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Review: Hero of Hacksaw Ridge

You can’t help but be inspired, moved and challenged as you read Hero of Hacksaw Ridge.

By Adele Nash.


Order your free copy of the book reviewed in this article – The Hero of Hacksaw Ridge.


The opening of Hacksaw Ridge tells us that this film is a true story. And this may arouse some cynicism in people. Some may wonder how much of the story that Hacksaw Ridge tells really is true, and question just how the faith and belief of one man could make such a difference in the world around him.

But the story of Private Desmond Doss is true — and it’s even more remarkable for being so. If you want to find out more about the life of Desmond Doss, Hero of Hacksaw Ridge is a great place to start. Hero of Hacksaw Ridge is an abridged version of historian Booton Herndon’s book The Unlikeliest Hero, which is an authorised biography. It shows you much more about the life of Doss than the film does, including many of his heroic acts in saving men injured in battles prior to the assault on Hacksaw Ridge.

Hero of Hacksaw Ridge provides some historical detail that gives greater context to the situation Doss finds himself in. This detail aids in further understudying the conditions surrounding being a conscientious objector, including how the Congress of the United States specifically wrote provisions for conscientious objectors to be assigned to medical departments into their military draft law following WWI. Information is also given about Army medical training and exercises.

It’s no dry text though — it’s a book you don’t want to put down as you read more about Doss’s life, including childhood experiences, all of which show he was always a caring, giving individual who was deeply concerned with the welfare of others. This carried over into his military training days, where he was actually treated harshly because he was so different and resented for not participating in rifle training. His unpopularity grew over his insistence on keeping the Sabbath, the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s day of worship. There were even threats to kill him in combat. And yet he kept helping, assisting and caring. Over time, this earned him not only respect, but undying loyalty.

There’s a conscientiousness about Doss that extends far beyond being a conscientious objector — he was dedicated to everything he put his hand to, didn’t back down on his convictions and was courageous. This courage is on display when it comes to the chapters about his service as an Army medic. Hacksaw Ridge is not the only place here he saved the lives of many men, putting his own life at risk to do so. The first place he sees action is in Guam, where he goes out on patrols even though he doesn’t have to. When questioned why he makes so much of an effort, Doss says, “I know these men; they’re my buddies. They have families, some have wives and children. If they’re hurt, I want to be there to take care of them.”

The chapters on the assault on Hacksaw Ridge, the work Doss did in rescuing so many injured men and his own injuries are excellent and moving, scattered with a mixture of hope and tragedy. Doss is more than deserving of the honours he received for bravery. The full text of the Congressional Medal of Honor citation is included in Hero of Hacksaw Ridge. The Congressional Medal of Honor wasn’t the only award Doss received for his heroic acts — he also received a Bronze Star for valour, the Purple Heart with two Oak Leaves and a number of other medals.

In addition to the biography of Desmond Doss, a 32-page exploration of the Seventh-day Adventist faith has been included in the book as a post-script. This is a worthwhile read if you want to find out more about the beliefs that motivated Doss.

You can’t help but be inspired as you read Hero of Hacksaw Ridge. In reading this biography of a man who was never satisfied with doing the bare minimum for others, but entirely satisfied with living a modest life for himself, I was moved and challenged. What am I doing to make the world around me a better place? What can I do to help those around me? How are the principles I live by making a difference?


Image courtesy of Desmond Doss Council.

Read Desmond Doss’ official citation

You may be wondering exactly what Desmond Doss did to deserve the Medal of Honour.


Read through the official citation below, and you’ll see that his achievements extend far beyond the unbelievable events portrayed in the movie Hacksaw Ridge.

We think you’ll find it’s on a different level than that of the other citations you can find online. Desmond Doss stood tall day in, day out. Read for yourself.



  • Rank: Private First Class
  • Organization: U.S. Army
  • Company: Medical Detachment
  • Division: 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division
  • Born: Lynchburg, Va.
  • Departed: Yes
  • Entered Service At: Lynchburg, Va.
  • G.O. Number: 97
  • Date of Issue: 11/01/1945
  • Place / Date: Near Urasoe Mura, Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands, 29 April-21 May 1945


The official citation of Desmond Doss

He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back.

Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying them 1 by 1 to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands.

On 2 May, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards of enemy forces in a cave’s mouth, where he dressed his comrades’ wounds before making 4 separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety.

On 5 May, he unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist an artillery officer. He applied bandages, moved his patient to a spot that offered protection from small arms fire and, while artillery and mortar shells fell close by, painstakingly administered plasma. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, Pfc. Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire.

On 21 May, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of a grenade. Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his own injuries and waited 5 hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover. The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Pfc. Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby, crawled off the litter; and directed the bearers to give their first attention to the other man.

Awaiting the litter bearers’ return, he was again struck, this time suffering a compound fracture of 1 arm. With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards over rough terrain to the aid station.

Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.


We accessed this official record on the Congressional Medal of Honour Society site.

Image courtesy of Desmond Doss Council.

What is the Congressional Medal of Honor?

Desmond Doss’ actions at Okinawa and beyond earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor – but what exactly does that mean?

By Adele Nash.


The Medal of Honor is the highest military honour given out by the United States of America. It is awarded for personal acts of valour above and beyond the call of duty, and is presented by the President of the United States in the name of the US Congress. Because of this, the medal is often referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor, but its official name is simply “Medal of Honor.”

Military personnel are the only ones eligible for the Medal of Honor, of which there are three versions — one for the Army, Navy and Air Force. Its history dates back to 1861, with a Navy medal called the “Medal of Valor.” The Army followed this in 1862 with the “Medal of Honor.” There have been more than 3500 Medals of Honor awarded since it was created, and March 25 was designated as “National Medal of Honor Day” in 1990 by the US Congress.

You can learn more about this prestigious military award at Wikipedia.

Meet Desmond Doss: The early years

The unwavering faith and conviction Desmond demonstrated on the battlefield was not new – he showed those traits his whole life, even in his earliest years.

By Natalia Grobler.


Desmond Doss (7 February, 1919 to 23 March, 2006) was born in Virginia, USA. He grew up with a mother devoted to God and a despondent father devoted to alcohol. It was his mother who fostered Doss’ faith and inspired him to develop his unique identity that set him apart from his peers from an early age.

His greatest defining moment was the night his father and uncle were fighting while drunk. Desmond’s father pulled out a gun pointing it at his uncle. His mother bravely stepped between the two, demanding that he hand over the weapon.  The confrontation resulted in her securing the gun and passing it to Desmond, who she urged to run and hide it. Following this incident, Doss determined that he would never again hold another gun.

Ironically, it was Desmond’s father who was responsible for acquiring The Ten Commandments poster that was prominently displayed in the family home. It was the command not to kill that had a profound impact on Desmond. This was illustrated with Abel lying dead on the ground while his brother Cain loomed over him, club in hand. Desmond’s brother was his best friend and he could not comprehend how Cain had intentionally killed his own brother. Doss took this personally and an impression was embedded in his mind, “Desmond, if you love me you will not kill.”

This was the background that helped to define Doss’ character inspiring such unwavering faith and conviction. These were the building blocks that would certainly help Doss later withstand intense rejection and ridicule in order to fulfill God’s purpose for his life — a purpose that Doss, himself, could hardly have imagined.

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.

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.