John Bradshaw - The Faith of Desmond Doss
John Bradshaw: This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. Right about now, Americans are preparing to celebrate a national holiday. For many people, it's the best time of the year. Thanksgiving: family, sometimes travel, always food. And a time for us to reflect on just how good God has been to us. It's not unusual for people around the table at Thanksgiving dinner to recite what they are thankful for from the previous year. Well, this year (every year, truthfully) I'll be thankful for, among other things, the Bible: God's book, God's revelation to us of Himself and His love for a sinful world. The Bible contains the story of the plan of salvation: how Jesus came from Heaven to Earth, to die so that we might live. That's something to be thankful for. When you come to the Bible, you don't have to read too far to find great men and women of faith. You read about Abraham, or of Samson, somebody like Daniel, people who, driven by the Spirit of God, did great things for the honor of God. Outside the Bible, we find great men and women of faith also, and today we're going to discuss somebody who had great faith in God: such great faith that his otherwise unremarkable life became remarkable for the glory of God; so much so, that this individual was one of the very few to receive a Congressional Medal of Honor. His name was Desmond Doss, and joining me today to discuss Desmond Doss is Pastor Les Spear, who for several years was Desmond Doss's church pastor. Les, thanks for joining me today on It Is Written. It's a pleasure to have you here.
Les Spear: It's my pleasure to be here.
John Bradshaw: Now, you've been in ministry pretty much all your adult life. How long, now?
Les Spear: Forty-six years.
John Bradshaw: And you were the pastor of a church Desmond attended for how many of those years?
Les Spear: About three and a half.
John Bradshaw: But your association with Desmond predates those and postdates those years.
Les Spear: Correct.
John Bradshaw: So, you knew him for about how many years?
Les Spear: About 22, 23 years.
John Bradshaw: And in those years, you can get to know a person pretty well.
Les Spear: Yeah. We became personal friends. Sometimes your church members, you get to know very well. And because of Desmond's reputation, because of his wonderful, quiet, humble manner, he's the kind of man that everyone wishes they had as a father or grandfather. And you could sit beside him and ask him questions. He wasn't intimidated; he wasn't full of himself; he was just as open and transparent as sunlight.
John Bradshaw: Now, not that many people are awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Maybe you can explain what it was that Desmond did that saw him receive the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman.
Les Spear: First of all, you have to understand that the background of his boot camp, Desmond was despised because he was a conscientious objector. He didn't like that term. He said, "I'm a conscientious cooperator".
John Bradshaw: But nevertheless, during his time in the military where he served as a combat medic, he refused to carry a gun.
Les Spear: Yes.
John Bradshaw: Leading many of those he served with to hate him.
Les Spear: Yes. So when it came to warfare, however, the ugly duckling turned out to be a beautiful person who would go after them, the wounded soldiers, no matter where they were. If they were in the line of fire, he would go after them, risking his own life many, many, many times, grab them by the collar and drag them out.
John Bradshaw: Here's how I understand it: Desmond said that during that white-hot, intense battle on the Maeda Escarpment in Okinawa, Japan, he brought to safety, under the most difficult circumstances imaginable, fifty wounded men who otherwise would have lost their lives. The military says it was 100, at least, soldiers he served with, so they split the difference.
Les Spear: Yes.
John Bradshaw: And said Desmond Doss saved 75 men while under fire, literally in the crosshairs of Japanese marksmen.
Les Spear: Now, let me tell you something I asked Desmond about one day. I said, "Desmond, after you saved two or three people and you lowered them down with a rope about 40 feet to where the other men could get them and take them to aid station," I said, "did you continue to crawl on the ground"? He said, "No". He said, "After a while, I understood that God was protecting me, so I stood up and carried men on my back. I drug them; I didn't try to stay on the ground anymore". And he, and the other men, who were down there, said that the bullets were like bees flying around him, but they didn't touch him. So I said, "Desmond, is this story about you"? He said, "No. This story is about my God that I serve".
John Bradshaw: Describe Desmond Doss as a person, you've done that a little bit, something about his background and how he grew up as a man of faith. This was a committed Christian.
