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Meet Desmond Doss: A lasting legacy

Doss’ strong faith, deep-rooted principles and his refusal to compromise with his conscience made him a man of integrity – one whose contributions continue to make a difference.

By Natalia Grobler.


Following the war, Doss spent more than five years in hospital recovering from his injuries sustained during battle. Doctors also discovered that he had tuberculosis.  One of his lungs was removed, as were five ribs. His disabilities prevented him from seeking employment and he spent his post-war years living on a modest pension.

Doss was honourably discharged from the army in 1946. Doss and his wife Dorothy, who he had married in 1942, had one son, Desmond Jr.  They moved to Rising Fawn in Georgia in the 1950s, where they purchased five acres, farmed and built their home.

Doss continued to devote himself to God, working with young people in church-sponsored programmes including a military training camp in Michigan for Seventh-day Adventist youth. Doss was featured on the This Is Your Life television show in 1959, after which he received many public speaking engagements.

Dorothy died in 1991 and Doss remarried Frances Duman who wrote Desmond Doss: In God’s Care in 1998. It was later reprinted as Desmond Doss, Conscientious Objector in 2005. Doss died at the age of 87 on 23 March, 2006.

During his life Doss faced unscrupulous and relentless adversity that must at times have been crippling. The disappointment could easily have led to despair and bitterness but instead he chose to persevere. Doss did what he knew to be right, breaking down stereotypes, showing incredible commitment and devotion to the very soldiers who had once mocked and rejected him. Time and time again, he demonstrated fearless bravery and selfless compassion for the suffering of the men he served.

Doss’ strong faith, deep-rooted principles and his refusal to compromise with his conscience made him a man of integrity. God honoured Doss using him in ways far greater than he could ever have dreamt possible — in ways that are still playing out today nearly 75 years later.


Image courtesy of Desmond Doss Council.

Lessons on respect from Hacksaw Ridge

Doss stuck to his principles and didn’t back down — even if it meant he was threatened with court martial.

By Adele Nash.


How do you react when someone treats you with disrespect? What about when they’re disrespectful because you’re doing what’s right based on your personal principles? It’s tough, because it seems so unfair. You can easily be tempted to just treat them in the way they’ve treated you rather than turning the other cheek.

Turning the other cheek is an old cliché that actually originates from a Christian principle. In the Bible, Jesus talks about doing that in the book of Matthew. He challenged His followers to not seek revenge, but to go the extra mile for others. Luke 6:31 tells us to do to other what we would like them to do to us.

From the first day of training, the enlisted men who worked with Private Desmond Doss knew he was different — not just because he would go the extra mile to help others. As a devout Seventh-day Adventist, Doss would read the Bible and kneel to pray each night by the side of his bunk. Whether or not he was oblivious to the boots, insults and disrespect thrown his way by his fellow soldiers, he chose to continue to treat his fellow soldiers with respect. In fact, he would often clean their boots and return them to their owners.

Doss also respected God wanting people who follow Him to not kill others, as well as respecting fellow humans. Even when they disrespected Doss, he showed them kindness in return. That doesn’t mean that he was a wimp or a pushover. He stuck to his principles and didn’t back down from them — even if it meant he was threatened with court martial.

Sticking to these principles saw Doss save hundreds of lives in World War II, receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism in rescuing 75 men following an assault on Hacksaw Ridge, and gain the respect and admiration of his fellow soldiers in the process.

When you watch the documentary The Conscientious Objector, you can see the respect his fellow soldiers hold Doss in. This doesn’t go to his head — he stays humble and never uses it as a chance to hold their poor treatment of him against them. Respect is a two-way street — sometimes it just takes a little longer for traffic to flow smoothly in both directions.

The ‘coward’ who proved himself a hero

Why would a man risk his life to rescue those who had persecuted him so violently?

By Linden Chuang.


Before he became a conscientious objector, Desmond Doss was given a different title: “coward.” It was a name his war buddies — or rather bullies at the time — bestowed on him for his refusal to bear arms in combat.

To be labelled a coward is perhaps the most degrading accusation in military circles. It’s a charge that says you’re not only too weak to stand up and fight, but to stand by your fellow man.

