Dear Parents & Students,
At the recently held Online Headmaster’s Assembly, I spoke to the students about the incredible story of Desmond Doss whose life was depicted in the 2016 movie Hacksaw Ridge, which is a biographical war film directed by Mel Gibson and written by Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan and is based on the 2004 documentary The Conscientious Objector. The film focuses on the World War II experiences of Desmond Doss, an American pacifist combat medic who, as a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, refused to carry or use a weapon or firearm of any kind.
Philippians 4:13: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Sometimes, when my own faith is flagging, it is encouraging to read stories about (and usually by) people who have struggled — usually with tougher situations than mine — and overcome. When I feel discouraged because either I or other Christians have fallen short, I am reminded, through stories like the one I am about to recount to you, that it is not about me:
1 Corinthians 15:10 “Not I, but the grace of God”.
We are all prodigals, in some ways, lost and running in the wrong direction. But it helps, when we hurt, to be reminded that others are on this path too. And if they were able to survive, thrive, and encounter God’s goodness in their troubles, so can we.
Desmond Doss was a young native of Virginia, in the USA and was a Seventh-day Adventist who strongly believed in the commandment "Thou shalt not kill".
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, Desmond Doss enlisted in the US Army to serve as a combat medic because he believed in the cause, but had vowed not to kill. The Army wanted nothing to do with him. "He just didn't fit into the Army's model of what a good soldier would be," says Terry Benedict, who made a documentary about Doss called The Conscientious Objector.
During basic training, Doss excels physically but becomes a pariah among his fellow soldiers for refusing to handle a rifle and train on Saturdays. His officers, Sergeant Howell and Captain Glover attempt to discharge Doss for psychiatric reasons but are overruled, as Doss's religious beliefs do not constitute mental illness. They subsequently torment Doss by putting him through gruelling labour, intending to get Doss to leave of his own accord. Despite being beaten one night by his fellow soldiers, he refuses to identify his attackers and continues training.
The Army made Doss' life hell during training. "It started out as harassment, and then it became abusive," Benedict says. He interviewed several World War II veterans who were in Doss' battalion. They considered him a pest, questioned his sincerity and threw shoes at him while he prayed. "They just saw him as a slacker, someone who shouldn't have been allowed in the Army, and somebody who was their weakest link in the chain."
However, Desmond Doss told his Captain, " 'Don't ever doubt my courage because I will be right by your side saving lives while you take lives.' " Captain Glover responded: " 'You're not going to be by my damn side if you don't have a gun.' "
But hard as they tried, the Army couldn't force Doss to use a weapon. Doss then went with his company as a medic to the Pacific, and at Okinawa in the spring of 1945, Doss' company faced a gruelling task: Climb a steep, jagged cliff, called Hacksaw Ridge — to a plateau where thousands of heavily armed Japanese soldiers were waiting for them. The terrain was treacherous. "It was full of caves and holes and the Japanese were dug in underground.” American soldiers experienced many casualties.
Under a barrage of gunfire and explosions, Doss crawled on the ground from wounded soldier to wounded soldier. He dragged severely injured men to the edge of the ridge, tied a rope around their bodies, and lowered them down to other medics below. In Benedict's documentary, Doss says: "I was praying the whole time. I just kept praying, 'Lord, please help me get one more.' "
Desmond Doss saved 75 men — including his captain, Jack Glover — over a 12-hour period. The same soldiers who had shamed him now praised him. "He was one of the bravest persons alive," Glover says in the documentary. "And then to have him end up saving my life was the irony of the whole thing."
Captain Glover apologized for dismissing Doss's beliefs as "cowardice". For his bravery, Desmond Doss was awarded the Medal of Honour by President Harry S. Truman for rescuing 75 soldiers at Hacksaw Ridge. He died on March 23, 2006, at the age of 87.
Christopher Yuan said: “God’s faithfulness is proved not by the elimination of hardships but by carrying us through them.”
Desmond Doss, who is an example to all of us, lived by the words: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
In Futurum Fortiter