Hacksaw Ridge: The Heart of a Hero
One soldier called it “the most ghastly corner of hell I had ever witnessed.” Yet from the carnage and chaos of one of the bloodiest Pacific battles of World War II came a story of astonishing heroism and incredible faith.
The island of Okinawa, 360 miles southwest of Japan, was of enormous strategic importance to American forces during World War II. Okinawa would provide the United States the perfect staging site for an invasion of Japan and the end of war in the Pacific.
Although only the size of Los Angeles, Okinawa proved to be impossible to take for months. Heavily fortified, its hidden bunkers kept Japanese soldiers safely out of reach of long-distance bombardments.
Between American troops and the Japanese military lay the Maeda Escarpment, a 350-foot high ridge that runs along much of the island of Okinawa. In order to take Okinawa, American troops had to take the Maeda Escarpment. Soldiers called it “Hacksaw Ridge.”
On Hacksaw Ridge a humble medic performed with such bravery and heroism that he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the United States’ highest military honor.
Desmond Doss was born and raised in Lynchburg, Virginia. His job in a shipyard in Newport News, Virginia, meant he could have received a deferment, but he volunteered to serve his country and enlisted in 1942. By the time Doss arrived on Okinawa with the Medical Detachment, 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division, he had served in other locations in the Pacific including Guam and Leyte.
Doss was a man of deep conviction. On the wall of his family home a picture portrayed the Ten Commandments. Beside the sixth commandment—“thou shalt not kill”—was a depiction of Cain standing over the lifeless body of his brother, Abel. Desmond often asked, “How could a brother do such a thing?” When he entered the military, he was determined that he would do all he could to save life rather than take life, and he refused to carry a weapon. While the army classified him as a conscientious objector, Doss called himself a conscientious cooperator. He was willing to serve his country, but he refused to take a life.
Furthermore, Doss kept all ten of those commandments, including the fourth, which speaks of keeping the seventh day of the week (Saturday) holy: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work. . . . For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:8-11, NKJV). Throughout his life, Doss fellowshipped with Seventh-day Adventists, other believers who took seriously God’s call to follow all ten commandments.
But his strong patriotism and his commitment to God were not appreciated by many of his fellow soldiers, who had no respect for the unassuming, Bible-reading believer. The barracks were a place of constant turmoil for Private Doss. His own men regularly insulted him, humiliated him, and beat him. Certain military leaders sought to have him discharged, claiming he was mentally incompetent to serve.
But their opinion of Desmond Doss would change as his faith in God and commitment to duty revealed the depth of his character.
On the Battlefield
When some of the greatest carnage ever witnessed on Okinawa forced American infantrymen to retreat to safety, Private Doss stayed on Hacksaw Ridge to tend to the many wounded American servicemen. While under intense enemy fire, Doss located wounded soldiers, carried them to the edge of the escarpment and lowered them to safety using a rope. His Medal of Honor citation states that Doss single-handedly saved 75 men on Hacksaw Ridge. Those present said he saved as many as 100.
After lowering each infantryman to safety, Doss would say a prayer before going back out into the heat of artillery fire: “Lord, help me get one more.” His commitment to saving the lives of others while disregarding his own safety was one of the most remarkable acts of bravery ever witnessed on a battlefield.
After Doss was himself injured by an exploding grenade, he tended to his own wounds and waited five hours for a stretcher rather than summoning help and exposing another soldier to danger. While litter bearers were taking him to safety, he rolled off the stretcher so another more seriously injured soldier could be assisted. While waiting for the litter bearers to return, a sniper’s bullet shattered his forearm. Using the stock of a gun as a splint to secure his injured arm, he crawled 300 yards to safety.
Presenting Desmond Doss with his Medal of Honor, President Harry S. Truman said he considered presenting the medal to Doss “a greater honor than being President.”
Faith in God
Desmond Doss frequently said it was his faith in God that enabled him to do what others would consider impossible. Every day he spent time with God in prayer and read the Bible that his wife had given him. Every day Desmond Doss committed himself to God, asking for God’s guidance and for strength to surrender to God’s will.
While Desmond Doss never carried a weapon, he never went into battle defenseless. He understood with the apostle Paul that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh” (2 Corinthians 10:4, ESV). He trusted God at all times. When rejected by his fellow soldiers, when assigned menial duties or refused home leave owing to his insistence on living by principle, when walking into danger to save his men, or when injured on a foreign battlefield, Desmond Doss believed God’s Word and trusted in the God of heaven as his hope and strength.
The war took a heavy toll on Desmond Doss. Tuberculosis led to the removal of a lung and five ribs. Before receiving a cochlear implant, complications from medical treatment left him deaf for many years. Yet Desmond Doss dedicated his life to sharing his story of faith in God. He was reluctant to allow Hollywood to tell his story for fear they would attempt to glamorize his life by depicting activities inconsistent with his faith in God.
After the war, Desmond Doss acknowledged that he didn’t know how he survived. “That’s why I like to tell this story to the glory of God, because I know from the human standpoint, I should not be here.”
“From a human standpoint”—but Doss’ story is a story of faith. An ordinary man who exercised faith in an extraordinary God was enabled to do remarkable things.
Hollywood has brought the story of Desmond Doss to a global audience. The exploits of a humble combat medic are now known to the world and have inspired people to renew their faith, or to live in connection to the God Doss served.
Is God waiting for you to become a person of faith? Begin by accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. Become familiar with God by reading the Bible and get to know God yourself by talking to Him in prayer. God will then do extraordinary things in your life, just as He did in the life of Desmond Doss.
Doss died in 2006, believing firmly that Jesus would soon return to earth to bring eternal life to all who believe in Him. You can be in that group of people. Through faith in God, you can live with the same assurance as Desmond Doss and look toward to eternity with hope in your heart.
Hacksaw Ridge (The Heart of a Hero)
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