Yet when the soldiers moved from the training field to the battlefield of Hacksaw Ridge in 1945, it was Doss “the coward” saving the very men who belittled and beat him.

How he managed to carry those 75 wounded soldiers to safety is hard to fathom. The why is even harder to understand. Why would a man risk his life to rescue those who had persecuted him so violently?

Alexander Pope said “to err is human.” It’s a phrase that has been commonly used to describe our susceptibility as humans to make mistakes. Doss understood this, but he also recognised the second part of the quote: “to forgive, divine.”

Doss was a man of God. His ability to forgive was not self-administered; it was faith-inspired. “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13; see also Luke 6:27, Ephesians 4:32).

Christian author C. S. Lewis once wrote that “to be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” Doss knew this. He understood that grudges are shackles, but forgiveness is freedom. Only with a clean heart — one free of hate and harboured resentment — can one truly stand by their fellow man.

Heroism or foolishness: What is selfless courage?

He never carried a weapon, but Desmond Doss didn’t enter the war unarmed.

By Linden Chuang.


Here’s something to consider: what if Desmond Doss had only rescued seven men instead of 75 on that night at Hacksaw Ridge? What if he had been killed on the first day of battle without a single saved soul to show for it? Would we have called him courageous or a fool?

We often associate courage with acts of heroism, but courage is really about the state of the heart.

Dr Brené Brown says, “courage is a heart word.” After all, the root word for “courage” is cor, the Latin word for heart. Doss’s bravery, then, is not so much about what he accomplished at Hacksaw Ridge, but his willingness to climb up there in the first place.

So why did he do it? Why did he run into the battlefield when everyone else was retreating?

Two reasons: faith and love.

Doss wasn’t ignorant. He was a medic, not a Marvel superhero, and he knew his limitations. But he also had faith in a very big God who promised to strengthen him, help him and never leave him (see Isaiah 41:10, Deuteronomy 31:6, Joshua 1:9).

Paulo Coelho once wrote that “an act of courage is always an act of love.” The two are inseparable. The Bible, Doss’s self-described “source of strength,” builds on this idea, saying to “stand firm in the faith, be courageous” and “do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13 NIV).

Faith, courage and love.


Doss was no fool. He never carried a weapon, but he didn’t enter the war unarmed.

“My strength has the strength of ten because my heart is pure.”—Alfred Lord Tennyson

The commandments that inspired a war hero

Why were the Ten Commandments so important to Desmond Doss – particularly during times of trouble on the battlefield at Okinawa?

By Jarrod Stackelroth.


An estimated 20 million troops were killed in World War II. It was a dangerous and deadly conflict, even for civilians. In fact, there are stories of soldiers being ordered to target medics, to dishearten and demoralise their enemies.

So you could forgive a non-combatant for carrying a weapon . . . just for self-defence, right? And yet Private Desmond Doss refused. He refused to even touch a gun. Why? What made his conviction so strong that he risked ridicule, rebuke and even discharge to keep it?

Desmond Doss was committed to keeping the Ten Commandments (found in the Old Testament in the Bible) — particularly the sixth one. As a boy, an artist’s impression of the Ten Commandments sat in the family’s living room and had a formative impact on Doss’ life — especially number six: you shall not kill.  In the documentary The Conscientious Objector, Doss’ sister, Audrey Miller spoke about how Doss focussed on “Thou shalt not kill,” which was illustrated with an image of Cain and Abel. “He always pointed to it,” she said. “He was just a clever boy.”

Doss reflected on the image and what it meant to him. “To me, it said, ‘Desmond, if you love me [God], you won’t kill.’ As a result, I didn’t want to ever take life.”

Knowing the human propensity for violence and the temptation of using a weapon if he had one in a sticky situation, Doss preferred to avoid any contact with guns.

This is the other Commandment Doss made a point of sticking to: “Remember the Sabbath Day and Keep it holy” — hard to do in the army.

Doss fought for his right to keep Sabbath, even under threat of court martial. Eventually, on Saturdays he was allowed to practice his religion without duties, but this led others in his unit to think he was getting special privileges. He would get a pass for the Sabbath so he could go attend a local Seventh-day Adventist church. But he would get all the tough details on Sunday.

