Lynchburg native was World War II Congressional Medal of Honor winner
News & Advance file photo
Pfc. Desmond Doss receives his Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman. On his Medal of Honor citation, he is credited with saving 75 lives.
Posted: Saturday, December 6, 2014 5:02 pm
The story of Pfc. Desmond T. Doss, a Lynchburg native and the first conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, is on its way to the big screen — and Mel Gibson is apparently in talks to direct.
The film, “Hacksaw Ridge,” has been linked by several Hollywood media outlets to Cross Creek Pictures, which also produced the Oscar-winning “Black Swan” in 2010.
Doss, who grew up on Easley Avenue in Fairview Heights, was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942, though he refused to carry a weapon in combat because of his religious beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist. He was assigned as a combat medic, and is credited with saving as many as 75 men during the battle of Okinawa. Doss singlehandedly lowered the soldiers with ropes off a 400-foot cliff to safety, all while facing enemy fire.
“His commander said it had to be more than 100, and he was a small man,” said Harlow Reynolds, one of the Lynchburg locals who worked with City Council to rename the northwest extension of the Lynchburg Expressway after Doss in 2007. “How he did it, I will never know with his size.”
Steve Doss, the principal of Desmond T. Doss Christian Academy in Lynchburg, learned of the movie’s possibility about two years ago, when he met Dr. Charles Knapp, a retired U.S. Army colonel. Knapp is chairman of the Georgia-Cumberland Conference’s Desmond Doss Council, which owns the rights to Doss’s story.
“They had turned down a number of screenplays because they wanted it to stay true to who Desmond was,” Doss said.
Pfc. Doss died in 2006, but his retelling of the story is immortalized in the award-winning documentary, “The Conscientious Objector,” produced in 2004.
“Variety” and “Deadline” both have reported that Andrew Garfield (“The Amazing Spiderman,” “The Social Network”) is on the short list of stars who may portray the hero in the new film. Several entertainment outlets have reported that Gibson is in talks to direct. “[The film] will cross over to so many different people who will enjoy it, especially now with the revitalization of appreciation for what veterans have done for us,” Doss said.
Pfc. Doss visited the school, which changed its name from Lynchburg Seventh-day Adventist School in 1984, several times over the years.
“He came in his uniform and did the knots for the kids that he used to lower the men down that escarpment,” Doss said.
The principal described the veteran as “kind-hearted … very down to earth.”
“He was in awe that people were in awe of him,” Doss said.
Reynolds, who communicated with the Doss family in the last years of the veteran’s life, has some advice for the film’s producers.
“Just tell the truth of how he did it, you don’t have to beef it up or anything,” he said. “If [it] tells the truth, it will be a great movie.”
Medal of Honor Citation
He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet (120 m) high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying all 75 casualties one-by-one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands.
On May 2, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards (180 m) forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards (7.3 m) of enemy forces in a cave's mouth, where he dressed his comrades' wounds before making 4 separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety.
On May 5, he unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist an artillery officer. He applied bandages, moved his patient to a spot that offered protection from small arms fire and, while artillery and mortar shells fell close by, painstakingly administered plasma. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, Pfc. Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet (7.6 m) from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards (91 m) to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire. On May 21, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of a grenade.
Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his own injuries and waited 5 hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover. The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Pfc. Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby, crawled off the litter; and directed the bearers to give their first attention to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearers' return, he was again struck, by a sniper bullet while being carried off the field by a comrade, this time suffering a compound fracture of 1 arm. With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards (270 m) over rough terrain to the aid station. Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.