Common wisdom tells us that heroism and bravery is reserved for a kind of gung-ho running in where angels fear to tread in order to beat down the bad guys. Today, just as he did 70 years ago, Corporal Desmond Doss challenges this. He was a hero on his own terms and in his own way, but he was very definitely a hero.
Here are a few facts about Doss: he was a devout Seventh Day Adventist who refused to work on the Sabbath; his faith made him a conscientious objector and meant that he refused to touch weapons. I know- it's not looking very promising yet for his hero status. But bear with me- single-handedly and without bearing arms he painstakingly saved the lives of 75 of his fellow soldiers at enormous risk to himself, earning himself the Medal of Honor for heroism throughout the Second World War. Unsurprisingly, given Doss's reservations about weaponry and taking life, he was not welcomed by the army. He had enlisted as a combat medic; he believed in the cause but had vowed not to take life so this seemed to him the best way of being involved. However he was deemed to be prioritizing his faith over his country by a lot of those he served with. As a result he suffered harassment during his training.
Doss obviously never fitted the Army's stereotype of what makes a good soldier. He was considered to be the weakest link in his battalion's chain and his commanding officer sought to have him transferred elsewhere. However in the Spring of 1945 they were ordered into battle in Okinawa; facing a grueling climb up a jagged cliff (also known as 'Hacksaw Ridge') to a plateau defended by thousands of heavily armed Japanese soldiers. The company came under heavy fire and sustained significant injuries. With the battle still raging, Doss repeatedly broke cover in order to drag the severely injured members of his company one by one to the edge of the ridge and lower them down to support medics below using ropes and a litter.
Unbelievably Doss maintained this for a 12 hour period, in total painstakingly lowering 75 men down the cliff edge- including his Captain Jack Glover, who had sought to have him transferred. It has been reported that he prayed throughout, constantly asking God to help him rescue one more injured man. Ultimately his faith and his desire to do as much as he could whilst maintaining his integrity saved the lives of many of his comrades. After Hacksaw Ridge the same officers who had thought him a weak link now praised his bravery and recognized his value. Doss no longer needed to justify his place in the Army.
If there is anything that we should learn from Doss's story, it is that different is good. There is a time for gung-ho heroism that defeats dark places; but equally there is a time for thoughtful, quiet heroism that humbly seeks to help others. Just as Doss's battalion needed both, so do we all.