Yet Doss believed it so strongly, that he persevered through the war and neither threats nor pleadings could wear him down.

But why were the Ten Commandments so important to Doss? And what are they?

Unlike other laws and traditions that are recorded in the Bible, the author of Exodus records that God Himself wrote the Commandments on stone and gave them to Moses. Yet these laws were important even before Moses received them in the desert. The fourth Commandment mentions the Sabbath, a day of rest and remembrance and a time Seventh-day Adventists use to spend with family members and with God is mentioned in the fourth Commandment.

Do not kill we’ve mentioned already. Other Commandments include: do not steal, do not commit adultery, don’t worship idols, honour your parents. These are all good things; things that are still important today.

Some people argue that because Jesus came and died for us, we no longer need the Commandments. But Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” He also said, that he didn’t come to do away with the law but to fulfil it.

People often paint the Ten Commandments as a list of things that an angry God is telling you not to do. But if we follow the Commandments, like Doss did, we are honouring God and other people. They protect us from doing things that will hurt others or ourselves. If we decided to intentionally not follow the Ten Commandments, like choosing to do the opposite at traffic signals, disaster would ensue; we’d be lying, stealing, cheating, killing machines.

King Solomon said “Fear [honour, reverence, respect] God and keep his Commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.”

It is a duty that Doss understood. And a duty that he firmly stuck to.

A long history of difficult decisions

Doss chose a morally difficult and physically dangerous middle path, voluntarily entering the mess and muck of war, offering help to both friend and enemy.

By Kent Kingston.


When the posse of street thugs and temple lackeys discovered Jesus and His disciples at their secret olive orchard campsite, Peter lunged forward with a sword to defend his rabbi. But his clumsy slash failed to deal a fatal blow — he succeeded only in slicing off a man’s ear.

Jesus cut through the blood, shock and screaming to speak words that have echoed through the centuries: “Put away your sword,” He said to Peter. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword.”

You can read all about that in Matthew 26.


History balances peace and violence

Throughout history, Christians have generally seen these words as particular to the situation and have, at best, justified violence as a last resort in maintaining social order and defending against invaders. At worst, Jesus’ name has been brandished by perpetrators of tortures, massacres, pogroms and brutal wars.

But there have always been, it seems, Christ-followers for whom Jesus’ words suggest a new way of living, and dying. As they watch, through the pages of Scripture, Jesus’ refusal to defend Himself, to fight back, even as Roman spikes are hammered through His hands and feet, they catch a glimpse of another world where violence is overcome by love — “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Coliseum crowds wondered at the steadfast faith of the Christians who died in the arena — in prayer and apparently at peace as the lions approached. The legend is told of Magnus Erlendsson who, in the 1100s, refused to participate in a Viking raid on Wales, preferring instead to remain on the boat reciting psalms.

Over the centuries, a distinctly pacifist Christian movement emerged, led by what are today called the historic peace churches — Mennonites, Quakers and others. Governments struggled to deal with otherwise law-abiding citizens who refused to wield a weapon or participate in making war. Some conscientious objectors were executed, imprisoned or punished in other ways — their commitment viewed as unpatriotic, even treasonous. But, particularly in countries with a Protestant heritage and a commitment to individual conscience, governments began to make allowances for conscientious objectors, often permitting them to assist with important civilian projects.


A modern example

Enter Private Desmond Doss, a US soldier serving in World War Two. He posed somewhat of a quandary: yes, he wanted to support his country’s war effort against the Imperial Japanese invasion of the Pacific — he didn’t need to be drafted. He volunteered. But this patriotic American refused to use a weapon and requested a non-combat role. Doss rejected the label of “conscientious objector.” He preferred “conscientious co-operator.” Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge retells the difficulty he had in convincing his superiors and comrades of this point of view.

It’s easy to quibble with Desmond Doss’s logic: if he opposed war on principle — the usual conscientious objector’s position — why did he join up? Or if he truly supported America’s war effort, why not shoulder a weapon along with his share of the responsibility for what war entails? The grim task of killing people.

