Desmond Doss wouldn’t have stood out in a crowd as a brave hero. But sometimes looks can be deceiving. Doss was a quiet, unassuming conscientious objector who served as a combat medic in World War II. He was twice awarded the Bronze Star for valor for risking his life to save wounded soldiers during fighting in Guam and the Philippines. But it was on the island of Okinawa that he displayed his most extraordinary bravery.

Desmond Doss on Okinawa in May 1945 during the fighting that would result in his being awarded the Medal of Honor.

A Very Unusual Training Experience

Doss was born in Lynchburg, Virginia on February 7, 1919. He was a strict Seventh-Day Adventist, a pacifist, and didn’t believe in violence or the use of arms. He attended a school of the same faith until the eighth grade when he left school to work to help his family during the Great Depression.

At the outbreak of World War II, Doss had a job in the Newport News shipbuilding yards and was offered a deferment. But he turned it down and enlisted in the army on April 1, 1942, hoping to be a medic due to his refusal to carry a weapon because of his religious convictions. His basic training experience was difficult. He was threatened and harassed. Many of the other recruits threw shoes at him while he prayed, and they tried to have him transferred out of their unit.

His fellow troops considered him a coward, a misfit and he was bullied during his training with the newly reformed 77th Infantry Division. He further angered the military when he asked for a pass on Saturdays to observe his Sabbath

His unit’s officers tried to threaten, cajole, and harass him into carrying a weapon. But he remained steadfast in his beliefs. They even tried to court-martial him for refusing to obey a direct order to carry a rifle.

But despite all of it, Doss remained true to his upbringing and never held a grudge against his fellow troops. Whenever one would need treatment for their injuries or ailments during their training, Doss was always there for them. Little did they know how much.

Desmond Doss in Hacksaw Ridge

During the American invasion of Okinawa, the final precursor of the invasion of Japan itself, the 77th Division was assigned the task of taking the Maeda Escarpment, a jagged 125′ cliff.

The Japanese planned was to let the Americans climb up and once they reached the top annihilate them with a concentration of machine-gun and mortar fire.