With the release last year of Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” came renewed interest in renowned World War II war hero Desmond Doss, a man credited with saving the lives of at least 75 soldiers.
But it isn’t simply his heroism that continuously leaves generation after generation enamored. Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist, was able to find success and exhibit heroism on the battlefield as a military medic while simultaneously refusing to carry a weapon or kill anyone — personal pledges predicated upon his religious convictions.
After enlisting in 1942, Doss felt working as a medic would allow him to live out his principles, specifically the Sixth Commandment banning killing others and the Fourth Commandment imploring him to honor the Sabbath; he saw healing people on that day as permissible, believing that “Christ healed on the Sabbath,” as The New York Times wrote in his obituary.
After the war, Doss was the first conscientious objector to be given the Medal of Honor, based on the remarkable fact that — without a weapon to defend himself — he saved dozens of lives at the battle of Okinawa. That in mind, Doss’ religious devotion and this incredible feat are the subjects of “Hacksaw Ridge,” Gibson’s new movie currently playing in theaters across America.
Terry Benedict, one of the film’s producers who also directed a 2004 documentary about Doss’ life titled, “The Conscientious Objector,” told Faithwire why he believes Doss is such a compelling film subject.
“Traditional heroes typically go through a transition, a story transition, a character transition of change — and in Desmond’s case, he’s sort of the counterintuitive of that,” Benedict said. “He is not the one who changes. He changes the world around him, and that is a very powerful story in and of itself.”
The filmmaker recalled first reading about Doss’ harrowing war story — which included three injuries and a later battle with tuberculosis — when he was just 10 years old. Years later, he met Doss and, after realizing that World War II veterans were beginning to pass away, felt it was important to tell his story before it was too late.
“I had told Desmond it’s really important, I think, to tell his story in the documentary genre first,” Benedict recalled, noting that he told Doss this format would best help the public comprehend what he went through.
So, Benedict proceeded with “The Conscientious Objector,” which was released in 2004, just two years before Doss’ death at the age of 87 — a remarkable feat considering that Doss had spent decades reportedly avoiding Hollywood’s quest to tell his story.
“He had turned down Hollywood since 1945. He was concerned that he would be glorified and he wanted … God (to be glorified). He always said, ‘No’ until I came along,” Benedict explained. “Being a believer myself, I really connected with him … and so that’s how it kicked off.”
It was after the documentary’s release that the roots were set for “Hacksaw Ridge,” with the film’s development process taking more than a decade. And considering Benedict’s relationship with Doss as well as his past history telling his story in documentary form, he was the perfect fit for helping craft the overarching vision for the feature film.
“Desmond and I talked many times about what kind of messages (we wanted) people to come away with, and that always circled back to this idea that it can be a very good thing in a person’s lifestyle to have spiritual underpinnings,” Benedict told Faithwire. “We should always be willing to serve others … that is the primary theme.”
And it’s a theme Doss lived up to both during World War II and after — and Benedict said he’s seeing the message resonate with audiences thus far, with people doing a “self-evaluation” after watching “Hacksaw Ridge.”
“The majority come away from the theater … looking inward and reflecting, ‘What do I believe in? What would have I done? Would I have compromised my values?” he said. “And that self-evaluation is precicely what we’d like to see happen.”
After all, Doss was one of those rare characters who inspired, defied the odds and was able to do the unimaginable — all while refusing to compromise his deeply held values. Remember: he was a medic on the front lines in World War II, yet never fired a weapon his entire time in service.
It’s a faith-filled story of devotion and dedication that Benedict believes is “relevant during any time period.”
“Even though he believed differently than the majority, he still found a way to contribute … a way he could serve and honor his faith and faith in God …in an incredible way,” Benedict said. “We all can take a look at ourselves and say, ‘Would this world be a better place based on what we’re contributing to our communities?'”
Diving into Doss’ story, the filmmaker discussed the most memorable and inspirational moment from the veteran’s life — the “difficult” and “powerful” moment that most astounded him; it was when Doss found himself exhausted amid saving his fellow soldiers. At the end of his rope, he cried out for God to help him save just one more.
It was a plea that came after the Japanese counterattacked troops who were on a 400-foot ridge. Doss remained with some of the injured troops and proceeded to risk his life to carry them one-by-one to safety, lowering them down about 35-feet below the top of the ridge using rope and a system he devised, according to The New York Times.
“It’s this moment up on the ridge where he is utterly gassed out and he’s exhausted in every way, shape and form … he has just thoroughly got nothing left to give,” Benedict said. “That cry out, that little simple cry out — weak as it is — is moving because, at the very moment where he either going to hang on last thread of his faith or not, he chooses to hang on … and that’s what gets him through.”
He continued, “I take away from that … no matter how bad things get that if you have some sort of spiritual underpinnings they can and will get you through the day, if you depend on them.”
Find out more about “Hacksaw Ridge” here.
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