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Desmond Doss

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Desmond Doss was the first conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor (Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 1996; Doss, 1998). By being a conscientious objector, Desmond Doss refused to kill or carry a weapon into combat. This was spurred by his personal beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist. During World War II, Desmond Doss became a medic, and helped his country by saving the lives of scores of his companions in the Pacific theatre. Throughout the entire war, Desmond adhered closely to his religious convictions, and compromised only when the lives of his comrades were in direct danger. Because of this, Desmond Doss’ faith, military valor and legacy serve as stellar examples for noncombatant Seventh Day Adventist Servicemen and women. Desmond Thomas Doss was born on February 7, 1919 in Lynchburg, Virginia (Doss, 1998; Benedict, 2004).

His parents were Tom and Bertha Doss, and Desmond was their second child. Desmond’s father worked as a carpenter, however, the Great Depression would leave him jobless and in an almost constantly inebriated state (Benedict, 2004). With no father figure, Desmond would rely on his mother, who had recently joined the Seventh-day Adventist church, to guide him on the path to manhood (Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 1996; Doss, 1998). Desmond’s mother did her best to instill the values of the Seventh-day Adventist church in her son, dutifully taking him and his three siblings to church every Saturday morning. Having been raised in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Desmond was tremendously influenced by the bible and its teachings. The story of Cain and Abel was particularly of interest to young Desmond (Doss, 1998; Benedict, 2004). To him, it was incomprehensible that a man would willingly kill his own brother. It was during that critical juncture that Desmond took the 6th commandment, “thou shall not kill”, to heart and vowed to never end the life of a fellow man. Desmond’s aversion to the use of guns was also instilled within him at a very young age. During an altercation between his intoxicated father and uncle, Desmond’s father, Tom Doss, brandished a pistol against his brother-in-law. Were it not for the intervention of Desmond’s mother, Tom would have shot him (Benedict, 2004).

After Tom was arrested and taken away by the authorities, Desmond contemplated the situation, and the story of Cain and Abel had hit much too close to home. Desmond could not believe that men still turned against their own brothers, to the point of cold-blooded murder. This experience was extremely traumatizing to young Desmond, and it was at that time that he vowed to never wield a weapon (Doss, 1998; Benedict, 2004; Doss, 2005). Much of Desmond’s younger life is shrouded by history, however, the facts become much more apparent at around the time he turned 23. It was at this time, in 1942, that Pearl Harbor was assaulted by the Japanese, which would result in over 2500 civilian and military casualties for the American forces. Desmond was employed by the New Port News Shipyard, and watched as his country rose to the challenge presented by the Japanese (Doss, 2005). Even after being offered a draft exemption by his employer, Desmond was enthusiastic to join the armed forces. Desmond, spurred by the courageous actions of his fellow Americans, voluntarily enlisted himself with the United States Army. However, because of his refusal to wield a weapon, the Army labeled him as a conscientious objector, which Desmond did not agree with (Doss, 1998; Benedict, 2004; Doss, 2005). Desmond, although unwilling to use or carry a weapon, did not object to his fellow comrades taking the lives of the enemy and in doing this, he believed he was a “conscientious cooperator.” A high-resolution scan of a photograph of Desmond Doss, taken shortly before his deployment to the Pacific theatre in 1944. (Okinawarelics.com, 2002)

Life in the military was not easy for Desmond. He was continuously mocked and ridiculed by fellow soldiers and even by his superiors for not carrying or using a weapon. After being erroneously placed with a rifle company, he was transferred to a medical unit, yet his problems did not cease. Desmond’s comrades also held disdain towards him for his Seventh-day Adventist beliefs. Other soldiers would attack Desmond because of his unwillingness to work on the Sabbath, believing that he was only using his religious beliefs as a reason to get out of work. Eventually, his commanding officers even began to reject Desmond’s requests for a Sabbath break (Doss, 1998; Doss, 2005). It was found that this was in breach of the Constitution, and Desmond was, grudgingly, granted his Sabbath leaves of absence. Despite the protests and attempts at getting Desmond discharged from the Military, Desmond Doss was there to stay.

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