmond Doss got to show his mean-spirited "brothers" just what he was made of when facing combat on Guam and in the Phillipines in 1944. Medic Doss braved enemy fire repeatedly to treat and rescue the wounded, many of them the same men who'd abused him. The soldiers who'd vehemently objected to serving with a devoutly Christian, vegetarian pacifist now gave him their deepest respect. And it soon got deeper.
On April 29, 1945 American forces won control of the Maeda Escarpment on Okinawa but on May 5 the Japaness lauched a fierce counterattack. The Americans were forced to retreat, leaving their wounded, and medic Doss, on the escarpment. While those wounded who could fought off the Japanese, Doss lowered soldier after soldier down the escarpment using a rope and a tree stump, saving at least 50 men. Doss continued his courageous and non-violent service to his country until he was injured by a grenade on May 21. Now it was his turn to be rescued. While being carried to safety, though, Doss slid off the stretcher so a more gravely wounded man could be moved first. When he was finally on his way to a hospital ship Desmond realized he'd lost the Bible his wife, Dorothy, had given him. Upon learning that the men in his battalion searched the battefield until Doss' Bible was found. They lovingly cleaned it as best they could, dried it, then mailed it to the man they'd once scorned but now loved and admired.
On October 12, 1945 Doss, who would spend the next 5 years in and out of the hospital due to his injuries and a bout with tuberculosis, was awared the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Truman. After his distingushed service to a nation that initially spurned his desire to serve, Doss lived out his life in the mountain community of Rising Fawn, GA. There he and Dorothy raised a son, Desmond, Jr., and Doss continued to help any who asked. In 1965 he formed the Civilian Defense Rescue Service for Walker county, GA. The CDRS proved it's mettle a year later when it helped rescue seven Boy Scouts and their leader who'd gotten lost in a cave. Desmond spent more consecutive hours searching the cave than anyone else.
Desmond Doss was a shining example of courage and conviction. After serving his country with nearly superhuman courage, surviving his wounds, raising a son, burying his first wife and marrying a second, and in everything remaining faithful to God, Desmond Doss, America's peaceful warrior, went home to his Maker on March 23, 2006.
Farewell gentle soldier, and thank you for your service and your faith.
If you want to learn more about Desmond Doss you can order the documentary "The Conscientious Objector" at


Johnny Workentine said...

This is a touching story about a man who was determined to respect the commandments. Unfortunately, not everyone is so inclined:

JMK said...

An absolutely awesome story and an incredibly admirable man Seane-Anna.

I know this may not be received well, by some, but as brave and as faithful as Desmond Doss was, no nation can win a war with an Army of Desmond Doss's - people who refuse to kill in defense of their nation.

And I AGREE that he was no mere conscientious objector. He was an exceptional man who bravely (incredibly bravely) served as an Army Medic.

This is NOT a humane world and we can't have a sizable portion of the population embrace the idea that "It IS better to live, even under the oppression of others rather than to do some of the hideous things that are always done...that MUST be done in wars."

Was America's continued freedom/Liberty worth the nearly 300,000 lives lost when we fire-bombed Dresden, Germany?

You bet it was!

Was it worth, the nearly 200,000 killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki?


While it's true that more than half those killed in WW II were civilians (and that is regrettable) it's often necessary in a war.

Japan attacked America because the USA had kept vital iron and oil from reaching Japan. That nation saw that as "economic war." Much the same as we would find any nation limiting our access to oil "economic war" today.

Japan had a valid reason to engage in WW II and we had a very valid reason to defend ourselves.

It merely turns out that Japan, like Germany was fighting on the wrong side and over the wrong set of ideals...and thankfully they were beaten.

It took over four decades post WW II (and many thousands of lives, in countries across the globe) for the former USSR to collapse and fall.

It would be great IF wars never happened, but that's just not the case.

JMK said...

Hey! I'm glad your writer's block has passed.

A great story to come back with.

DragonLady said...

That was a great read. Thanks for posting that as I had never heard of him.

Seane-Anna said...

I didn't expect to get comments so quickly! I'm glad the story of Desmond Doss is reaching more people.

I'd like to apologize for the paragraphs running together in this post. I guess the pic of Doss is taking up too much space so Blogger had to compress the post. I tried to space the paragraphs the way they should be. I even deleted a paragraph but to not avail. Everything still ran together. I hope this doesn't get in the way of people enjoying this post.

You're right, JMK. We can't have an army made up of people who refuse to kill. That wasn't the point of the post. Rather, the point was to show that opposing war and opposing your country aren't one and the same thing as so many "anti-war" liberals would have us believe.

Desmond Doss didn't believe in killing but he DID believe in America and showed it by willingly putting his life on the line to serve her. He was the total antithesis of the likes of Jane Fonda, Cindy Sheehan and their ilk, not only in his patriotism and bravery but also in his gentleness, humility and faith.

Real pacifists are patriots who don't shrink from aiding their country in its battle against evil. That's what I hope people take away from the story of Desmond Doss, a genuine pacifist AND a genuine patriot.

WomanHonorThyself said...

fascinating story girl!..btw..I miss your comments at WHT..come on

Roadhouse said...

Great article! Thanks for your posts on my blog, and adding me to your roll. I hope you like my book when you get it. It took me four years of late nights behind the computer to write it.

Uncle Joe said...

Thanks for the post. JMK is right, we can't defend our nation with an Army of Desmond Doss's, but Americans like him are a testiment to much of what we do have to defend.

Thanks for adding my blog to your blog roll. I added yours to mint, too.


JMK said...

Absolutely, Desmond Doss was no mere conscientious objector, Seane-Anna, but I think that fact will be lost on most Liberals,many of whom don't come to the table with the view that "America is a good country, with ideals worth defending."

In fact the view that "dissent is a centerpiece of democracy," has been used as a centerpiece for America-haters.

Sadly, at least in my view, it's NOT so much that we have misguided Americans who "mean well," but by real honest to God "America-haters," a real cadre of an enemy within our borders.

Seane-Anna said...

To Roadhouse: Four years to write your book? What dedication!

GrEaT sAtAn'S gIrLfRiEnD said...

Hi Seanne Anna - That was a great story. And it hit very close to home. You see, I travel often on the Desmond Doss Medal of Honor Highway.

DD is another example of service to something larger than self - his name is legion for there are thousands like him.

Thank you for sharing this.

Goat said...

I had heard Desmond's story before at it is a moving one. I have to say the medics deserve alot more credit than than the usually get and are some of the very bravest. Its hard to fight when you are caring for the wounded. They are a major reason casualties have been kept so low in the current war.