But Desmond Doss’s “conscientious co-operator” stance avoided the safety of both detached purity and comradely conformity. Instead he chose a morally difficult and physically dangerous middle path, voluntarily entering the mess and muck of war, offering help to both friend and enemy. A theologian might call this an “incarnational” approach; an echo of the decision of the eternal God to descend into the dirt, danger and debauchery of human reality, not as an avenging angel but as a defenceless baby in a manger.

Terry Benedict, who directed The Conscientious Objector, a documentary on Doss’s wartime experiences, recalls his surprise when the elderly veteran wouldn’t enter into discussion about the logic or theology behind his position. “Terry, God convicted me not to kill or carry a weapon. I’m not passing judgement on anybody else as to how God convicted them, but it’s just how God convicted me.”

It’s hard to argue with a statement like that. Or a life like that.

What Hacksaw Ridge teaches us about doing good

Doss was an “even-better Samaritan” who intentionally placed himself in places of danger, discomfort and personal cost to serve others.

By Nathan Brown.


Desmond Doss wanted to serve. As he himself said, he was wrongly described as a conscientious objector; instead he was a conscientious co-operator, only labelled as a “conscientious objector” by a system that wasn’t sure what to do with him.

The rights and wrongs of such an attitude in the context of war and military service is a worthwhile debate, but not one that Doss gave much time to. Instead, he simply chose to serve — his God, his men and his country, in that order and in some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable.

In following the teachings of Jesus as a guiding principle of his life and faith, Doss’s story of service demonstrates what it might look like to live in response to what Jesus described as the most important laws of life: “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37–40, NLT).

In Luke’s telling of the story, discussion of these two great commandments led into the well-known story of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:30–37). And, in a sense, Doss was a typical “good Samaritan,” an unlikely helper and hero who overcame prejudice and the temptations to not care, particularly about those who had mocked and bullied him.

But it can be argued that Doss was an “even-better Samaritan” who intentionally placed himself in places of danger, discomfort and personal cost to serve those who needed the care he could give.

Whatever our circumstances, the twin call to “love God” and “love our neighbour” is not about conjuring nice feelings, but serving, intentionally and practically, and doing good wherever and however we are able. It might not win us a Medal of Honor, but it is the faithful response to a much higher law.

Did Desmond compromise his Sabbath beliefs?

While he was defined by the sixth, Doss’ commitment to the other nine Commandments was no less — including the fourth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

By Nathan Brown.


This stand was based on his conviction that the sixth of the Ten Commandments — “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13) — was a serious rule for living well and living faithfully. After all, in the Bible’s story, it was a command given by God Himself.

But his was not a selective reading of the Ten Commandments. While he was defined by the sixth, Doss’s commitment to the other nine was no less — including the fourth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God” (Exodus 20:8–10). This commandment details the seventh day of each week as a day of worship and rest for all people.

As described in the Bible, Sabbath dates back to a seventh day described as a “holy” day of rest in the creation story (see Genesis 2:2, 3). Throughout the Bible and subsequent history and still today, it has been celebrated and respected by various faith communities.

For Doss, this was simply a matter of loyalty to God. But, in his early days of military service, Doss’s practice of Sabbath caused as many difficulties as his non-combatancy. He was considered a shirker by his fellow soldiers and his superiors, who made it difficult for him to get official leave passes or lighter duties. But, as Jesus said, those who love God will keep His commandments (see John 14:15) — and that was Doss’s first priority.

But this was not his only priority. On Saturday, May 5, 1945 — Sabbath — Doss answered the call of duty to his fellow men. In so doing, Desmond was walking in the footsteps of Jesus who did not hold back from healing people on the Sabbath, arguing that “the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:12, NLT). Through following this command, this was the day Doss became a hero.

It was this same faithfulness that saw Desmond refuse to take life. He made obedience to God his top priority, just one of many decisions that saw him risk his own life to help and rescue as many of his men as he could.

A devotional delay

It’s not everyday you hear about a battle being delayed so one man can finish his Bible study and prayer time — particularly when it’s a battle that’s critical to the success of the war your country is fighting.

By Adele Nash.


But that’s exactly what happened on 5 May, 1945 on the island of Okinawa. That day was a Saturday, which is the day that people of Private Desmond Doss’s faith — Seventh-day Adventists — set aside as their Sabbath.

