Medal of Honor Recipients Portrayed On Film
Classic Heroism



Rank, duty position and unit at time of action:

Private First Class, U.S. Army, Medical Detachment, 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division, 10th Army



World War II


Place and date of action:

Maeda Escarpment, Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands, 29 April-21 May 1945

Portrayed by:

Andrew Garfield

In the film:

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Text of Citation:


Rank and organization: Private First Class, U.S. Army, Medical Detachment, 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Urasoe Mura, Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands, 29 April-21 May 1945. Entered service at: Lynchburg, Va. Birth: Lynchburg, Va. G.O. No.: 97, 1 November 1945.

Citation: He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet 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 them 1 by 1 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 2 May, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards 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 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 5 May, 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 from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire. On 21 May, 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, 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 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.


Private First Class Desmond T. Doss was the first serviceman with Conscientious Objector status in US military history to receive the Medal of Honor, and the only one of World War II. Several other Army medics and Navy corpsmen (especially those attached to Marine Corps units), surgeons and chaplains have received the medal, dating back to the origin of the Medal during the Civil War. Some of those actions involved those medical personnel using their issued self-defense weapons to defend casualties they were treating, and one Army dentist (pressed into duty as an acting surgeon) who received his MoH posthumously for taking over a machine gun nest after its crew had been killed, defending his aid station against a Japanese human-wave attack in the Battle of Saipan. Doss, however, managed to avoid touching, let alone using any weapon at any time in all the intense combat that surrounded him, except to use a field-stripped wooden rifle stock to splint his own broken arm as noted in the above citation, and holding a hand grenade (but resisting thoughts of using it) during a night action in which Japanese infiltrators had surrounded the foxhole in which he and one of his casualties were hiding.

Doss was raised in Lynchburg, Virginia as a Seventh Day Adventist (SDA), and resisted being labeled a Conscientious Objector (which gave him a Draft Classification of 1-A-O) in that he and his sect did not object to military service but only to being combatants and carrying weapons. The Seventh Day Adventists being one of the largest sects that allowed service under those conditions, their church hierarchy and the War Department had, between the two World Wars, carefully hammered out the conditions under which their members and those of similar sects could be drafted or volunteer for service. (Author Lyle F. Padilla's family has a longtime friend who is an SDA and a retired US Navy Captain and medical officer, so he was somewhat familiar with SDA religious practices and limitations on military service prior to the release of Hacksaw Ridge.) Doss was further exempted from the draft by virtue of being a defense industry employee at the shipyards in Newport News, Virginia. Still, he volunteered for the Army as a medic in April 1942, less than five months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

In the bureaucratic chaos of the early days of US involvement in World War II, Doss's status was somehow ignored and he was first assigned to basic training as an infantryman with the newly reactivated 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division. (The 307th was one of the regiments of the 77th which, in the previous war, contributed elements to the ad hoc "Lost Battalion".) He spent his first week in training trying to get the problem straightened out, first through the chain of command and then through the battalion chaplain, before getting transferred to medical services. During those first days, his frequent praying on his knees in the barracks and his refusal to handle a weapon drew much derision and verbal harassment from his barracks mates. There is no evidence that Doss was subjected to any barracks "blanket party" or other form of physical assault from his peers as depicted in the movie.

The chaplain, familiar with the SDA church and the provisions for the military service of its members, reported the situation higher up the chain of command, and Doss was reassigned to the 307th's medical battalion for training as a medic. After completing that training, he was detached back to B Company 1st Battalion of the 307th. The harassment from the unit leaders and several other soldiers resumed as Doss continued to refuse marksmanship training, to work on Saturdays,  (making up for it on Sundays, when most of the others were off post and therefore unable to see him at work) and abstaining from eating pork and shellfish. (The Seventh Day Adventists derive their name from the merging of their Christian faith with many Jewish religious practices including Saturday being their Day of Worship, and observing most Kosher dietary laws.) The friction reached the point at which the chain of command attempted to court martial him for insubordination and to discharge him as mentally unfit, both of which he fought. The issue was finally resolved after Doss' father, a World War I veteran himself (who had not joined the SDA church until long after his wife and children had been members), brought the situation to the attention of the SDA's War Service Commission, which provided Doss with copies of directives from President Roosevelt and Army Chief of Staff General Marshall on the exemptions allowed for Conscientious Objectors in the service. The first half of Hacksaw Ridge depicts these events as well as Doss' courtship and marriage to his wife Dorothy (played somewhat faithfully by Teresa Palmer,) although Doss' father is depicted as contacting his World War I former commanding officer, then at the War Department, rather than the SDA liaison office to the Army.

