In a time when global conflict and tales of valor are almost daily themes, a new documentary motion picture to be released next year will demonstrate that such extraordinary efforts are nothing new. Nearly 60 years ago, a young Seventh-day Adventist who refused to bear arms was responsible for one of the greatest acts of heroism by a single person in combat.
Desmond T. Doss, a 24-year-old medic from Lynchburg, Virginia, stayed atop a blood-soaked escarpment on the island of Okinawa on May 5, 1945, lowering down soldiers pinned under a Japanese attack. He was the only person to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, the United States’ top military award, for non-combat achievements, in the Second World War.
The film, called “The Conscientious Objector,” is being produced by Terry Benedict, a veteran of Hollywood productions. A filmmaking graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, he was a first assistant director, second unit, for the first “Terminator” movie, and wrote and directed his first film in 1995.
He sees in the story a “perfect arc” about a character who not only accomplishes something, but who also changes the lives of those around him. Benedict is an Adventist who says researching and telling Doss’ story reconnected him with his faith.
“You think you’re living the good Christian life, walking in faith, but when I started the project, I learned what it really meant to walk in faith,” Benedict said. Doss, the filmmaker added, “is always at peace and I’ve learned how to be at peace when everything is breaking out around you. There was no way I couldn’t be affected [by Doss’ story] and not be a better person.”
Though earlier mocked and harassed by the men in his unit who didn’t understand—or appreciate—Doss’ commitment to non-combatancy, the young private rigged a rope and helped 75 soldiers escape a near-certain death during one of the more intense battles of the Pacific campaign. Ironically, one of the men he saved had previously tried to intimidate Doss into carrying a weapon, or have him removed as unfit for military service.
“Lord, help me get one more. Just ONE more,” was Doss’ prayer during those hours. After the last man was evacuated, Doss himself made his way to safety.
Such heroism wasn’t unusual for Doss, who earlier, on the island of Guam, crawled 200 yards ahead of the “front line” to rescue an American soldier who had been injured in the fighting. After the May 5 episode, which led to Doss’ nomination to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, the medic later helped others escape in a May 21 attack, even though he was wounded. When one of the soldiers carrying Doss’ litter was hit, Doss rolled off the sickbed and asked others to transport the more critically wounded man.
These accomplishments led to Doss receiving the Medal of Honor on Oct. 12 of that year, making him the first conscientious objector to do so, and the only one who never used a weapon in combat. To this day, Doss’ story is known in military circles and American administrations. Now 84, Doss lives near Atlanta, Georgia, and regularly shares his story in speaking engagements.
Telling the story on film, however, proved elusive. Despite the cinematic scope of Doss’ story, the veteran refused several offers to have a “dramatic” presentation made of his life. But as the years continue to separate people from the World War II era, Terry Benedict felt a need to capture the story in documentary format, so that it would not become a “legend” that was verified only in yellowed news clippings.
“It was most important to find whatever men are still left, and to see [Doss’ story] through their eyes,” Benedict told ANN. Out of 5,000 names of veterans submitted to U.S. officials for tracing, “only seven or eight” could be found.
“These were all unique individuals,” Benedict said of the vets. “But none of them wanted to talk about themselves; all they cared about was Desmond.”
Benedict expects the film to gain a wide audience among disparate groups of viewers. “Doves like Desmond because he stood up for his [non-violent] convictions; hawks like him because of his heroic act in service to America.”
An Internet Web site for the movie, www.desmonddoss.com, features a preview of the film and more information on the story.