In this interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Australian actor Rachel Griffiths discusses why the tension between Doss’ parents early in the film is essential to completely convey the message. She says, “It’s not a big role but it’s important to set up that it’s the mother that creates the moral point of view for the boy. We had to establish that then our scenes [as a married couple] really show that generational trauma that war will leave.” Photo credit: Nic Walker.
As the reviews of Hacksaw Ridge continue to pour in, one thing is clear – Mel Gibson’s Desmond Doss biopic is a heroic tale that must be seen. And you’ll struggle not to be moved by the story of the first conscientious objector to receive the US Medal of Honor for bravery on the battlefield. In fact, Gibson said, “You’d have to be made of stone to not respond to the true story of who this man was and what he did”.
Mel Gibson’s epic Hacksaw Ridge is not a work of fiction – it’s inspired by the incredible life and achievements of Desmond Doss.
On April 1, 1942, Desmond Doss joined the United States Army. Three and a half years later, he stood on the White House lawn, receiving the nation’s highest award for his bravery and courage under fire. Of the 16 million men in uniform during World War II, only 431 received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Among these was a young Seventh-day Adventist Christian who refused to carry a gun and had not killed a single enemy soldier. His only weapons were his Bible and his faith in God. President Harry S. Truman warmly held the hand of Corporal Desmond Thomas Doss, as his citation was read to those gathered at the White House on October 12, 1945. “I’m proud of you,” Truman said. “You really deserve this. I consider this a greater honor than being president.”
When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Desmond was working at the Newport News Naval shipyard and could have requested a deferment. But he was willing to risk his life on the front lines in order to preserve freedom. He wanted to be an Army combat medic and assumed his classification as a conscientious objector would not require him to carry a weapon. When he was assigned to an infantry rifle company, his refusal to carry a gun caused his fellow soldiers to view him with disdain. They ostracized and bullied him. One man warned, “Doss, when we get into combat, I’ll make sure you don’t come back alive.”
Desmond was raised with a fervent belief in the Bible. He took the Ten Commandments, personally—especially the words, “Thou shalt not kill.” He also took the fourth commandment seriously. His religious upbringing included weekly church attendance, on the seventh day. The Army was exasperated when he asked for a pass to attend church every Saturday. His officers saw him a liability, a soft spoken skinny kid from the south and a Bible reading misfit. They tried to intimidate him, gave him extra duties, falsely declared him mentally unfit and attempted to court martial him. He believed his duty was to obey God and serve his country—in that order, and he refused to leave.
Desmond served in combat on the islands of Guam and Leyte. In each military operation he exhibited extraordinary dedication to his men. While others were taking life, he was busy saving life. As enemy bullets whizzed past and mortar shells exploded around him, he repeatedly ran to treat a fallen comrade and carry him back to safety. By the time they reached Okinawa, he had been awarded two Bronze Stars for valor.
In May, 1945, Japanese troops were fiercely defending Okinawa, the only remaining barrier to an allied invasion of their homeland. The American target was capturing the Maeda Escarpment, an imposing rock face the soldiers called, Hacksaw Ridge. After they secured the top of the cliff, Japanese forces suddenly attacked. Officers ordered an immediate retreat. As a hundred or more lay wounded and dying on enemy soil, one lone soldier disobeyed those orders and charged back into the firefight. With a constant prayer on his lips, he vowed to rescue as many as he could, before he either collapsed or died trying. His iron determination and unflagging courage resulted in at least 75 lives saved that day, May 5, 1945, his Sabbath.
Several days later, during an unsuccessful night raid, Desmond was severely wounded. Hiding in a shell hole with two riflemen, a Japanese grenade landed at his feet. The explosion sent him flying. The shrapnel tore into his leg and hip. While attempting to reach safety, he was hit by a sniper’s bullet that shattered his arm. His brave actions as a combat medic were over. But not before insisting that his litter-bearers take another man first before rescuing him. Wounded, in pain, and losing blood, he still put the safety of others ahead of his own.
Before being honorably discharged from the Army in 1946, Desmond developed tuberculosis. His illness progressed and at the age of 87, Corporal Desmond Thomas Doss died on March 23, 2006. He is buried in the National Cemetery, Chattanooga, Tennessee.