As the authors have acknowledged on other pages of this website the limitations of the medium of film make the compression of time, condensation of events, creation of composite characters, and the use of dramatic license, unavoidable. In the case of Hacksaw Ridge, the compression of time and condensation of events leaves viewers with the impression that Doss was a relatively late entry into the World War II Army, that the 307th Infantry went straight into combat at the Maeda Escarpment on Okinawa (nicknamed "Hacksaw Ridge" for obvious reasons) from basic training in 1945, the third year of the war, and that Doss was still something of a pariah within his unit upon their arrival at Hacksaw Ridge. As noted earlier, he was in uniform less than five months after Pearl Harbor. After completion of initial training as a unit, the 77th Infantry Division underwent nearly two years of training for combat in various climates and terrain (desert in Southern California, semi-tropical in Louisiana, mountainous in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, jungle in Hawaii) before first entering combat on Guam in the Marianas Islands in July 1944, and then on Leyte island in the Philippines in November.

Doss quickly demonstrated his value as a combat medic, earning a Bronze Star at Leyte. The 77th then participated in the capture of some of the smaller islands near Okinawa prior to the main assault on that island, and arrived at Hacksaw Ridge, the prominent terrain feature which spanned the middle of the island, in late April 1945. Doss was by then a seasoned veteran, and the 1st Battalion 307th Infantry was not a replacement or reinforcing unit in the fight for the escarpment as depicted in the movie, but led the initial assault. In fact, Doss was among the first Americans to arrive at the top of Hacksaw Ridge, as one of a handful of volunteers who scaled the cliffs under fire ahead of the main assault, to anchor cargo netting to the top of the cliff to allow the troops to climb the cliff more quickly in larger numbers. The netting was shown as already in place in the movie, ostensibly hung by the fictional unit the 1/307th was “replacing.” There could have been a cut scene in which climbing the cliff and placing the cargo netting was depicted, but will need to wait for the Director’s Cut to see if that is the case.

As with the overwhelming majority of the films covered on this website, the actual depiction of the Medal of Honor actions needed little or no embellishment or deviation from the known facts as recorded in the actual Medal of Honor citation. One minor detail is that the citation mentions that Doss lowered approximately 75 stricken casualties while under fire "on a rope-supported litter down the face of [the] cliff", whereas he had actually lowered only the first of those casualties by that method. He quickly abandoned that idea when the man nearly fell off the litter while still several feet from the bottom, so Doss had improvised a hip harness with a double bowline knot for the remaining casualties. The film omits the first attempt with the litter, but had previously paid homage to it in the training sequence, in which he unintentionally discovered how to create the double-looped bowline (“brassiere”!) Also, the number of "approximately 75" casualties was arrived at literally by splitting the difference between Doss' own estimate of lowering 50 casualties, and the company and battalion commanders' calculations that 100 casualties had been evacuated from the heights. The lowering of the casualties down the cliff on the first night and second day of battle was the most memorable of Doss' many valorous and lifesaving acts on Hacksaw Ridge, but as the citation notes, Doss and B Company were in contact with Japanese troops, on a hilltop fortified with pillboxes and foxholes and honeycombed with tunnels, for over three weeks before he was severely wounded in both legs and the buttocks by a Japanese grenade. He treated his own wounds, insisted on waiting for several hours while other medics evacuated more severely wounded casualties, then actually crawled off the litter on which he was being carried, when his bearers came across another more severely wounded man. While waiting for the stretcher-bearers to return, his left arm was shattered by a Japanese sniper's bullet. As with the rest of the movie, the compression of time and condensation of events leaves the viewer with the impression that the entire action took place over just a few days rather than over three weeks. Critics may also find fault with the graphic violence and gore of the movie and lump it with the gratuitous war movie violence that began with Saving Private Ryan, but in this case, the authors consider the graphic depictions to be necessary to convey the severity of the battle injuries which Doss had to treat under fire.

Doss was promoted to corporal while still in the field hospital on Okinawa, and was still in convalescent status at an Army hospital, much closer to home in Richmond, Virginia, when he received his Medal of Honor from President Truman at the White House on October 12, 1945. He was in and out of Army and Veterans Administration hospitals for six years, during which it was discovered that he had contracted tuberculosis while overseas, resulting in his losing one lung. He and Dorothy retired to a small farm after his disability discharge.

To date, only two other Conscientious Objector medics have received the Medal of Honor, both posthumously for action in the Vietnam War.


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