Les Spear: He grew up a very poor home. His mother and father worked, both of them, part-time, without regular jobs, during the Depression. His father was a very bad alcoholic, prone to beating the children. The mother was a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, and the Bible and church was very important. Mr. Doss, Thomas Doss, one day at an auction, he bought a little picture of the Lord's Prayer and of the Ten Commandments for 75 cents, and they hung that behind a chair. And interestingly, Desmond liked to stand in that chair and watch and look at and understand the Ten Commandments with the pictures that were there. And his mother said one day, "Desmond, you're going to wear that chair out looking at that picture". She really didn't mind. But that picture had a tremendous influence on not killing anyone: the picture of Cain killing Abel, and of the seventh-day Sabbath, and those were two big, monumental foundations that shaped his character.
John Bradshaw: He chose to be a conscientious cooperator. As you said, he didn't like the term conscientious objector.
Les Spear: Yes.
John Bradshaw: But he, he volunteered for the military.
Les Spear: Absolutely.
John Bradshaw: Now, when you volunteer for the military, you don't get to dictate the terms under which you will serve.
Les Spear: That's true today, but it was quite a little bit different back then, during World War II. Today, if a person volunteers, they go in as a combatant. They must carry arms, unless it's convenient for them to not to do so. Then, there was a law that allowed them to not carry a gun, which he refused to do, and still be on the battlefield, still be saving life instead of taking it. He didn't, he said, "I'm willing to salute my flag. I'm willing to go in uniform. I believe in my country. I'm very patriotic". And he was one of the most patriotic people I've ever seen or met. But he would not kill; he would not take life.
John Bradshaw: A man who would not take life, who would not carry a weapon, but was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor: a remarkable man, a servant of his country, and a man of faith. More of the Desmond Doss story in just a moment.
John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me today on It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. My guest today is Pastor Les Spear, who for several years was the pastor of Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Desmond Doss, and for many years was his close and trusted friend. Desmond Doss is the central figure in the movie "Hacksaw Ridge," which focuses on one of the most intense military engagements in this country's history. Les, since the end of the Civil War, less than 2,000 individuals have received the Medal of Honor. In order to receive that award, you have had to have done something outstanding. And typically, in order to do something outstanding, you had to be someone outstanding. Now, what sort of person was Desmond Doss, the man?
Les Spear: Some people will be acquainted with the Myers- Briggs Personality Profile. Desmond was an INFJ, and if you Google that, it comes out that it's Mr. Integrity. He would not violate his conscience. I don't know of a single incident where he violated his conscience in his whole lifetime. He was so rigid to do what he felt was right, regardless of the consequences.
John Bradshaw: Which led him, while in the military, to make the decision that he wouldn't carry a gun. He would be a conscientious cooperator. You mentioned before that he was despised for that, at least for a while. That turned around. What kind of pressure did he experience in the military for his decision?
Les Spear: He was beat up. He would, was not allowed to have passes home, even to get married, earlier. The men would make fun of him. They would ridicule him. They despised him, because he wouldn't be like them and carry a gun and kill the enemy.
John Bradshaw: As a spiritual man, you observed him up close. What was his spiritual experience like?
Les Spear: He was a person who was not full of himself. He was very humble, very kind, very patient. He was willing to listen. Another soldier met him, and the soldier said, "Desmond treated me like I was the recipient of the Medal of Honor". And he said, "When Desmond goes to the Medal of Honor convention every other year, the other recipients line up to see him". Now, isn't that amazing? So it's not a story necessarily about Desmond. It's a story about the miracle-working power of Desmond's God.
John Bradshaw: Up on Hacksaw Ridge, or more appropriately referred to, up on the Maeda Escarpment at Okinawa, he was literally in the crosshairs of Japanese weapons and guns. Bullets were flying past him, yet he distinguished himself with immense bravery and absolute heroism, leading him to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. Now, you have that medal here today. Might we see that?
Les Spear: Yes. This is the Congressional Medal of Honor. There are very few people who wear this, believe me. I think there's only about 150 who are still alive at this time.
John Bradshaw: In addition to the Congressional Medal of Honor, he was awarded with other awards. What were they?
