Some names evoke strong, iconic images. John Wayne. Ronald
Reagan. George Patton. But the following story is not one of
them, but it should – and does once you know of his
courageous actions during World War II (WW II).
He was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, to a carpenter father
and shoe factory worker mother. With parents like that,
perhaps it is not a surprise that he grew to be a very
religious man. To him, religion was not something you did
once a week. Rather, religion was something you lived. His
religion flowed through every cell of his body. It sustained
him during times of trouble and gave him courage to do the
things that needed to be done.
Growing up during this period was not easy. It was the
time of the Great Depression and his parents were so poor
that he had to scrounge bits and pieces from a dump to build
himself a bicycle. His ingenuity and resourcefulness to make
do with what you had would also come in handy one day.
When the storm clouds of war rained down on Pearl Harbor
and it became time to serve his country, he, like the others
of his generation, willing followed the call into the Army to
enlist and begin his training. But this was a different kind
During training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, at the
end of the day, he would quietly drop on bended knees, next
to his bunk, to pray to God. To thank Him for His protection
and to ask for His strength during the coming months. As
events would prove, he would need both, in abundance.
What did his fellow trainees think of this? They scoffed,
cursed, and taunted him. They hurled all manner of cruelty
towards him. One even threatened, when they were to face
actual combat, to kill him first.
Still, not only did he continue to pray daily to God, but
his religious beliefs prevented him from violating the
Sabbath by training on that holy day because the 10
Commandments said to honor God’s day of rest. He also refused
to learn how to kill others as he had entered the military as
a “conscientious objector” and because those same 10
Commandments prohibited him from taking the lives of
Things got so bad that, eventually, his commanding officer
began the paper work to declare him “unsuitable for military
service” and to remove him under what is known as a Section 8
discharge. This, even though he performed all other duties
assigned to him with dedication. This, even though, as a
medic, he could save lives, rather than take them. But this
man of God would not, could not, sign a document he knew to
be untrue. So, in the Army he stayed.
his actions, in combat, immediately brought him fame. However, it was during
the period of 29 April to 21 May, 1945, that this man was
involved in the some of the bloodiest battles on one of the
bloodiest islands in the Pacific – Okinawa. The very name of
the island sends chills through the hearts of those who
fought there. Strong men have been known to cry, when
recalling how their comrades died on that battle field.
of Okinawa is described as the largest amphibious assault during the
entire Pacific campaign of WW II. Almost 19,000 US troops
were killed and 72,000 were wounded. This astounding number
is double the number killed on Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal,
combined. On the Japanese side, an estimated 100,000 were
killed. The Battle of Okinawa turned out the be the last
major battle of the war before Japan eventually surrendered a
few months later.
It was during this battle that this son of a carpenter, a
member of what is rightly called the
Generation, this man of God by the name of
Thomas Doss proved his worth to his fellow soldiers:
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
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.
Mr. Doss, died last week Thursday at the age of 87. He was
the first (and so far, one of only two) conscientious
objectors to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor (the
other recipient being Thomas W. Bennett, who was an Army
medical aidman during the Vietnam War). Our thoughts and
prayers go out to his friends and family. May he rest in