For more information, please visit: www.desmonddoss.org.
Image courtesy of Desmond Doss Council.
One man refused to carry a weapon, the other willingly embraced violence in order to protect the innocent – who can say who was right?
By Kent Kingston.
Meet Sam Childers. In many ways he’s about as different from Hacksaw Ridge’s Desmond Doss as you can imagine. In other ways, he’s remarkably the same.
Sam Childers is a patriotic American from the backwoods of Pennsylvania. After a misspent youth and young adulthood of drugs, violence and crime, he began to reform his lifestyle, worried that if he kept on with the way he was going, he’d soon be dead. Following his wife back to the Baptist faith of her childhood, Sam became a committed believer himself, even taking to the pulpit at times.
The story could’ve ended there, with Sam approaching old age gracefully as his construction business prospered, his porch rocking chair surrounded by adoring grandchildren. But a church mission trip to Sudan changed all that. Confronted by the violence and suffering he saw there and sensing clear direction from God, Sam sold his business and began a lifelong campaign to rescue the war-traumatised children of what is now South Sudan. Together with local and overseas supporters, Sam built an orphanage that has fed and housed more than 1000 children over the years. He also began to mount armed expeditions to rescue children kidnapped by Joseph Kony’s brutal terrorist group, the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Yes. Armed expeditions. That’s how Sam Childers differs from the thousands of other humanitarians who have devoted their lives to relieving poverty and suffering in developing countries. And in contrast with the political wariness of most foreign aid workers, Sam became quite friendly with a number of southern rebel militiamen, who accompanied him as he willingly shouldered an AK-47 on his rescue missions.
And so the legend of the Machine Gun Preacher was born — and the film. Like Desmond Doss, Sam’s story has been immortalised on the silver screen, with Gerard Butler (Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life, Phantom of the Opera, 300) in the lead role.
Two men. Both patriotic Americans. Both claiming the call of God prompted their lifesaving work in warzones. But while one man refused to carry a weapon, the other has willingly embraced violence in order to protect the innocent.
The contrast between these two brave men poses all kinds of questions. Which of them made the right choice in relation to violence? Did one or the other of them get their message from God garbled? Were their missions really a result of divine calling or just overactive imaginations? Can we realistically explain their consistently selfless actions without some kind of otherworldly guidance?
“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven,” said Solomon, king of ancient Israel and reputedly the wisest man who ever lived. “A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time to kill and a time to heal…”
Sobering words, and not ones to be taken lightly, considering the violence that has been done, and is still being done, by those marching under the banner of religion or freedom or national pride. What’s your answer? Is there “a time to kill”?
“He who wishes to fight must first count the cost,” said Chinese general Sun Tzu in The Art of War, his book on military strategy.
By Vania Chew.
Desmond Doss was all too aware of the cost that would come with war. During his childhood, he often spent time looking at a framed poster of the Ten Commandments that his father had bought at an auction. The poster depicted Cain, a man who had killed his brother, holding a club and standing over his brother’s body (you can read the story in Genesis 4).
“When I looked at that picture, I came to the Sixth Commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’” said Doss. “I wondered how in the world could a brother do such a thing? It put a horror in my heart of just killing.”
How could a man go to war if he refused to kill? If he didn’t want to carry a weapon, the battlefield should be the last place that he wanted to be. In fact, Doss was offered plenty of opportunities to avoid the wartime conflict — even a psychiatric discharge that would deem him unfit for war. But he wouldn’t accept the discharge.
Irish statesman Edmund Burke once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Doss was a conscientious objector because he didn’t want to take lives. However, he also recognised that his service could help save lives. And he wasn’t content to do a poor job. He was determined to serve to the best of his ability. As Doss lowered soldier after soldier to safety in the midst of enemy fire, he would pray, “Lord, help me get one more!”
Matthew 7:12 says, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.” (NLT). If we were in positions of need, we would want people to do their best to help us. Doss’ story of service should inspire us to help those in need — not only to serve, but to go beyond the call of duty.
“I was willing to go to the front lines to save life, but not to take life,” said Private Desmond Doss.
By Jarrod Stackelroth.
