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Meet Desmond Doss: After the war

For his heroic actions on the battlefield, this conscientious objector received the US Army’s highest honour.

By Natalia Grobler.


Following the battle at Okinawa, Doss was promoted to Corporal. His commanding officer claimed that on 29 April, 1945, Doss had in fact saved 100 lives. But Doss, ever humble, clarified this estimating the number at 50.

On 12 October, 1945, President Harry Truman presented Corporal Desmond Doss with the nation’s highest award, a Congressional Medal of Honor. “I’m proud of you,” Truman said. “You really deserve this. I consider this a greater honor than being president.”

Doss was the first conscientious objector to ever receive the medal.  It was issued in acknowledgement of his “outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions…” At the ceremony Doss publicly thanked God for giving him the opportunity to save the lives of the men he had served.

Doss was awarded many other medals, including two bronze stars for valor.  Parades were held in his honour, highways in the United States were named after him, a guesthouse at a Medical Centre in Washington D.C. bears his name, as does a Christian Academy in Virginia. A monument of him stands in the Tennessee Veterans Memorial Park. In 2004, a documentary was made about him entitled The Conscientious Objector. And, more recently, Mel Gibson, acclaimed film director, has produced the film Hacksaw Ridge based on his story.

Doss was a corporal who never killed another human being, whose only weapon was his Bible and his faith in God. He was a man whose courage saved many lives and whose contribution to the war was immeasurable. While he was the recipient of many accolades — the accolades themselves were never important. What was important was remaining true to his deep inner convictions — convictions God had placed on him as a young boy growing up.


Image courtesy of Desmond Doss Council.

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.