John Bradshaw - The Heroism of Desmond Doss
John Bradshaw: This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me today. Across the United States, Americans are looking forward to Veterans Day, that special day that comes around once a year, on which we honor those who serve in or who have served in the various branches of the military, often in peril and danger, often with great sacrifice, preserving freedom and securing safety. Well, joining me today is a military veteran and a physician, Dr. Charles Knapp, Colonel Knapp. Thanks for joining me today.
Dr. Charles Knapp: Thank you for having me.
John Bradshaw: Tell me a little bit about your service in the military, before we get on and talk about a certain military hero.
Dr. Charles Knapp: I suppose the best way to describe my service is eclectic, because I was going to be a missionary. I was on a deferred appointment, got drafted, did not decide to stay except God guided me and I didn't realize that I was being guided, and finally found out that I was, in fact, being in the mission field. And then ended up spending 24 years on active service, 5 years of reserve service, and had service all over the world.
John Bradshaw: On behalf of others who are like-minded, I would like to say thank you for your service. And likewise, thank you to all veterans who have done so much for so many; you are deeply appreciated. Dr. Knapp, today let's talk about a World War II hero, a man who has received the Congressional Medal of Honor. His name is Desmond Doss, a man with who you were acquainted. How did you get to meet Desmond Doss?
Dr. Charles Knapp: Well, in 1952 I went through a program that was organized by the Seventh-day Adventist Church to train young men who might be drafted, at Camp Doss in Grand Ledge, Michigan. Desmond Doss came to give the graduation address. As a high school student I was impressed with his story but really didn't realize how my life and career would revolve around not only his exploits, but now as the chairman of the Desmond Doss Council, a group of trustees to preserve, protect and manage his life story. We have tried to foster the beliefs, the faith, the things that made Desmond's life in the military well known and soon to be known all over the world.
John Bradshaw: This is somebody who's known by many but not by all, and is about to be known by a great many more people, owing to the release of a movie called Hacksaw Ridge, a movie that features Desmond Doss's life and faith. Tell me how this movie, Hacksaw Ridge, came about.
Dr. Charles Knapp: Before Desmond died, he asked the Desmond Doss Council, to whom he had entrusted and bequeathed his life story, that if a movie could be made that would honor God and faithfully tell the story as it happened, that he gave his permission to seek such a story. We started that process right after the release of the documentary which the Doss Council helped produce in 2004, and we've been on that quest ever since. Fortunately, we found a producer who not only believed in the story and has told me many, many times that truth always makes a better story than fiction. There is a miraculous element to this story, and he wanted to make it. Desmond Doss will now become an international legend.
John Bradshaw: What was it about this story, you think, that Hollywood said, this is a story the world has got to hear?
Dr. Charles Knapp: Honesty and integrity. I think integrity is the cornerstone of all Medal of Honor winners, and Desmond was not a pacifist. He was a patriot. He is considered an exemplary patriot. But he had a matter of conscience that he stood behind, and refused to carry a weapon, and his conscience is not the reason that he became so well known and so respected, but because of his faith. In fact, throughout the movie his faith and God's standing behind him just shines out, and that is what makes it so attractive.
John Bradshaw: In practical terms, how did Desmond Doss's faith in God affect or influence his service to his country?
Dr. Charles Knapp: In the face of his brutalization in training by his fellow men that he served with and later saved their lives, his commanding officers who tried to get him out of the service and who later either saved their lives or came to respect him, he just knew that if he stood firm on his beliefs, and his beliefs were Bible based, that God would take care of the rest. He wasn't an educated man, but he knew what he believed. His mother had said it's wrong to kill. There was a picture of the Ten Commandments hanging on his home wall, and he said that this is what God expects of me. But he wanted to serve. And he didn't want to serve in some backwater organization that wouldn't be exposed to combat. His brother had enlisted, went off to war, not as a noncombatant. He said, "I have to enlist". His father was against it. He could have been deferred because he was a carpenter in a shipyard, and that was considered to be a defense essential position. And he said, "I could never live with myself if I didn't enlist". What he didn't realize, what was ahead of him and through it all, not only did he stand firm for what his beliefs were, he did it with a smile on his face, and said, "God will take care of it". And God did.
John Bradshaw: And God did. God did take care of him in his life of exemplary service to his country, so he had become the first noncombatant ever to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. It's a remarkable story. We'll share more of it with you in just a moment.
John Bradshaw: Thank's for joining me today on It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw, joined today by a special guest, a physician and retired army colonel, Dr. Charles Knapp. Dr. Knapp, today we are discussing Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Desmond Doss, a man you knew well. And the subject of a new Hollywood movie, Hacksaw Ridge. Tell me, if you would, just recap the Desmond Doss story. What's the story?
