Meet Desmond Doss: An enlisted man

For two years, the Army labeled him a worthless liability – but Doss knew otherwise.

By Natalia Grobler.


Doss enlisted as a medic on 1 April, 1942. His deep inner conviction not to kill classified him as a conscientious objector — he preferred the title “conscientious co-operator.”

Doss was assigned to an infantry rifle company. From the very outset, he was alienated and rejected. They believed he was a coward hiding behind the guise of religion to avoid carrying out his duty.

Not only did Doss refuse to carry a weapon — he kept the Sabbath and was a vegetarian. His officers and fellow comrades mocked him, making it their personal mission to shame and intimidate Doss into taking up arms. One soldier from the battalion even threatened to shoot Doss if they were ever on the frontlines together.

Doss publicly prayed, read his Bible and refused to carry out duties from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset (his Sabbath). He was made to work 24 hours hard labour on a Sunday to make up for it. No-one understood why he kept doing it — not even the Jewish Officer whom he applied to every Friday for a pass. Eventually the Officer threatened to Court Martial him.

His captain wanted Doss discharged. He made a blanket rule that everyone in the battalion, regardless of duty, must carry a rifle. Doss refused, saying, “Don’t doubt me because I’ll be right by your side saving life while you take it.” When this attempt failed they tried to discharge him on the grounds of mental instability.  Once again, Doss refused to accept the charge.

Doss was ever gracious in his quiet strength and determination. He did not blame the men for their constant harassment, but instead served them with dedication and humility. This was shown in 40C° heat during training in the Arizona Desert. Soldiers were dying from dehydration and Doss boldly approached the Commander in an effort to put an end to the inhumane conditions of those who had mistreated him.

Doss knew if he compromised just once it would jeopardise his faith. For two years, the Army labeled him a worthless liability. But Doss knew otherwise and, despite their rejection, he kept his eyes firmly fixed on pursuing the plan for which God had called him.


Image courtesy of Desmond Doss Council.

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