Desmond Doss, Pacifist Medal of Honor Recipient, Dies at 87

Desmond Doss, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for extraordinary courage in World War II despite being a pacifist who refused to carry a weapon, died yesterday in Piedmont, Alabama. He was 87.


USA Today carried the following on page 3: “One-Of-A-Kind World War II Hero Dies”

The only conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor for non-combatant achievements in World War II died Thursday in Piedmont, Ala. Desmond Doss, 87, refused to carry a weapon during his wartime service as a medic. On May 5, 1945, the 24-year-old Seventh-day Adventist from Lynchburg, Va., stayed atop a cliff on the island of Okinawa, lowering wounded soldiers while under attack.

The Rome, Georgia News – Tribune carried a more detailed story:

Desmond T. Doss — the only person to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for non-combat achievements in World War II and the first conscientious objector to receive the medal — died Thursday. He was 87. Doss, a longtime resident of Walker County, was born Feb. 7, 1919, in Lynchburg, Va. Doss was serving as a medic in the Army’s 77th Infantry Division on May 5, 1945, when he helped 75 wounded soldiers escape capture on the island of Okinawa under Japanese attack.

As a Seventh-day Adventist, Doss’ religious convictions required strict adherence to God’s law, particularly the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”

But despite his objection to killing and war, Doss was a patriotic American who wanted to serve his country. In April 1942, the slight, 5-foot-6-inch, 23-year-old enlisted and was given the Army’s 1-A-O conscientious objector status. He refused to carry a weapon and to perform duties on Saturday, when the Adventists celebrate the Sabbath.

For his bravery Doss received the military’s highest award from President Harry Truman on Oct. 12, 1945. The Army had estimated the number of men Doss saved on that day in May at 100, though the humble Doss stated that it couldn’t have been more than 50. The Army decided to split the difference and put 75 on his citation.

Home of Heroes has a detailed profile.

Photo: Though he felt no reservation about caring for the medical needs of the men or otherwise helping them on the Sabbath, he refused to violate it. The fact that he worked overtime to make up for it the rest of the week made little difference. Doss was teased, harassed, and ridiculed. And it only got worse.

When it came time for the men of Doss’ training company to begin qualifications on weaponry, Doss refused. He had entered the service as a medic, to heal the wounded, not to kill. As a small boy he had seen a poster showing Cain standing over the body of his dead brother. From that moment on Doss determined that he would never, under any circumstances, take another life.

So what do you do with a soldier who won’t train on Saturday, eat meat, or carry a gun or bayonet? Doss’ commanding officer knew what to do. Paperwork was initiated to declare him unstable, a miss-fit, and wash him out of military service with a Section-8 discharge as “unsuitable for military service.” But Doss wanted to serve his country, he just refused to kill. He performed all of his other duties with dedication, was an exemplary a soldier in every other way. At his hearing he told the board, “I’d be a very poor Christian if I accepted a discharge implying that I was mentally off because of my religion. I’m sorry, gentlemen, but I can’t accept that kind of a discharge.” So the Army was “stuck” with Desmond Doss. has more.

An amazing story.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    As long as the topic is medal of honor winners, Liberty Just In Case has an interesting question on medal of honor winners. Quick preview, how many medal of honor winners from the Iraq war can you remember being covered in the MSM?

  2. James Joyner says:

    Well, there is only one: SFC Paul Smith.

    I agree that Smith’s name has not been honored in the same way that, say, Alvin York’s or Audie Murphy’s was. Still, the story was covered in the New York Times and by the AP that I know of, since I blogged on the story at the time.

  3. SgtFluffy says:

    It’s sad to say, but he was probably the last of his kind. Willing to serve his country and looking past his beliefs.

  4. David Ajao says:

    Desmond Doss’s story is one of great inspiration and motivation to me, even though I am not an american. I have seen the documentary “Conscientious Objector” and have read the book, “Unlikeliest Hero” over and over again. His life of self-sacrificial service combined with his strong Christian beliefs epitomizes what true godliness and patriotism should ideally be.
    David Ajao.
    Riverside, CA.

  5. Dr. Who says:

    To yetanotherjohn;

    A person becomes a Medal of Honor “recipient” not a “winner”. You don’t win the medal as there isn’t a contest.

  6. Michael M. Yugovich says:

    Desmond T. Doss visited Broadview Academy (LaFox, IL) in 1962 for a weekend. He was the paragon for young Seventh-day Adventists males who would be called to serve in the US military in medical corps. Adventists were opposed to the taking of human life and refused to bear arms, but would serve as medics. His military service was exemplary of his faith that God truly watched over those who obeyed Him, even in the most dire of circumstances, and the power of prayer. He told us that one time in the heat of battle he encouraged many of those with him to pray to God for protection, and there was not one casualty that day.

    He wrote a paragraph in my Bible and included the text which he believed was God’s promise to guard those to believed in Him. He was an extremely humble human being, and an inspiration for others. His life was a testament to his belief. His legacy will always be a paradigm for others who seek to live their life according to God’s precepts, especially Seventh-day Adventists who will always call attention to his example.

    Michael M. Yugovich