Years ago, when I first came home, I decided it would be a good thing for me to write a book. My first project, still unfinished, and now my 3rd project had the working title “People you wish you told your children about”. I had several chapters in my mind, Corrie Ten Boom, Peg Leg Joe, Irena Sendler, Václav Havel and a few others but I needed a military entry.
I bounced the idea off an old friend of mine, an Army Chaplain, he liked it. Then he asked me if I had ever heard of Desmond Doss. I had not. “That’s OK; you would consider him a coward anyway. He was drafted in WWII and sued to avoid the draft”.
He was a Conscientious Objector, a class of human for which I had a great deal of contempt. My chaplain buddy told me Doss refused to eat meat, refused to work or train on Saturday and refused to carry a weapon of any kind. He sued for Conscientious Objector status and was granted exemption from conscription. I muttered “Damn Coward”, under my breath.
One of my pet peeves has always been Conscientious Objectors (COs). I come from a hard core military family and I have always felt my disdain for anyone who refused to fight for their flag was well founded and just.
The Chaplain drew me into a conversation about WWII and we ended up at the invasion of Okinawa. I knew the story; US troops hit the beach and, although the landing was soft, when they tried to move inland the Japanese defending the Island put up an ugly fight. Weeks of foxhole to foxhole to cave to jungle fighting ensued. Casualties were very high.
He told me about a medic in the 77th Infantry Division; by the time the 77th landed on the beaches of Okinawa this medic had already been awarded the Bronze Star with “V” device. I asked my friend to continue, tell me about this medic, I might use him.
The medic’s unit, Baker Co., was ordered to take the “Maeda Escarpment” and the plateau above. On day one of the battle the medic repeatedly went up the escarpment to render aid to wounded comrades. Over the course of the Battle the medic was wounded several times. Each time, he treated himself and continued to move from wounded soldier to wounded soldier. I asked his full name. I wanted to research him and include the medic in my book.
My friend said; “Desmond T. Doss, Baker Co. 307th Regiment, 77th Infantry Div”. It took a second but it finally clicked. “Hey… that makes no damn sense… You just told me he was coward… and now you’re telling me he has a Bronze Star for Valor?” He glanced at me with irritation.
“No! YOU are the one who called Doss a Coward; I know better.” “Doss sued for CO status but as soon as it was granted, he enlisted… and the Bronze Star is not his highest award.” I stared for a moment. “You’re not gonna tell me a conscientious objector has The Medal… Are you?”
He pulled a book from his shelf and handed it to me opened to the Medal of Honor Citation for Cpl. Desmond T. Doss. I was speechless and found myself standing at attention as I silently finished reading the citation.
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