Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Just One More

My An Arkie's Faith column from the February 21, 2024, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

On Hacksaw Ridge, soldiers lay dead or dying. Over the noise of gunfire and artillery, voices yelled, “medic!” The enemy had caught them by surprise. Mortar rounds were exploding, and bullets were flying. The order came, “Retreat!” While soldiers scrambled away from danger, one soldier ran toward the enemy, looking for wounded soldiers left on the battlefield. More than seventy-five men remained behind, too wounded to retreat. 

For hours, without any help, he carried injured soldiers through enemy fire, lowering each man on a rope-supported litter he had devised to a safe spot over forty feet below the ridge. He used double bowline knots he had learned as a young boy, tying the makeshift litter to a tree stump that served as an anchor. Many hours later, after rescuing countless injured soldiers, he refused to stop even though he was at the point of exhaustion. He was determined to find every fallen soldier who was still breathing. His motto was, “As long as there is life, there is hope.”

At the beginning of the day, his company had launched the assault of Hacksaw Ridge with 155 men. After the vicious enemy attack, fewer than one-third could retreat down the escarpment to relative safety. The rest lay wounded, scattered across the enemy-controlled ground. One lone soldier charged back into the firefight to rescue as many men as he could, knowing that he would probably die that day. The soldier strongly believed in God, and his prayer after each rescue was, “Please, Lord, help me get just one more.” 

Just One More is the title that my granddaughter, Autumn Grant, has chosen for her second play. Last year, although only a junior in high school, she wrote and directed her first play, The Unlikely Messenger. For the last year, she has been working on a two-act play presenting the story of Desmond Doss. Rehearsals for Just One More begin this week, and the play will be performed in April. I am looking forward to seeing the play.

Just One More is the story of Desmond Doss. He enlisted in April 1942 but refused to kill or carry a weapon into combat because of his strong belief in the commandment that says, “Thou shalt not kill” Exodus 20:13 (KJV). The Army gave him the designation of conscientious objector. Desmond worked at the Newport News Naval shipyard and could have requested a deferment. But he desired to do his part in the war effort. For him, that meant saving lives, not taking them. He described himself as a “conscientious cooperator.” He became a medic and served in the Pacific theatre. 

His refusal to carry a gun caused trouble with his fellow soldiers. They called him a misfit. One man in the barracks warned him, “Doss, as soon as we get into combat, I’ll make sure you won’t come back alive.” His commanding officers wanted to get rid of Desmond. They saw him as a liability. Nobody believed a soldier without a weapon was worthwhile. They tried to intimidate him, scold him, assign him extra arduous duties, and when that didn’t work, declared him mentally unfit for the Army. 

Desmond was court-martialed for refusing a direct order to carry a gun. But the Army failed to find a way to throw him out, and he refused to leave. He believed his duty was to obey God and serve his country. But it had to be in that order. His unwavering convictions were most important.

Desmond never held a grudge. With kindness and gentle courtesy, he treated those who had mistreated him. He lived by the words of Jesus, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you.” Matthew 7:12 (NASB) When the men in his unit saw him in action, displaying incredible courage and selflessness, his tormentors became his biggest supporters. Desmond was an example of the principle found in John 15:13 (NKJV), “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”

Because of his bravery during the American assault on Okinawa in May 1945, Desmond was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Truman on October 12, 1945. As he shook the hand of Corporal Desmond Doss, President Truman said, “I’m proud of you. You really deserve this. I consider this a greater honor than being President.”

I have known the story of Desmond Doss for many years. When I was a boy, I read his biography, The Unlikeliest Hero, by Booton Herndon. One story that I remember happened three weeks after Hacksaw Ridge. In a night attack, Desmond remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover. A grenade blast seriously wounded his legs. Rather than call another aid man, he cared for his injuries and waited five hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to safety. 

When Desmond saw a more critically wounded man nearby, he crawled off the litter and directed the litter bearers to take care of the other man. While he was waiting for the litter bearers to return, he was hit by enemy fire, this time suffering a compound fracture of his arm. In extreme pain, he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards over rough terrain to the aid station.

In 1999, I had the honor of meeting Desmond Doss. I had taken a group of boys ages 10 to 14 to hear him speak. After his talk, my boys wanted to meet him. We waited for a chance to talk to him. Desmond stayed until everyone who wanted to meet him had a chance. He took the time to speak to each of the boys personally. The boys loved him and were very impressed. They told me, “We got to meet a real American hero.”

Gentle Reader, I’m proud to have met this humble man. His story made an impression on me when I was a boy. When I met him, I was impressed by his humility. Even though everyone in the audience wanted to hear about his Medal of Honor, he was uncomfortable talking about his actions. He focused more on being prepared and being willing to help others. He stressed the importance of standing up for your convictions. 

Desmond’s life reminds me of the words found in Proverbs 15:33 (NCV), “Respect for the Lord will teach you wisdom. If you want to be honored, you must be humble.” The world needs more people like Desmond Doss, who are focused on saving just one more.

No comments:

Post a Comment