Dr. Charles Knapp: Desmond was a native of Lynchburg, Virginia. He had a deferment from the military as a carpenter in a shipyard, decided that he had to serve his country. In 1942, the beginning of World War II, he enlisted, trained with the 77th division. He qualified as a noncombatant, had he been drafted. But instead, in the rush of youth, he enlisted. Those noncombatant status, the 1AO, as it was known then, went away, and he trained with this unit. Terribly abused because his fellow soldiers thought that he was the weak link in the unit. He eventually went to the South Pacific, fought in Guam, in Leyte, with great valor, and was decorated. And then faced the Maeda Escarpment, the official name for the volcanic ridge that crosses Okinawa. That's a sheer cliff of some 75 feet at the top of a sloping hill, and the casualties were horrible. In fact, military historians say the battle for the Maeda Escarpment perhaps was the worse of any battle, certainly in the South Pacific, and perhaps in all of World War II. Entire units would be wiped out as they would go over the top of the escarpment. Desmond went up with his unit, and he ended up on three assaults to save 75 men's lives. In fact, the unit took such terrible losses that they were ordered off the escarpment, and the escarpment was bombarded with aircraft bombs and naval artillery, and he stayed up there all night saving lives, lowering them over this escarpment, this 75-foot cliff, with a bowline knot and a heavy piece of rope. Now, Desmond was not a big man. He wasn't a strong man. But somewhere he got the endurance to do this, day and night. He came down off the escarpment, totally and completely exhausted. Some people say that he saved maybe a hundred lives. His Medal of Honor citation says 75. A day after rest and relaxation, his unit was ordered back up onto the escarpment, and he had saved so many lives, and he was so respected by his unit that they refused to go back up unless he went with them. It was on a Saturday morning. His company commander came to him and asked him if he would go back up. The company commander told him, "I don't understand why you survived. I don't understand how you were able to do what you did. The men don't understand it. But unless you go with them, they don't feel they can do their job. They want something that you have". He asked for a little delay so that he could pray for the unit. The escarpment was being bombarded by naval artillery at a certain time on the clock. The bombardment was lifted and the assault hadn't begun yet. And of course, there were a lot of communications between division and the unit. And as the movie correctly depicts, the commander of the assault unit said, "Hold your horses. We'll be going when Desmond finishes praying for the unit". That assault was successful. The escarpment was taken, captured. Desmond was wounded, he was brought down off the escarpment, and he went into the history books.
John Bradshaw: It's a remarkable story. You've seen the movie. How accurate do you feel the movie is in portraying the events that took place, as well as Desmond's faith in God?
Dr. Charles Knapp: I think it's extremely accurate. I think that Mr. Bill Mechanic, the producer, and Mel Gibson have got it as accurate as it's possible. There's been some collapsing of the time intervals, because the movie is only two hours long. But his faith, his church, his matter of conscience and the way events transpired are as true as historical events and Desmond's words can make them.
John Bradshaw: Now, Desmond Doss left a legacy where he didn't really so much talking about him, but he wanted his life to be a springboard to a conversation about his God. So, what do you think the key message of this movie will be, that people will take away as they exit the theaters?
Dr. Charles Knapp: Well, it's hard to know exactly what they're going to take away, but the focus groups that have seen the movie, and the pre-release audiences, have used the words inspirational and transformational. That means the movie makes people think about these words that we take as a cliché, duty, honor, country. Desmond added God to that: duty, honor, country, God. I think what it will do is start a conversation all over the world, because it's scheduled for worldwide release, and I think the conversation will be, where did Desmond get his ideas about not killing? What is the Sabbath issue that he talked about? Is prayer really as effective in one's life as Desmond made it? When he was on the escarpment at night and all the battles that were going on, and the enemy was out killing wounded, and he was exhausted, over and over again the cameras record Desmond saying a simple prayer: "Lord, just one more. Lord, just one more". He went way beyond any human endurance, human capability. And throughout his life, Desmond said, "It wasn't me. It was the power of the angels and the Holy Spirit around me that allowed me to do these things, to his glory". Now, Desmond was very retiring, he was a very humble man, he didn't want to be called a hero. He said the men he served with were the heroes, those who gave their lives. And he had firmly expected, especially on that third time on the escarpment, that he would not come off. He knew, he was certain that he would be killed. He wasn't.
John Bradshaw: War movies are not a new phenomenon, so this is yet another war movie. What makes this one different?
Dr. Charles Knapp: Well, the realism. So many times we become satiated with videogames and with old-time westerns where the six-shooter shoots 17 times, and the hero gets hit in the shoulder, and you put a sling on, and the next day, why, he rides off into the sunset. That's not the way war is. War is brutal, it's heinous, it's evil. And the one thing that is depicted in this movie is, it's realistic. What you see is done by real actors, and in the midst of this violence and this brutality, we have this man who stands out at the antithesis, the opposite. It's bad versus good, as the producer told me when I was on the set in Sydney, this is the quintessential movie about what is good and is bad.
John Bradshaw: Dr. Knapp, I've heard you say in the past that many people who receive the Medal of Honor do so for something that just happened in an instant. But with Desmond Doss, his experience was somewhat different. Explain that for me.