Les Spear: He received two Bronze Stars, the Oak Leaf Cluster for valor. He received three Purple Hearts, and was wounded most severely the last time, after the Maeda Escarpment. The Japanese had built tunnels in this mountain, and they had pillboxes, they had machine gun nests set up, designed not to be on the offensive but on the defensive. So, my history books say that between 2,200 and 2,300 American lives were trying to take this mountain range. It wasn't so big, about 400 feet high, but they had designed it so that when they got there, many soldiers would die. At one place, there was a little creek. Human blood was almost knee deep. So, here you have Desmond going up there, on the second famous day, and as he goes up there, the Japanese are shooting at him, and he is going and rescuing men. But instead of crawling on the ground, after realizing that God is protecting him, he doesn't worry about the bullets at all. And he just goes and gets people and puts them on his back. He sometimes will help them walk, if they are capable of walking at all, carries them to the side and lowers them over, 40 feet down where the other men can get them and take them to military aid. Just trusting in the Lord. And I asked him, "What were you thinking"? He said, "I was praying, 'God help me get one more before I die.' 'Help me get one more.' 'Help me get one more.'"
John Bradshaw: Big, strong man, was he?
Les Spear: No. He was probably 130 pounds, at this time.
John Bradshaw: A hundred and thirty pounds, yet he singlehandedly rescued and then lowered to safety at least 75 men, while bullets were flying past.
Les Spear: One of the other men in the unit said that the bullets up there were like a bunch of bees flying around him.
John Bradshaw: What sort of long-term effects did Desmond Doss suffer after having served in the military?
Les Spear: Something that we have in our vocabulary today is Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome. Desmond suffered that for probably 10 or 12 years. He called it "the demons". He would think of people that were, he considered them his men, and he would see them die. He would try to save them, and they would die or be blown up.
John Bradshaw: This was going on in his mind?
Les Spear: Yes. And so, for years this, all this trauma is going on in his mind. Today, we deal with psychologists and psychiatrists and so forth, to help our soldiers in these situations. Desmond had none of that. Plus, after he got well from the injuries of his body and his left leg that was blown up with a hand grenade, he has TB for five and a half years, and he couldn't even be with his wife but for a few minutes a day. And he couldn't be with his son for fear that his son would get TB. This was a terrible psychological imprisonment, almost, during his life for years, probably 10 to 12 years he suffered these emotional problems.
John Bradshaw: And then there was his hearing.
Les Spear: Yes. When they treated him for his problems physically, antibiotics were new, in World War II, the doctors didn't know how much to give. And so they gave him way too much, and he would have ringing in his ears for years. And finally, sometime after World War II, he became totally deaf for 12 years, until they have a new miracle surgery called 'cochlear implant.' After he got the cochlear implant, it was possible to communicate with him. He said, "But everybody talks like Donald Duck". Ha ha ha. I found that if I lowered my voice, I could speak slowly, and if I faced him, he could read my lips and we could carry on a good conversation.
John Bradshaw: Did you ever know him to consider or to suggest that the price he paid for serving his country was too high?
Les Spear: Never. He said, "I received the Congressional in honor of the men who died, because they gave a much greater sacrifice than mine".
John Bradshaw: Quite a remarkable man, and now the subject of a major motion picture entitled "Hacksaw Ridge". There's already been documentaries, books, and many other productions in honor or in respect of a man who gave so much for the country that he loved, motivated always by honor for God. We'll be back with more in just a moment.
John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me today on It Is Written. Today, we're discussing Desmond Doss, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, whose experience is portrayed in the movie "Hacksaw Ridge". Pastor Les Spear, his pastor for several years, his friend for many years, we spoke a few moments ago about how Desmond Doss was hated, absolutely despised, because he chose to be a noncombatant. He said he was a conscientious cooperator, but, in spite of that decision, later on was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. So, something happened to turn around in the minds of many people this concept of a man who was perhaps a coward, couldn't be relied on, to, in the minds of his own peers, he really became a hero, in their minds. Explain that transition that took place.
Les Spear: In basic training, one of the men said, "In battle, I will kill you". When it came to the battle time, later, that particular man who had threatened him in basic training was running the other way, away from the enemy, when Desmond was going into battle to save his men. And Desmond was not afraid to risk his life again and again and again, where, if anyone was wounded and they cried for a medic, he was on his way, in spite of the harm and the foolishness. One time, the commander said, "Desmond, wait a little while". And Desmond said, "He may not be alive in a little while," and he crawled on out to get that man and drag him back.
