Desmond Doss was a conscientious objector when he was drafted to serve our military in WWII. When Pearl Harbor was attacked he was working at a naval shipyard in Virginia and could have opted to remain there, but he knew he wanted to serve, just without a gun.
“I am healthy. I need to serve and have the energy to do it as a medic,” he said. In typical (some say) military fashion, Doss was assigned to a rifle company instead. Doss’ refusal to shoot or even carry a weapon caused a lot of tension and strife with his company. They viewed him as a mist and a coward. One even said to him, “Doss, as soon as we get into combat I am going to make sure you don’t come back alive.”
His commanding officers also had no use for him, believing a soldier without a gun was useless. They tried all they could to intimidate Doss by giving him extra duties, verbally abusing him, and even declaring him unit to serve. Finally, they attempted to court martial him for refusing a direct order - to carry his weapon. Doss wasn’t being insubordinate in his eyes. He was raised with a strong belief in the bible and took the Ten Commandments literal. ‘Thou shall not kill’ was something he could not do.
They failed to get him kicked out and he refused to leave. Eventually, Doss was allowed to serve his fellow troops as a medic. Even those who had made his life difficult, he treated. He served in the Pacific conflict, helping save lives on the islands of Guam, Leyte, and Okinawa.
While others were taking lives, he was saving them. Whenever he heard, “medic!” on the battlefield, Doss consistently ran to the wounded soldier without regard for his own safety. He was so close to the enemy lines it was not unusual for him to hear the Japanese troops whispering to each other.
Doss’ story was told in the 2016 movie ‘Heartbreak Ridge.’ This is another great movie clip you can use with your team when you are teaching on servant leadership. There are several great teachable clips from the lm, but the most impactful one for me is when Doss disobeys orders to continue to go save others after retreating and the battlefield had been abandoned.
The battlefield was full of smoke and burning debris as the Japanese soldiers patrolled to look for American survivors to execute. Doss is still attempting to carry Americans to safety when he is going back to get his wounded sergeant. A bullet hits the top of his helmet and knocks him down. He gathers himself, puts the sergeant on his back and takes him to safety. As soon as he sets him down, he goes back to nd another one. Each time he lowers them down a cliff tied to a rope to waiting soldiers who have no idea who is at the end of the rope at the top. As he goes back to the battlefield, he hears a half-dead American mutter, “help me,” “help me,” as Japanese troops are mere feet away. Doss has to make a split-second decision and says, “trust me,” to the wounded soldier and covers his face with dirt, only leaving his eye exposed. Doss then grabs a dead soldier and places on top of him to ‘play dead’ and give himself some cover as the Japanese walk right over their position.
An enemy soldier looks closely at the pile of bodies (where Doss is on the bottom), stops and bayonet’s the dead body on top of Doss, barely missing him. Eventually, the Japanese move on, he grabs the wounded American and lowers him to safety.
In a documentary on his life, Doss says, "I was praying the whole time. I just kept praying, 'Lord, please help me get one more.'"
After Doss’ heroic feat in Okinawa, his commander told him that he rescued 100 men. Doss said that the number could only be 50 at most. So, the official compromise was 75.
The Medal of Honor was established during the Civil War under President Abraham Lincoln in 1862. At the 100-year anniversary of the MOH celebration in 1962, the other recipients selected Desmond Doss to represent them at a White House ceremony. Not only was he the only conscientious objector to ever win our nation’s highest honor, but he was selected by the other winners (there have been only 462 medals ever awarded) to represent them at the White House. Doss was a true servant leader hero.
Tell his story to your team. They need to hear it!