The Maeda Escarpment — also known as Hacksaw Ridge — had to be taken, no matter what the cost. The B Company, which was the unit that Doss served with, had come to trust Doss implicitly, having seen how he would go above and beyond to serve his fellow man. Perhaps this is why his request to finish his Bible devotional study before assisting with the assault was granted. B Company’s Captain Vernon personally asked Doss to accompany the group, telling him, “The men would like to have you with them and so would I.”

The Unlikeliest Hero tells the story like this: “I’ll go, captain,” Doss said without hesitation. His Saviour had treated men on the Sabbath, and he could do no less. “But I’d like to finish my Sabbath school lesson first.”*

Doss didn’t know that, by asking to finish his Bible study time, he would hold up a war. But Captain Vernon knew that submitting the request would delay the assault on the ridge. He submitted it anyway. Amazingly, Colonel Hamilton allowed the delay, with the entire American advance in Okinawa waiting for Private Doss to finish his Bible study, which he closed with a quiet prayer.

The Americans went on to capture the ridge that day, and held it for good as the Sabbath closed.

So why is Bible study or devotional time so important?

Setting time aside to study the Bible gives us the benefit of quiet time with God every day. It means that we are also able to get direction for our lives from God — there are Bible verses that will inspire us or guide us, and it gives us an opportunity to ask God for His will to be known for our day. A lot of Christians also see daily devotional time as a strength-training exercise. How does that work? Well, it means we’re prepared for any challenges that lie ahead, knowing we can overcome anything with God’s help. Spending time studying the Bible has the biggest benefit of getting to know Jesus personally. When we meet with Jesus as we study the Bible, we learn more about His character, His endless love for each and every person, and how much he wants to have a life with us.

How do you set aside time to study the Bible? There’s no one way to do it — you can pick a time and place to do it that works for you. If you want to just sit down and read the Bible through, that’s fine. The New Testament is a great place to start. But there are also Bible studies available to help you with your devotional life too.


*Page 119, The Unlikeliest Hero by Booton Hernon (unabridged version).

Image courtesy of Desmond Doss Council.

Review: The Conscientious Objector

The story of a true hero unfolds in The Conscientious Objector, and it’s hard not to be moved, challenged and uplifted.

By Adele Nash.


  • The Conscientious Objector
  • Directed by Terry L Benedict
  • 2004
  • 100 minutes


There’s an old cliché about the truth being stranger than fiction. This saying could well apply to the remarkable true story of Private Desmond Doss – the World War II medic who refused to carry a gun or take a life. But as this gripping documentary shows, Desmond became the first conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. It seems so unlikely – you’d be excused for thinking it was made up.

Private Doss choose to serve in the United States Army (he liked to consider himself a “conscientious cooperator” instead of a conscientious objector). Despite facing ridicule and exclusion for his religious principles and practices, he went on to become a hero – bravely saving the lives of 75 men after one battle on Hacksaw Ridge on the Pacific island of Okinawa. Incredibly, he single-handedly dragged each and everyone one across the immensely dangerous battlefield to safety.

But that’s only part of the story. The Bible says that faith can move mountains. But what about 400-foot-tall ridges in a battle so fierce that the odds of survival were one in 10?

The 2004 documentary The Conscientious Objector is told predominantly in the words of Doss himself and those of the veterans who served with him, all of whom have now passed away. The quality and power of the stories they share overcome any quibbles one could have with any other aspect of the documentary.

Doss was an astonishingly humble man who, even as an old man at the time the documentary was made, held true to the Bible’s principles and Seventh-day Adventist faith that sustained him throughout his childhood and service in the military. It’s clear that Doss lived a life dedicated to service—both for others and the God he believed in so strongly.

The admiration and respect his fellow soldiers show for him as a result of how willing Doss was to go above and beyond the call of duty to help is touching and inspiring. A moving sequence of The Conscientious Objector occurred when Doss and soldiers from the company he served with returned to Okinawa, visiting the very ridge where Doss’s heroism, faith and forgiveness were on display.

As you watch the story of a true hero unfold in The Conscientious Objector, it’s hard not to be moved, challenged and uplifted. It’s a documentary you won’t want to miss.

Image courtesy of Desmond Doss Council.