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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.

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.