John Bradshaw: Earlier, there was a complete lack of respect for Desmond and his faith. Later on, there was an immense amount of respect for his faith in God. Describe that for me.
Les Spear: When they tried to get up the Maeda Escarpment, Hacksaw Ridge, as it's called by the men, they were, climbed that ladder seven times, and they were kicked off seven times. One of the times, Desmond said to the commander, "Sir, shouldn't we have prayer before we go up"? His intent was that every man should pray, "Forgive me of my sins," and make peace with God. So the commander called the men together and says, "Desmond wants to pray for us". Well, that wasn't Desmond's thought, but that's what he did, and he prayed a very simple prayer. "Lord, give our commander good instructions. Help us to follow safety procedures, that we will all be able to return safely and alive". That day, everyone in their unit came back alive. Not a single one.
John Bradshaw: A very rare occurrence.
Les Spear: When the other group that was beside them were just mowed down. They were on a neighboring part of the escarpment. They were slaughtered, almost.
John Bradshaw: A remarkable story.
Les Spear: Absolutely.
John Bradshaw: What sort of legacy do you think he left behind?
Les Spear: I happen to be the, not only a personal friend of his but also his trust officer. Desmond understood the principal from Scripture that we are just stewards. We're not owners of anything. And so Desmond wanted everything that he had, except for a few personal items, to build up God's kingdom. And so he left not only his money, but also his time, his commitment. He was eager to do everything he could to build up the work of Jesus Christ.
John Bradshaw: I understand he invested with his own time and energy in young people.
Les Spear: Absolutely.
John Bradshaw: Tell me a little bit about his work with young people.
Les Spear: Well, he loved to go to high school, to private schools, to churches, synagogues, wherever he could find people, but especially he wanted to spend time with young people. And he would tell them that if they would trust in God, God would direct their paths. And Desmond said, "That's true with me, and it'll be true with you, if you commit your life to Jesus Christ".
John Bradshaw: How did young people respond to this fellow? Let's keep in mind, he was a frail, older, deaf man.
Les Spear: Yes.
John Bradshaw: And, and he could interact with high school kids?
Les Spear: Oh, it was amazing. One time, there was a group of perhaps 225 people, and almost all of them were young people. They sat there, almost mesmerized. They were just awestruck. I was amazed. These were 10-, 12-, 13-, 14-year-olds, and they were just (ah), with their mouths hanging open, listening to the story of God's protection and providence for him.
John Bradshaw: It really is a remarkable story. It's a story of, of protection, as you say, providence, and faith and trust in God. Now, Desmond Doss today rests in a cemetery not very far from where we are sitting right now, and he's a man who was a significant part of your life. Just briefly, what kind of impact did Desmond Doss, the man, have on you?
Les Spear: In any church, there are stresses, sometimes squabblings, sometimes jealousies, and Desmond was a person who frequently had his picture in the newspaper, in the parades around town, and there were some problems in the church and in the social structure of the community. And Desmond struggled with that, but he was not going to let that influence him not to go to church, not to be faithful, not... he was always determined, "No matter what others do, I will be faithful to God".
John Bradshaw: And it's that faith that's so beautifully portrayed in the film "Hacksaw Ridge," in the documentary "The Conscientious Objector," in books and so much that's been written and produced about this man. Pastor Les Spear, thanks for joining me today.
Les Spear: It's been my pleasure. Thank you.
John Bradshaw: Well, let's pray together before we go. Let's pray:
Our Father in heaven, we are thankful for the way You've placed Your hand on lives, which then reveal to so many Your goodness, Your glory, Your providence and Your power. As we consider the life and the legacy of Desmond Doss, we are mindful that Your impact on a life can make any life profound, any life influential, any life tell for your glory. As we come to You with our struggles and weaknesses, I pray that Your touch, Your blessing would see Your will done, and though the great majority of us will never be known like Desmond Doss was known, I pray that in our sphere, our lives would give evidence that we have been touched and blessed by the God of Heaven. Thank You, that You are the God of great things. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.