March 25, 2011

In My Hometown, Even Pacifists Sometimes Receive the Medal of Honor

I was home on block leave one year and in the Kinko's on Brainerd Road when this old man walked past me wearing a hat that read "Congressional Medal of Honor Society." With a high degree of trepidation, I asked him if he was, indeed, a recipient of the Medal of Honor. He said that he was and that he was just making some photocopies of his commendation for folks who had written to him requesting a copy. That was how I met Desmond T. Doss, who saved 75 men at Okinawa. Now buried in the Chattanooga National Cemetery just a few rows down from another Okinawa veteran, my grandfather, Doss was profiled in today's Washington Times. An incredible story of bravery and faith:

On the morning the assault was launched, Desmond suggested to his platoon leader, Lieutenant Goronto,
that the men say a prayer. “I believe prayer is the best life saver
there is,” he said. “The men should really pray before going up.”


“Fellows, come over here and gather around,” the lieutenant said, “Doss wants to pray for us.” Actually, Desmond had meant that each man should observe his own moment of prayer, but the men of the unit humored him and stood by while Desmond read a passage from his Bible. Then they set about their grim business.


to one participant, the assault on Maeda Escarpment was “all hell
rolled into one.” It was seven days and nights of bitter struggle with
rifles, bayonets, hand grenades, knives and fists. The men of Desmond’s
battalion advanced to the top eight times, and each time they were
driven back by furious Japanese counterassaults. But the ninth assault
held, and the ridge was taken, yet at a terrible cost. The battalion had
arrived on April 29 with 800 men; a week later, there were 324 left


was in the thick of things throughout, the only medic assigned to the
attack. As the battle line shifted across the top of the escarpment, Desmond
stayed behind, retrieving wounded men in the face of enemy fire. He
carried them to the edge of the escarpment and lowered them one by one
on a litter suspended from a rope. Others who were too badly wounded to
move he treated on the spot, sometimes within yards of enemy-held caves.
Officers motioned for Desmond to come off the ridge but he refused. Throughout the brutal assault, when wounded soldiers cried “Medic,” Desmond Doss came.


Pfc. Doss
continued his heroic actions through the battle on Okinawa, suffering
numerous wounds. On May 21, during a night attack, he was giving aid to
wounded soldiers when a grenade landed nearby and seriously wounded his
legs. Five hours later, litter bearers came to rescue him, but on the
way to an aid station they were attacked by an enemy tank and Desmond
gave his place in the litter to a more seriously wounded troop. While
awaiting help, he was wounded in the arm by a sniper, and knowing he
could not stay any longer on the battlefield, he fashioned a splint out
of a rifle stock and crawled 300 yards to safety. The men of his unit,
who had thought Desmond was dead, wept when they saw him return.