Hidden History’s Brian Bullock discovers the story of World War II hero Desmond Doss
“We might have all taken our uniforms off, but we haven’t quit taking care of soldiers.” — David Jarret, Desmond T. Doss VFW Post 12179.
Lynchburg, Virginia is a beautiful city located just east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s home to a ton of history, including memorials honoring the people who have served in the U.S. military. It was also the home of World War II hero Desmond T. Doss, whose story inspired the Hollywood film Hacksaw Ridge.
Doss was drafted by the military in 1942, but his beliefs forbade him from killing another human or carrying a weapon. In order to honor those beliefs while still serving his country, he became a medic.
Steven Doss, principal of the Desmond T. Doss Christian Academy, shares the academy’s mission in helping students who may not fit in at other schools find a place to shine. He recounts the first time he met the school’s namesake (to whom he is not related) back in 1997.
“It's the selflessness of Desmond. He cared more about others than he did himself, with I think the situations that he put himself in,” Stephen Doss says, “We kind of live by the mantra of John 13:34-35: ‘You're known to be one of his by the way you treat others.’ And I don't know of any greater example than Desmond, and that is kind of the core of our school.”
While serving with his platoon in Guam in 1944, Desmond Doss was awarded two Bronze Stars for exceptional valor in aiding wounded soldiers under fire. During the battle of Okinawa, he saved the lives of wounded soldiers atop the area known as Hacksaw Ridge. For his heroism, he received the Medal of Honor.
“They were relieving the unit that had taken serious hits. So, when they got to the top and started moving forward, that’s when everything changes,” says David Jarrett, a founding member of the VFW post named after Doss. “When they open up on you and people start following and people start running, and there’s very few moving forward, but the ones that do fall, and there’s one guy that continues to move forward and take care of those who have fallen — that’s Doss. And he did that all night long.”
Disobeying his orders, Doss kept returning to the firefight to rescue as many men as he could before he either collapsed or died trying. “There’s discussion about whether it was 50, whether it was 75, whether it was 100. When they’d settled on 75 souls saved, that’s a pretty significant number and that’s why we talk about him today” Jarrett says. The Doss legacy continues to this day. There are tributes to him and his bravery all throughout Lynchburg in honor of Doss and to help the military community.
Tom Current heads up the Lynchburg Area Veterans Council, which is doing some amazing work in honor of Doss.
“Desmond Doss was a medic, wouldn’t touch a weapon. He was a healer. This home and helping veterans today is kind of a living memorial to his service, his dedication, his faith, and the healing aspect of what the man stood for,” Current says. “He helped heal people, and we believe that this house is helping to heal veterans who are experiencing homelessness.”
Doss was discharged in 1946, but not before being diagnosed with tuberculosis which would end up costing him a lung. Despite only having one lung, Doss went on to live a long and inspirational life. Sadly, he passed on March 23, 2006, after being hospitalized for breathing troubles. His legacy lives on in the many whose lives he touched with his story as well as the Desmond Doss Foundation and others that bear his name and honor his memory.
Desmond Doss, a man who was nearly court-martialed for his objections to violence, was a true American hero. His story illustrates that heroes come in all shapes and forms. Next time you’re in the Lynchburg area, take some time to experience the impact he had on his community.
You can learn more about Desmond Doss and his legacy in the latest episode of Hidden History with Brian Bullock on the new VPM History YouTube Channel. Check out the Hidden History website to catch up on past episodes and stay tuned for more Hidden History!