Private First Class, U.S. Army, Medical Detachment, 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division
Near Urasoe Mura, Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands, 4/29–5/21/45
“I would like to share my godly mother’s advice: Live by the Golden Rule and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Study the Bible daily, for it is God’s love letter to us letting us know right from wrong; it is our road map to heaven. He has not asked us to give up anything good, only that which is not good enough for life eternal with Him and our loved ones. Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man the wonderful things He has gone to prepare for us who love Him and keep His holy law. If we miss heaven, we have missed everything.”
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 one by one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-sup-ported 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 two days later he treated four men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within eight yards of enemy forces in a cave’s mouth, where he dressed his comrades’ wounds before making four 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 ad-ministered 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 car-ried him 100 yards to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire.
On 21 May, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he re-mained 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 him-self 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 five 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 at-tention to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearers’ return, he was again struck, this time suffering a compound fracture of one 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 determina-tion 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.
On the island of Okinawa in the Pacific is a big hill called the Maeda Escarpment. It is a hill that goes up gradually on one side, levels off on top and then drops off 400 feet to the valley below. During World War II, the American army was in the valley below the 400 foot drop off. It wasn’t easy to get up the cliff the first 365 feet, but it was possible. But the last 35 feet was straight up and jutted out about five feet at the top.
I was a medic in B company attached to the 307th regiment of the 77th infantry division, the Statue of Liberty Division. We had fought on top of the escarpment for a number of days without much progress being made. The escarpment was honeycombed with caves and tunnels. The Japanese put ladders from one cave or tunnel to another on the inside of the escarpment. On top were foxholes that looked like natural terrain, making it easy for them to shoot Americans who didn’t even know they were there.
As we prepared to go up on top of the escarpment again this particular day, I went to Lieutenant Gornto and suggested, “I be-lieve prayer is the best life-saver there is.” Immediately he called our group together and said, “Gather round, fellows. Doss wants to pray for us.”
Now that was not what I had in mind. I just wanted to remind the men that none of us was sure of a return down the escarpment because we knew how fierce the fighting was, and that each man should pray for himself. But after the lieutenant said that, I did pray. I prayed that God would be with the lieutenant and help him to give us the correct orders as our lives were in his hands and help each one of us to take all the safety precautions necessary so that we could all come back alive.
With that we started up the escarpment and immediately got pinned down and thought we couldn’t move. Shortly a message came through headquarters asking what our losses were. I an-swered, “None so far.”
Again a message came through. “Company A who is fighting on your left, has been so badly shot up, they can’t do any more. Company B will have to take the whole escarpment by yourselves.” How would you like to get orders like that? Uncle Sam has to sacri-fice lives to take important objectives, and the Maeda Escarpment was a very important objective.
So we started to move forward. As I remember, Company B started to take enemy positions one at a time until we had taken eight or nine Japanese positions. The amazing part of it was that not a single man from Company B was killed and only one man was slightly wounded by a rock that hit his hand. That was one day that I, as a medic, didn’t have much to do.
It was such an amazing happening that word began to get around to various companies, to headquarters and even back to the States. The men of Company B were asked, “How did you manage to do that?” Their answer, “Due to Doss’ prayer.” They recognized that God had cared for them in a very special way because of the prayer of protection.
The next day we were to go up on the escarpment again. We figured the work was done and this was just a mop-up job. I didn’t pray and I doubt if anyone else did either. That day everything went wrong. The men would throw grenades and other high explosives and the Japanese would pull the fuses before they went off. A number of my men were wounded and needed help. Four men were together in a forward position. One of them tried to throw a grenade. It went off prematurely and he lost his hand. The other three were also wounded. I went to them, did a little first aid and then carried them back one-by-one to the edge of the escarpment.
There was one Japanese foxhole that was giving us trouble. In spite of all the ammunition our men directed into the foxhole, it was still active and in Japanese hands. Finally several of the men opened cans of high octane gasoline and literally threw the cans and the gas into the foxhole. I understand a lieutenant threw a white phosphorous grenade into the gasoline. The resulting explosion was much more than expected. All of the ammunition the men had thrown into the foxhole exploded, probably the Japanese ammuni-tion dump down below went off, too.
What happened next was also unexpected. The Japanese evi-dently figured it was now or never, and they came at us from all sides. The command was given to retreat. Many of our men were wounded and remained on top of the escarpment. They were my men and I felt I could not leave them. I started to pull them to the edge, and one-by-one I began to let them down using a double bowline knot that I had worked with one time while still in the states. It made two loops that could be pulled over the feet and up the legs of the wounded soldiers. Then I would tie another bowline knot around their chest and let them down the first 35 feet to where they could be carried to the aid station. The Lord even pro-vided a tree stump that I could wind rope around and let them down easy.
I kept praying, “Lord, help me get one more.” The Lord an-swered my prayer. I was able to get all the men down that day. The army said it was 100, but I told them it couldn’t be more than 50. So my citation for the Medal of Honor says 75.
On October 12th, 1945, President Truman presented me with the Congressional Medal of Honor. I believe that I received the Medal of Honor because I remembered to keep the Golden Rule as stated in Matthew 7:12, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”
—Desmond T. Doss