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Medal of Honor

To reach the home of Desmond T. Doss near Rising Fawn, Ga., you take the Desmond T. Doss Medal of Honor Highway. The folks around there are mighty proud of their neighbor up on Lookout Mountain. As a 20-year-old in 1945, the shy, slim Seventh-day Adventist became one of the most famous and unusual heroes of WWII. A strict believer in the Sixth Commandment--Thou shalt not kill--he refused to bear arms. But he was willing to serve as a medic, one of the most dangerous jobs the Army had to offer. One day on the Pacific island of Okinawa, Private Doss rescued almost a whole company of men who had been cut down by Japanese fire while trying to capture an important hilltop. Crawling out among bullets and shell bursts, he dragged the wounded one by one to a sheltered spot behind a rock, tied a double-bowline knot around their chests and legs, and lowered them over a 35-foot cliff to safety. “Dear God,” he remembers praying over and over, “let me get just one more.” It took all day, but he got them all. The Army estimated he had saved 75 lives.

At Okinawa, his outfit was given orders to assault the Maeda Escarpment. That was a jagged hilltop, one side of which dropped away in a sheer cliff. From there, the dug-in Japanese could direct artillery fire for miles in all directions. His company decided to climb up behind the enemy: they would scale the cliff with ropes and ladders. We went up and pushed over against the Japanese position, got pinned down and couldn’t move,” Doss recalled. Another company was supposed to take the opposite side of the escarpment, but word came that they had been “all shot up,” he said. “We had to take the whole thing by ourselves. How’d you like to be pinned down, where you couldn’t move, and get an order like that. But Uncle Sam has to sacrifice lives. This was holding up the works.”

“We had orders to withdraw,” Doss said, “But I couldn’t leave my men. In combat you get very closely attached to each other. When you see your buddy hit, you just can’t leave him out there. It’s like a mother with a house on fire. She don’t think of herself; she’s thinking about that child. And that’s the way I felt about my men.”

Exposing himself to mortars, grenades and machine guns, he crawled out into the open and dragged the wounded back to cover. The Army at first said he had rescued a hundred. “I didn’t see how it could be more than 50, and I still don’t. So they settled on 75. I didn’t think I’d get killed. But I felt it would be worth getting wounded if I could save just one more man. I kept praying for the Lord to help me, and He did.”

The battle started on April 29. It was May 5 when Doss performed the principal deeds that resulted in his winning the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for heroism. President Harry S. Truman himself would place the medal around his neck on the White House lawn in October 1945.

April 2, 1995, Spokesman Review, by Tom Infield, Knight-Ridder, p. 1.

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