Desmond Thomas Doss, Sr., was born Feb. 7, 1919, into a poor family of Lynchburg, Va. Doss’ father, W. Thomas Doss, was a carpenter. His mother, Bertha Doss, joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church and prayerfully tried to raise her two boys and one girl to believe in the Bible.
Before Doss went to the Pacific, he married Dorothy Schutte. She gave him a pocket-sized Bible, which he would later study whenever the army was waiting somewhere.
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Doss signed up for duty, even though he did not believe in using a gun or killing. When he was offered a deferment from military service, he turned it down and registered as a conscientious objector, though he said that he was not like the others who called themselves conscientious objectors. He said he was a “conscientious cooperator” because he was willing to go on the battlefield, wear the army uniform, and salute the flag, even though he was not willing to kill anyone. Desmond was assigned to serve as a company medic for the 307th Regiment of the 77th Infantry Division.
During his service in the army, Doss repeatedly put himself in life-threatening situations in order to aid his fellow soldiers. On one occasion in Okinawa, he refused to take cover from enemy fire as he rescued approximately 75 wounded soldiers, carrying them one by one and lowering them 40 feet over the edge of the Maeda Escarpment to soldiers waiting below. He did not stop until he had brought everyone to safety nearly 12 hours later. On May 21, he was wounded in the legs by a grenade and shot in the arm by a sniper’s bullet.
After Doss recovered from most of his injuries, test results showed tuberculosis. This diagnosis resulted in more than five years of hospital treatment and the loss of one lung. An overdose of antibiotic destroyed his hearing. Desmond was given 100 percent disability, which provided him with a stable income.
On October 12, 1945, United States President Harry Truman awarded Desmond Doss with the Congressional Medal of Honor. During the ceremony, President Truman told Doss, “I’m proud of you; you really deserve this. I consider this a greater honor than being President.”
Doss’ best friend and wife, Dorothy, died in November 1991. Without his hearing and beginning to lose his sight, Doss was alone and almost without a way to communicate. On July 1, 1993, Desmond and Frances Doss were married, and Frances remained by his side for the rest of his life.
Doss’ exemplary devotion to God and his country has received nationwide attention. On July 4, 2004, a statue of Doss was placed in the National Museum of Patriotism in Atlanta, Ga., along with statues of Dr. Martin Luther King, President Jimmy Carter, and retired Marine Corps General Gray Davis, also a Medal of Honor recipient. Also in 2004, a feature-length documentary called “The Conscientious Objector,” telling Doss’ story of faith, heroism, and bravery was released. A feature movie describing Doss’ story is also being planned.