Dr. Charles Knapp: Often heroism is equated to courage and bravery in the face of impossible odds. Well, all of that occurred with Desmond Doss, but it wasn't on a one-time occasion. Courage and bravery is something that happens in the moment, except Desmond did it at Leyte in the invasion of the Philippines, and earned the Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. He did it again in Guam and earned another Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with a V device for valor, which means courage and bravery. And then earned another Purple Heart in Okinawan, and the Medal of Honor. It's best described by his fellow Medal of Honor recipients: they respected the fact that he trusted in something bigger than himself. Trust in God. His valor, as far as Desmond was concerned, and those of us who knew him, was not because of a personal desire or any special attribute of him, but it was miraculous. And miraculous is part of the definition of a legend. And he becomes human legend. The Medal of Honor recipients always honor Desmond as perhaps the most respected of all of their very small fraternity. Most of them earned their medals because of taking life, or had something that they did that was very courageous and brave. But they always talk about Desmond is that his life in combat was courageous and brave, self-effacing, selfless, over and over again. And when asked, where did he get this motivation, this drive, he would say, "It comes from God".
John Bradshaw: You've served alongside many people who've, who've truly been in the thick of things. I wonder if you can help those of us who cannot imagine what that's like, to understand what it's like. What are the emotions experienced by people right there on the front lines?
Dr. Charles Knapp: Fear.
John Bradshaw: You answered that pretty certainly.
Dr. Charles Knapp: Oh, no question. You'll hear any commander or senior NCO say to the young private, "If you don't have fear, you're not going to be able to accomplish your mission". Because fear is the leveler of all other emotions. And in the military, there is an adage, "Believe in your leaders". They're not out there to get you killed; they're out to make certain that you go home to your families, to your children, and you make it out in one piece. Desmond went one step further. Yes, I believe and will obey my leaders, but I also will obey and follow my God, who is my ultimate Leader. And that made the difference in Desmond's service, you know, without question.
John Bradshaw: What are those principles that the various branches of our military instill in young men and women who enlist?
Dr. Charles Knapp: The documentary that was produced in 2004 called The Conscientious Objector is often used as a case study at the military colleges and in scouting groups and other groups, as an example for the metaphor for Desmond Doss. That metaphor is one of integrity, honesty, faithfulness, trust. Those are the elements that are so hard for human beings to exercise. It takes great courage to follow through with those when you are opposed, when you are abused, rejected. Desmond is an example to the world in this movie: stay the course, maintain a prayerful connection with the source of your strength, your courage, your bravery. Give Him all the credit in the world, and He'll take care of you.
John Bradshaw: Thankfully, most of us are not going to know what it's like to be caught in the heat of battle. However, it's true, and you would understand this as a Christian, everyone alive is caught in the heat of a battle between good and evil.
Dr. Charles Knapp: Absolutely.
John Bradshaw: Now, what principles from Desmond Doss's life can we take to apply in our own personal battle?
Dr. Charles Knapp: The same ones that he applied, which is integrity. We cannot say one thing and not do it. We have to be honest with ourselves, and we have to be honest with our God, and we have to be honest with our fellow men. We have to be truthful. We have to do the duty that's assigned to us in life. We have to honor those who are our peers, our superiors, those that we learn from. I think the same thing applies in our Christian life and in our witness. And I think this is what's going to happen with this film. Because people are going to say, does this man represent an exemplary or the epitome of Christian witness?
John Bradshaw: Considering that we are all involved in a battle, the Apostle Paul mentioned that, he said that we have weapons, not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. Desmond Doss may not have carried a gun, but he wasn't unarmed.
Dr. Charles Knapp: No, he wasn't.
John Bradshaw: He was armed with the shield of faith. Prayer, the helmet of salvation. His feet were shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. Although he didn't carry a gun, he certainly was clothed in the whole armor of God, and that's the privilege of any believer.
Dr. Charles Knapp: And that comes through, though these other aspects are so emphasized in the movie. But the total man, the total aspects, wearing the armor of God, being under divine protection, the miraculous survival of him and many men whose lives he saved, comes through without preaching, without teaching, without any judgment. It's just the story, and it's powerful.
John Bradshaw: Dr. Charles Knapp, thank you so very much for joining me today. I've been blessed.
Dr. Charles Knapp: Thank you for having me.
John Bradshaw: Let's pray together:
Our Father in Heaven, we thank you today for this revelation of what you're able to do in the life of an individual whose heart is surrendered to you. I pray you would give each one grace to yield conscience and heart and mind and life to you. We thank you for Jesus, who came that we might have life, and life more abundantly. Friend, if you have not accepted that life of Jesus, do so now. Reach your hand or your heart out to Jesus and tell him in prayer you wish that he would be your Lord and Savior. You accept salvation from and in him. Father, while we thank you for the life and example of Desmond Doss, we thank you for the life and example of Jesus, and that through him we might know you and dwell with you eternally. We thank you now and we pray in Jesus' name, Amen.