Here was a man who gave up the comforts of home and safety — including his new wife — and even had to endure physical and mental abuse in the army, as well as the stress of legal proceedings against him, all so he could go to the front lines to save lives.
He even volunteered. It’s not like he was forced to go and made the best of a bad situation.
He actually wanted to go so he could make a difference — so he could fight against the injustice that threatened to engulf the world.
Now that is sacrifice.
Many of those that Doss fought and served with were injured or even killed.
These days, the biggest thing we sacrifice is our pocket change to charity, our comfort to help a cause, or a creature comfort to save money for something bigger like a house. The word sacrifice is almost foreign to our vocabulary.
In our comfortable material society, those who probably understand sacrifice best are parents. They sometimes give up jobs, hobbies or even go without luxuries to ensure their kids have everything they need.
So what is the ultimate driving force for sacrifice? Love. Love, the true deep down kind that takes over our whole lives, like the kind of love a parent has for a child, is the greatest motivating factor for sacrifice. Fear and other motivations can drive us to do amazing things and they can push us, but the purest and strongest motivation — one that pushes us to suffer sacrificial loss — is love. It is the kind of love that’s like that of a parent who would run back into a burning building without question to save their child. That is the kind of love and sacrifice Doss was able to exhibit.
The Bible says “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
When Doss was injured, he actually gave up his place on the stretcher to help someone who was wounded worse. That is love.
Jesus had the riches and power of heaven and yet He gave it all up to sacrifice His life for humanity. The ultimate sacrifice.
“I came to seek and save the lost,” He said (Luke 19: 10).
Doss understood the importance of prayer in his own life, and knew it didn’t have to be complicated to have a massive impact.
By Jarrod Stackelroth.
One of the most powerful scenes of Hacksaw Ridge is when Desmond Doss prays, “Help me get just one more, Lord.” It is a plea, a cry from a man who is physically, emotionally and mentally drained; a cry for strength and support, for patience and providence to step in and save. Of course, Doss doesn’t stop at just one. In the end, praying all the way, he rescues some 75 men from the top of that hellish escarpment.
This is not the only time we see Doss in prayer. He prays before battle and before he makes big decisions. His company even holds up an attack until he has finished his prayers. And yet as he says himself, prayer is not like a conversation with God. He never hears much back. So why does he pray?
Well, it is not some spell or incantation that can force God to act in the way we require or desire. There is no magic formula to prayer. How can we say that Doss’s prayers saved him from death when others who died were undoubtedly praying people?
And yet prayer was crucial for Doss. It reminded him of something bigger than himself. It gave him hope. Christians believe God hears our prayers and takes an interest in our lives. The Bible says that God even knows the number of hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7).
Prayer reminds us to be grateful for what we have. Prayer gives us an outlet to express thanks for the blessings we have done nothing to deserve. Prayer helps us express our frustrations, our hurts and our mistakes to someone who is always there — and who wants to listen. Prayer increases our resilience and gives us inner strength, strength that Doss certainly called on in his darkest hour. Prayer is a candle in that darkness that cannot be extinguished.
Christians will often pray the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). It is a prayer that Jesus taught his disciples and is often used as a model, to teach people how to pray. The basic things it covers are: acknowledging God as our Father and acknowledging His sovereignty; placing the future in His hands; asking for the things we need; asking for forgiveness and to help us forgive; and protection from everything that can go wrong in the world.
When prayer is used like this, it helps us acknowledge that things are out of our control, helps us not to worry, helps us to be grateful and gives us hope for the future.
Doss understood the importance of prayer in his own life. You can pray like Doss today — just keep it simple and talk to God.
Image courtesy of the Desmond Doss Council.
Desmond Doss tackled unconquerable battles with an unwavering faith.
By Maritza Brunt.
Picture this: it’s May 1945. The B Company of the 1st Battalion, 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division, is about to scale a 400-foot-high ridge. Waiting for them over the crest is a minefield of several thousand Japanese soldiers with machine guns, snipers and submachine guns.
For the US soldiers, even armed with their own rifles and weapons, it was a challenge of immeasurable proportions.
But for one medic, it was virtually impossible.
