Desmond Doss, The Conscientious Objector and MOH Recipient

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Desmond Doss, The Conscientious Objector and MOH Recipient

This weekend while I was in Las Vegas with 35 of our current generation of wounded heroes (more on that later this week) my boss was in New Orleans at a different event, and he emailed me that he was sitting there talking with Walter Ehlers.  Now, a lot of people rank their favorite sports figures or celebrities, I have the same thing for my favorite MOH recipients.  They are all incredibly awesome, but Mr Ehlers was always in my Top 3 because of time I had spent with him at a bar during the 2001 innauguration.  (The other two in my Top 3 are Hiroshi Miyamura and Peter Lemon, the former being an Asian-American who received his medal for service in Korea, the second a Canadian from Vietnam.) 

Anyway, at one point my boss was sitting talking to Mr. Ehlers' grandson, Reed Metcalf who asked my boss if he had ever heard the story of Desmond Doss.  He had not, and neither had I until he mentioned it to me this morning in our meeting.  So, I looked up Desmond Doss, and what an incredible story.  Wikipedia lays it out succinctly:

Drafted in April 1942,  Desmond Doss refused to kill, or carry a weapon into combat, because of his personal beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist. He consequently became a medic, and by serving in the Pacific theatre of World War II helped his country by saving the lives of his comrades, while also adhering to his religious convictions. Shortly before leaving the Army, Desmond was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He left the Army in 1946.

His Medal of Honor was given in recognition of the risks he took to save the lives of so many comrades.

His MOH citation is simply astonishing.

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. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying them 1 by 1 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 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards of enemy forces in a cave's mouth, where he dressed his comrades' wounds before making 4 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, Pfc. 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 5 hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover. The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Pfc. 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 1 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 Pfc. 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.

I actually found a LONG documentary about Mr. Doss available on YouTube, so am sharing it here so you too can see what this amazing man's life was all about...


UPDATE:  Actually, looks like the video stops at like 15 minutes, or it does for me.  To get the full documentary, you can order it here (CLICK HERE).


Posted in the burner | 5 comments
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If only all COs would go half that far.

I knew Desmond Doss, and vsited him on his humble farm on Lookout Mt., GA a couple of times. A small (in stature) man, slender in build, soft-spoken - one could only marvel a the reserves of strength it must have cost him to lower over 70 men down a sheer 400ft cliff, working for hours under heavy fire.

A Seventh-day Adventist myself, I was drafted into the Army in 1967, trained as a medic and sent to Viet Nam. Desmond was my inspiration, and I wanted nothing more than to emulate him in every way as a field medic. However, I got assigned to the 18th Surgical Hospital in Quang Tri instead, and never had to really test my mettle under serious fire. But I saw plenty of others who did, and have nothing but respect fot what they have had to go through.

Desmond lived quietly and peacefully on his farm on Lookout Mountain until his death at an old age, nearly deaf from the results of his military service, and was burried with full honors at the National Cemetary in Chattanooga, TN. He served his church all his life, and also started a cave-rescue service, teaching his life-saving methods to countless volunteers over the years until he was at last too old to do it any more.

Our country needs more men like Desmond, men who love and serve both God and Country.

Mr. Doss, there are still combat medics, and sadly, still the need for them. But our country has always enjoyed the sacrifices of our noncombatants who still risk their lives for others. We give thanks for examples such as Desmond, and the further inspiration they create.

Thanks, Terry, for your service and example. You are fortunate to have known Mr. Doss. I only learned of him after my father died. My father served in the 77th as well. I'm not sure he knew of Mr. Doss, but I'm sure he would have only had admiration for his courage and commitment to his fellow man.

Keep the faith.

Peter J Kennedy, Jr.

"Our country needs more men like Desmond, men who love and serve both God and Country"
I'm sure we have them and they'll be front and centered when called.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.