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.

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