Hacksaw Ridge: Desmond Doss-The Unlikely Hero behind the movie


President Harry Truman stood directly in front of me while a crowd of high-level government officials, top military brass, media representatives, and family members watched attentively.  As the commander in chief presented me the Congressional Medal of Honor, memories of the bloody South Pacific flooded my mind.

Just six months before this momentous ceremony, after recouping from campaigns in Guam and Leyte, the Army’s 77th Division advanced to the island of Okinawa in April 1945.  Arriving at the beach, we found this seemingly insignificant spot of land to be virtually impregnable.  The Japanese remained invisible in underground shafts, foxholes and trenches.

What appeared to be natural terrain camouflaged weapons positioned to fire upon unsuspecting Americans.  Further complicating our mission was the 400-foot Maeda Escarpment that stretched across the island.  Our job was to scale the ominous cliff and overtake the enemy on the top and back side.

As the early stages of battle unfolded, my lieutenant asked me to pray.  “Dear Lord, bless us today,” I began.  “Be with the lieutenant and help him give the right orders.  Help us to use safety precautions so that we all might come back alive.  And, Lord, help us to make peace with Thee before we go up the cliff.  Thank You.  Amen.”

In the beginning our plans progressed successfully.  As Company A faced fierce fighting, Company B intervened to knock off eight or nine Japanese pill boxes.  Miraculously, no one in our company was killed, and only one was injured – by a rock that hit his hand.

As news of the outcome reached headquarters and the United States, the question was asked: “How did you ever do it?”  The men of Company B answered, “It was because of Doss’ prayer.”

The situation changed, though, when time came to scale the escarpment to finish the job.  What was thought to be a mop-up operation degenerated into a meltdown.  Everything deemed to go wrong.

Springing like locusts from trenches and foxholes, the Japanese fought vigorously.  Artillery, mortar and machine gun fire filled the air.  Smoke hung like a dense fog.  When continued fighting meant certain suicide, a retreat was ordered.

What followed, however, was panic.  More than 50 soldiers descended the cliff to safety, leaving approximately 75 wounded men still on top.

Ignoring orders from those below for me to come down, I decided to remain and help as many as possible.  How could I abandon them?  These guys had loved ones at home who were anxious for their return.

I found the nearest soldier and dragged him to the edge of the cliff.  Spotting a litter and rope, I tied him on the best I could.  Thankfully, the rope held, and he made it safely to a landing area 35 feet below.

With the enemy still firing in our vicinity, I needed a quicker way to lower the remaining men.  At that moment, God brought to mind a roping technique I learned as a young lad in church school.  I tied a double bowline, which created two loops to place onto the legs of the next soldier.  I doubled the rope again, tied it around the man’s chest and lowered him gently over the edge.  The Lord even provided a stump to wrap the rope around, which reduced the strain of the load and preserved my strength.

After lowering each soldier, I asked the Lord to give me one more.  Grenades and bullets came so close I could practically feel them.  “Just give me one more,” I prayed, “just give me one more” – until the last man was recovered.

Blood-soaked and covered with flies, I finally descended the escarpment myself.  I then took my Bible and sought a private place to thank God for sparing our lives.

Unfortunately, the battle for Okinawa lingered.  As the fighting continued, the Japanese tossed a grenade into a hole where I was trapped.  When it exploded, I flew into the air and saw stars.  I landed to discover that my leg and buttocks were severely wounded.  Dangerously losing blood, I had to wait five hours for daybreak and help to arrive.

Later, as I limped along with my arm wrapped around the neck of a fellow soldier, an enemy sniper’s bullet pierced my arm below the wrist.  I came out below the elbow, shattering bones and nerves.  To this day, I’m convinced that if the shell had not hit me first, it would have hit my buddy’s neck – likely killing him.

After doctors on location put a cast on my arm and removed 17 pieces of shrapnel from my lower body, the Army sent me back to the United States.  After reuniting with my wife, I spent most of the next six years in Veterans Administration hospitals.

First, physicians took the lodged bullet from my upper arm.  Then, following the Medal of Honor ceremony, fatigue engulfed me.  I wondered why I felt tired all of the time.  I was traveling around the country making speeches, but it had to be more than that.  Finally, the military hospital in Richmond gave me the diagnosis – tuberculosis.

I recovered after several years, only to discover that the antibiotics used for treatment had created a substantial loss in hearing.  By the mid 1970s, I was totally deaf.

Years of struggle followed until we found out about a cochlear implant that provided limited hearing.  After surgery to implant the device, I was asked by a speech therapist if I could hear her.  My face radiated with gratitude and amazement when I heard the first intelligible sound in 12 years.

Nearly 15 years have passed since that unforgettable experience, and through all of the ups and downs, God has continued to be faithful.

After 49 years of marriage, my wife Dorothy died in 1991.  By the end of that decade, doctors found yet another physical complication – bladder cancer.  Nevertheless, with the aid of modern medicine and the healing power of the Great Physician, a recent biopsy showed no sign of the disease.

I continue to stay active around my home on Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, Tenn., working with youth desmond-doss-w-toddfrom my church, attending functions and giving talks, often wearing the same uniform I donned in Washington, D.C., over a half-century ago when receiving the award.  My second wife, Frances, and I recently returned from the annual Medal of Honor convention in Boston.  Only 142 recipients are still living.

Looking back, I believe I received the Congressional Medal of Honor because of the love God gave me for my fellow men.  I put them before myself.  I enjoy helping people.

Harry Truman said to me on that October 1945 day: “I am proud of you.  You really deserve this.  I consider this a greater honor than being president.”  That was a very nice thing for the commander in chief to say.  Yet the highest honor I can imagine is going to heaven, meeting Jesus face to face, and being welcomed into His presence for eternity.


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