Niemann: Medal of Honor recipient's story is rare

Posted: Jul. 25, 2011 8:30 am Updated: Nov. 28, 2014 12:16 pm


"I would rather have this Medal than to be the President." -- Harry S Truman as he awarded the Medal of Honor to Corp. Desmond Doss

We continue with the theme of war heroes during the month of July. This week's story is about Desmond Doss, a corporal from Georgia during World War II.

Like the subject of last week's story, Medal of Honor recipient Bill Crawford who received his award twice because he was presumed dead the first time, Doss also is a Medal of Honor recipient. His story is just as rare as Bill Crawford's story -- and just as interesting.

Doss was teased, harassed and even hated during World War II -- and that was by the members of his own platoon. You see, he was a highly religious man who was always praying and reading the bible that his wife gave him as a wedding present. He refused to fight. He was a Seventh Day Adventist who would not work or train on his religion's Sabbath (Saturday), but he would work overtime to make up for it.

Despite this, his fellow soldiers resented him and ridiculed him. One even threatened to kill Doss himself when they went to battle rather than let the enemy do it.

His commanding officer was also frustrated with Doss, so he began the process of having him released under a Section 8 discharge, claiming that he was unfit for duty. Doss wanted nothing to do with that, though, because he knew that he was fit to serve, although in a different way than the other soldiers.

He was a patriot, but not one who would fight. His peaceful ways can be traced all the way back to his childhood when he saw a poster that showed the biblical Cain standing over his dead brother's body after he had killed him. He knew right then that he would never take another man's life, even in war.

How could a soldier who would not use his weapon help his unit in a war?

Doss was a medic. His job was to save the lives of his fellow soldiers rather than to attack or capture the enemy. One battle in particular illustrates this.

One morning in April of 1945, Corporal Doss's platoon had to climb a 400-foot cliff on the island of Okinawa while facing Japanese gunfire. It looked like an impossible task, and before they started their ascent, Doss told his commanding officer, "I believe prayer is the best life saver there is. The men should really pray before going up." And that is what they did.

The first five men of Company A were killed, as were many more that followed. Doss was in Company B, however, and company B suffered no casualties as they overtook the Japanese troops. When word reached Army headquarters back in the United States, no one could explain how it happened. The official answer became: "Doss prayed."

The battles continued. While every man in Doss's group survived the initial onslaught, the bible that his wife gave him as a wedding present did not.

Doss returned home in May 1945 after he was severely wounded. In October, he received the Medal of Honor from President Harry S Truman. Then when he returned to his Georgia home, he received another surprise: His lost bible.

His fellow soldiers -- the ones who mocked him and hated him -- had scattered out over the hill in Okinawa where he had made his mark, and found the missing bible.

What was so unique about Doss's story?

The fact that he is the only recipient of the Medal of Honor to never once fire his gun,

You've heard of the Medal of Honor, the Navy Cross, the Silver Star and the Purple Heart. Next week, you'll learn what each of these awards signifies.




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