Desmond Doss ran headfirst into this inexorable battle without a single weapon or concern for his personal safety. From the point of his fellow troops, it was inconceivable; there was no way he’d survive the battle without a weapon. But Doss knew that he didn’t need a gun to fight his battle. He only needed his faith to know that he was already more than a conqueror through Christ, who loved him (Romans 8:37).
The Battle of Okinawa, one of the most brutal battles of World War II, was won by the Allied troops in June of 1945. The soldiers overcame. Desmond Doss singlehandedly saved the lives of 75 of his fellow soldiers following one particularly intense encounter during the battle — there were many more he saved during the rest of his service in the Army. The insurmountable challenge was completed.
Although you may not run headfirst into a war setting without a weapon, we all have our own Battles of Okinawa: tasks and challenges that we face that — at first — may seem unconquerable. What can we do in these cases?
Doss’s solution was simple: never let go of your faith. He didn’t back down from his convictions and stood up for what he believed in even in the face of adversary. He prayed constantly, asking God for strength. He treasured God’s Word and valued it above all else.
He tackled unconquerable battles with an unwavering faith.
And he conquered — every time.
What is it about Hacksaw Ridge’s Desmond Doss that inspired him to be faithful no matter what? How can we instill the same Christian values in our children?
By Darron Pratt.
Last week I had the privilege of watching Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson’s latest blockbuster production – the true story of Desmond Doss. To me, Doss was a modern day Daniel, Esther or Joseph. What impressed me most was the faith, bravery, character and values of Doss who refused to carry a weapon and kept the Sabbath at all costs (and a vegetarian too). Despite pressure from his training unit he insisted on these ideals and became a hero both on and off the battlefield. He single-handedly lowered 75 injured men off the ridge under heavy enemy fire.
From a family perspective how does one raise a child with the faith, character and values of Doss? Values like no compromise, standing up for and helping your mates, being a man of faith. A man who stands for the right and truth no matter what; a life of sacrifice and service; a man who never gives up in the face of the enemy; a man who provides relentless service to others no matter the cost.
In the home of the Doss family, seven things stood out to me.
1. Discipleship begins early and begins at home.
Desmond’s home is not perfect by any means, but his mother is faithful and intentional in shaping her son’s life. This shines through on and off the battlefield.
2. Rituals and traditions.
His mother took him to church and taught him the importance of the Sabbath. The faithfulness of his mother had a profound effect on Doss. Despite a father who fought his inner deamons (and what would now be described as post traumatic stress), his mother’s faithfulness and values set Doss on a unwavering path of faithfulness and heroic destiny.
3. Identifying the teachable God moments.
These happen daily and can be both good and bad. Seizing these moments and using them to teach values is key to shaping a faith that is unshakeable in our children.
4. The pictures on the wall.
There was a picture on the wall with graphics portraying the Ten Commandments and The Lord’s Prayer. This picture had a profound effect on Doss and etched the Ten Commandments on to his character – in particular the fourth and sixth commandments. What pictures are on your walls and what values are they teaching your children?
5. The power of memorable life-changing events.
Incidents both good and bad shape character. The fact that he almost killed his brother with a brick and then witnessing an incident with his father and a gun were two incidents that consolidated his resolve to never kill another person. It is important that we as parents talk with our children especially when such moments occur.
6. The power of God’s Word.
Desmond has a Bible that goes with him everywhere, even on to the battlefield. Desmond reads this regularly and hides the words in his heart. We as parents need to let the scriptures speak into the lives of our children through reading, repetition, memorisation and telling the stories that change lives and shape values.
7. Never give up.
Parenting is hard work when you raise a Doss. It is relentless, tiring and just plain hard work at times. Doss repeats the line, “just one more” as he goes out on to the battle field to save one more soldier again and again. We as parents need to have that same attitude as we seize the moments that occur daily to raise a child with the faith of Doss. Just one more moment, just one more prayer, just one more Bible text, just one more story, just one more teachable moment is what shapes a Desmond Doss.
Deuteronomy 6:4-12 sums up Doss and his early life and later depicts him as a man of amazing faith and conscience who stood for God – no matter the cost. One thing I know: the world needs more people like Doss.
“When he loses his Bible – it’s like the greatest tragedy there is.” Justin Lawman discusses why the Bible was so important to Desmond Doss, and how his commitment raises the bar for the rest of us.