Okinawa – Medal of Honor for Conscientious Objector

GIs from the 77th Infantry Division man a machine gun nest on the island of Shima, May 3, 1945. The M1919 machine gun was the standard issue for the US Army.
GIs from the 77th Infantry Division man a machine gun nest on the island of Shima, May 3, 1945. The M1919 machine gun was the standard issue for the US Army.

The intense fighting on Okinawa saw many acts of heroism. Conditions were so fierce and so sustained that it must have taken great courage just to stay on the battlefield and remain in combat. In amongst the mayhem some individual acts stood out and were subsequently recognised, there were a total of 24 Medal of Honor recipients during the three months of battle.

Desmond Doss, Medal of Honor recipient
Desmond Doss, Medal of Honor recipient

One award was unusual because it went to a non combatant. Sergeant Desmond Doss was a Seventh-Day Adventist who served with the Medical Detachment, 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division. His citation gives a series of examples of his heroism each illustrating the nature of conditions on Okinawa:

He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet (120 m) 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 all 75 casualties one-by-one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands.

On May 2, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards (180 m) forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards (7.3 m) of enemy forces in a cave’s mouth, where he dressed his comrades’ wounds before making 4 separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety.

On May 5, 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 administered 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 (7.6 m) from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards (91 m) to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire.

On May 21, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained 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 himself 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 5 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 attention to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearers’ return, he was again struck, by a sniper bullet while being carried off the field by a comrade, this time suffering a compound fracture of 1 arm.

With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards (270 m) over rough terrain to the aid station.

Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination 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.


6th Div Marines Okinawa
Marines move through and over “CEMETERY RIDGE.” They are shown pinned down behind gravestones by enemy sniper fire.

12 thoughts on “Okinawa – Medal of Honor for Conscientious Objector”

  1. Okinawa was first home territory of Japan. They lost over 100,000 men. They were fanatics that were taught to die for country was an honor and obligation.
    Estimates for invasion of Japan were 1,000,000 U.S. casualties. You have to remember there was no tv, no internet. The Japanese were taught from youth to hate . They were brainwashed to die for their country , and they believed it.
    It was far better to drop 2 bombs to end the war then have millions and millions on both sides dying. The war would have dragged on for years.

  2. My dad was with the 96th Infantry Division on Okinawa for 6 weeks on the lines. He was a replacement rifleman

  3. Hello,
    Can anyone tell me ‘where’ and by ‘whom’ the term HACKSAW RIDGE was assigned
    to the battle as an identifier and location?

    Seems written interview accounts of a few soldiers, the men just refer to this rock as the ‘escarpment’. So I am curious? Are there any military men alive connected to this threaded communication that can say for certain where the term HACKSAW RIDGE came from?

    Thank you.
    Most respectfully,

  4. Paulo

    It is your argument that is not true. You are basing it on speculation and that is certainly possible for the other side of the coin. You say that the Japanese homeland was disorganized and would have surrendered easily, but many thought the same of Germany once the Siegfried Line was penetrated. How many soldiers from both sides died after that? Was that Japanese defense up to this point any less fanatical than the German? Germany did not surrender when their first cities fell. History does not support your argument that the Japanese would have just given up either.

    You say the many Japanese coastal cities would have been an easy capture and then the rest would have collapsed. Do you think the allies would have walked into those cities without a preliminary bombing campaign? With Okinawa as a launching pad, how many Japanese cities would have faced firestorms on the scale of Dresden before a single Allied foot was placed on the Japanese mainland?

    Your comment “don’t argue that you are doing civilians a favour by killing them.” is a non sequitur that does nothing to prove your argument. The atomic bomb may not have been a favour to the civilians who were killed, but it may have been one to the civilians of cities that did not face aerial bombardment and firestorms.

  5. The only problem with this theory is that Japan was invited to surrender on the 26th July 1945 and rejected the offer out of hand. It also refused to surrender after the 6th August Hiroshima bomb. Even after the Emperor said he wanted to surrender on the 10th August it still took a further 5 days before a formal announcement could be made – there was not full agreement to surrender within the Japanese military government even at the time of the surrender – and there certainly was not in the months beforehand.

  6. Archival evidence from Naval Intelligence, Special Warfare Branch, shows that the Japanese high command was ready to negotiate a surrender as early as December 1944. SWB had intelligence through the Turkish Ambassador in Tokyo that a “peace party” within the Japanese government included Emperor Hirohito. They were extending back channel approaches through one of Foreign Minister Togo’s operatives in Berne, through the Vatican, and the Norwegian diplomatic service. Naval Intelligence decrypted telegrams between Togo and the Japanese ambassador in Moscow, Sato, requesting that Sato ask Stalin to intervene as a negotiator. Stalin refused, but the U.S. now knew how desperate the Japanese high command was for a negotiated surrender. Their only precondition was the retention of the Emperor as head of state.

    So really, dropping the bomb was unnecessary, and everyone in the decision making process, including Truman, knew it.

  7. Foster:

    Not true. The Okinawan civilians were forced into suicides or killed by the Japanese troops, they were hardly enthusiastic participants. All the evidence I have heard from people participating in military preparations for the defence of Japan talk about unreadiness, incompetence and brutalities perpetrated on anyone unfortunate enough to be conscripted. The realty of the Occupation on the mainland was that the civilians there too were overwhelmingly glad that the war was over.

    Despite all the talk about projected casualty figures, the reality is that the mainland was indefensible and resistance would have crumbled almost immediately as soon as the major cities (all on the coast) were occupied and the military authorities removed. The ease and relief with which most Japanese military units surrendered in actuality belies the claims that casualties in any such campaign would be heavy.

    Okinawa was really their last throw of the dice to prevent invasion and even then it was a clearly losing battle. The casualty figures of 5:1 are incredibly favorable by the standards of similarly hard fighting against dug in enemies in the First World War. There is no reason to believe that that casualty ratio would have gotten worse against unprepared defenders in hastily prepared positions without proper supplies.

    The truth is simply that the Americans wanted to end the war quickly to save their own troops lives. Dropping an atomic bomb on Japanese civilians achieved that. The lives of Japanese civilians never entered into their calculations and it is dishonest to pretend they did. Argue all you want about saving American soldiers, but don’t argue that you are doing civilians a favour by killing them.

  8. Andy, did you read the other pages here about the losses in the invasion of Okinawa? Even on an island where most of the native residents were discriminated against by the Japanese, they were induced to commit mass suicide. The Japanese soldiers likewise, after inflicting horrific casualties on the US soldiers. What exactly do you imagine would have happened in an invasion of the mainland.

    I used to argue like you. Bombs wiping out 100,000 civilians in a literal flash are utterly barbaric. But the alternative would have been even more horrific on both sides.

  9. Dropping the bomb probably saved more lives than any other decision in the whole century. Can you imagine how costly a land invasion of japan would have been? They would have fought to the last man with millions of casualties military and civilian on both sides till they finally would have given up! The war would have gone on for months, hand to hand! suicide squads! the death toll would have been enormous on both sides you idiot! dropping the bomb was the best decision of the war!

  10. Yeah, and why the heck not? Flattening two cities of rather cursory military relevance, taking the lives of 130000 – 160000 people (until 1945), mostly civilians and displaced forced laborers and creating 10s of thousands of cancer patients until well into the 80s and 90s sounds like something one can find a lot to disagree with to be honest…

  11. And yet we have people that criticise President Truman for approving the use of Atomic Bombs against Japan.

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