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United States: Adventist Doss, First Conscientious Objector to Win Medal of Honor, Dies at Age 87

Desmond T. Doss, Sr., who braved ridicule to serve in World War II as a U.S. Army medic without carrying a gun, and who labored on a Sabbath, May 5, 1945, to rescue 75 wounded soldiers pinned down by enemy gunfire on the island of Okinawa, died March 23 a

United States: Adventist Doss, First Conscientious Objector to Win Medal of Honor, Dies at Age 87

SINGULAR HONOR: Doss, right, receives the Congressional Medal of Honor from then-President Harry Truman, who praised the Army medic for his heroism. [ANN File Photo]

It is reported that Doss, a quiet, unassuming man, never liked being called a “conscientious objector,” preferring “conscientious cooperator” instead. Instead of accepting a deferment from the military draft, Doss voluntarily joined the U.S. Army, but never took up arms.  Assigned to the 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division, as a company medic he was often harassed and ridiculed for his beliefs. Raised a Seventh-day Adventist, Doss did not believe in using a gun or killing because of the sixth commandment which states, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). Doss was a patriot however, and believed in serving his country.Desmond T. Doss, Sr., who braved ridicule to serve in World War II as a U.S. Army medic without carrying a gun, and who labored on a Sabbath, May 5, 1945, to rescue 75 wounded soldiers pinned down by enemy gunfire on the island of Okinawa, died March 23 at his residence in Piedmont, Alabama. Doss, the only conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor during World War II, was 87 years of age.

According to his Medal of Honor citation, time after time, Doss’ fellow soldiers witnessed how unafraid he was for his own safety. He was always willing to go after a wounded comrade, no matter how great the danger. During the May 5, 1945, battle in Okinawa, Doss refused to take cover from enemy fire as he rescued 75 wounded soldiers, carrying them one-by-one and lowering them over the edge of the 400-foot Maeda Escarpment. He did not stop until he had brought everyone to safety nearly 12 hours later. Doss would later credit knot-tying skills learned in an Adventist youth group, the Pathfinders, with helping him accomplish the rescue.

Despite that day being a Sabbath, or Saturday, Doss understood Jesus’ injunction that it was fitting to “do good” on the holy day by saving lives.

According to media reports, when U.S. President Harry Truman gave Doss his medal, Truman told him, “I’m proud of you; you really deserve this. I consider this [medal] a greater honor than being President.”

Doss’ exemplary devotion to God and his country received nationwide acclaim. On July 4, 2004, a statue of Doss was placed in the National Museum of Patriotism in Atlanta, Ga., along with statues of Dr. Martin Luther King, President Jimmy Carter, and retired Marine Corps General Gray Davis, also a Medal of Honor recipient.  Also in 2004, a feature-length documentary called “The Conscientious Objector,” telling Doss’ story of faith, heroism, and bravery was released. A feature movie describing Doss’ story is also being planned.

Ironically, Terry Benedict, who produced the documentary and who will work on the feature film, was receiving a communication Bridge Award from the Seventh-day Adventist Church at the time news of Doss’ passing arrived.

“I saw Desmond about [ten days] ago,” Benedict told ANN. “We had a nice chat; he was in good spirits. His story was told on film, and it went far, far beyond what Desmond had ever imagined.”

In and around Washington, D.C., tributes to Doss emerged.

“There are probably few who appreciated life and freedom more than he did,” Major Sheldon Smith, a spokesman for the United States Army, said in a statement. “Private First Class Desmond T. Doss was an American Hero in the truest sense—one each of us should not hesitate to emulate.”

According to Pastor Don Schneider, president of the Adventist Church in North America, Doss “is considered to be a role model - especially to many of our members. His decision to not bear arms in the most dangerous of times was a courageous and heroic decision that has in turn affected many lives. We are proud to have had Desmond as a member of our Church.”

Doss’ survivors include his wife Frances, his son, Desmond T. Doss, Jr., and his brother, Harold Doss. He was preceded in death by his first wife Dorothy Schutte and his sister, Audrey Millner.