All Things Soldier: Heart Lessons From Hacksaw Ridge

When I saw the trailer for Hacksaw Ridge, I knew it was one of those things that I needed to see, and also that doing so would be rough. I was right; and while watching it was difficult, just like other films such as Saving Private Ryan, Lone Survivor, and American Sniper, I came away from it thankful once again for the prices that have been paid to keep me safe and free.

Hacksaw Ridge is the true story of Desmond Doss, a medic who served in the Pacific theatre during World War II. Desmond was a Seventh Day Adventist and had the unusual distinction of being a conscientious objector as well as someone who wanted to help his country become victorious over the Empire of the Sun. He refused to even touch a gun, let alone learn to shoot one, while he was in Boot Camp. To say that he was hazed by his fellow grunts is an understatement, and his commanding officers thought that he was some kind of combination of crazy and cowardly, which nearly landed him in Leavenworth.

How strange it must have been to fight for the right to fight, but not the way everyone thought you should! And, how tempting it would have been to cave in and forsake your personal values in a situation such as Desmond faced. His enemies were everywhere, and many were supposed to be his comrades in arms. The U.S. Army finally ruled that if he wanted to go into combat without any protection other than prayer, he could. And it was straight into a hellish fight where his faith was tested, and his strength of conviction was divinely rewarded.

The Battle of Okinawa is considered by many to be the bloodiest of the entire war. “Hacksaw” was the anglicized nickname for Kakazu Ridge, a 280-foot elevation that was described as “hell’s own cesspool.” There was an extensive set of bunkers, underground tunnels, and the more than obvious advantage of height. Wave after wave of American soldiers were repelled, and units were decimated. Once any American soldiers made it to the top, the Japanese were waiting, and were not to be deterred.

Desmond’s unit had to retreat down the ridge, as had their other brothers in battle. Desmond chose to stay up on the ridge all night and found a way to lower the wounded down through a system of ropes. He was past being exhausted, beyond being traumatized, and got his guys through it by passionately praying “Lord, let me get one more. Just one more.” God heard his prayer, and by the next day, 75 of his unit were carried or drug by Desmond to the edge of the ridge, and then lowered down. His hands were torn open, and he was nearly captured by the Japanese more than once.

For his courage, Desmond Doss was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry Truman and went on to live a quiet life with his wife and children. He passed away in 2006, and I doubt he ever expected to be the subject of a film which was nominated for six Academy Awards, and won two. It is exactly that kind of humility that makes the Greatest Generation just that, and I am sure if Desmond were with us, all he would say was, “I was just doing my job.” What he showed me was the most vivid example of the “greater love” of one who “lays his life down for his friends” that I have ever seen, and in this Resurrection season, I am most grateful.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner