Welcome back to "Faith in Film"! Today, we're going to talk about Hacksaw Ridge. Much like our last movie, The Book of Eli, this one comes with a content warning. It's a World War 2 movie, and it features scenes of intense violence. Viewer discretion is definitely advised here.
This film centers on Desmond Doss, a US Army medic who served in the Pacific theater. We begin the film exploring Desmond's childhood, and it's a bit rocky. His father, a World War 1 veteran, was a drunk who beat his wife. He was also a strict disciplinarian, never sparing the belt for Desmond or his brother Harold.
Mrs. Doss, the boys' mother, was a sweet woman who did her best. In a later flashback, we see Desmond stand up for his mother against his father's abuses, wrestling a gun away from him during one of his drunken rages. It's a difficult scene to watch, but it drives home our protagonist's commitment to what is right.
Juxtaposed with this violence and upheaval are the peace and tranquility of the Dosses' faith. They were Seventh Day Adventists, a Protestant denomination that recognizes Saturday as the Sabbath, not Sunday. They were also strongly against working on the Sabbath and physical violence.
Our first scene of Desmond as a grown man (assuming you consider 21 or 22 to be grown, that is) sees him standing on a ladder polishing the windows in his church. He seems to be a kind, unassuming young man...until the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor.
Desmond, like so many young men during his day, enlisted in the Army. His father's protests (due to the horrors he saw as a soldier himself) did nothing to dissuade him. After Harold enlists, Desmond follows close behind. That raised some eyebrows.
You see, our hero was extremely devoted to his Seventh Day Adventist faith, a faith that didn't allow him to even touch a gun, let alone fire one. He wanted to be a combat medic, charging into battle with his fellow soldiers...without a gun. How incredible is that? How crazy does that sound?
Crazy is exactly what it sounded to Doss' fellow soldiers, commanding officers, and friends. Suicidal, even. He was actually court marshaled for his unwillingness to fire a rifle, as his superiors thought he would be a liability in combat and a morale buster for his fellow soldiers.
Desmond won his military trial on the defense that forcing him to carry a rifle would be an infringement on his religious liberty. He was allowed to enter combat, as a medic, with no weapon. Shortly thereafter, his unit (307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division) was shipped out to the Pacific to fight against Japan.
His unit joined the assault on Okinawa, a key island off the coast of Japan. Fun fact, there's now a US base on Okinawa, and our very own Father O'Neill lived there for a number of years! Doss' unit was tasked with climbing a 400-ft. cliff and facing heavy Japanese resistance up top. Sounds pretty grim, right? After about a week of fighting, the American forces seemed close to taking the ridge, nicknamed "Hacksaw Ridge" for the ferocity of the resistance.
However, during the earlier fighting, all of the other medics had been wounded or killed. Doss was the only one available to advance with the men. The attack was carried out, and the Americans suffered heavy casualties. The survivors retreated back down the cliff...everyone except for Desmond, that is.
He remained atop the cliff all night, treating the wounded and dragging them to the edge of the cliff one by one. He fashioned a rope sling and began painstakingly lowering them down the 400-ft. cliff to safety and further medical treatment. All while trying to remain hidden and dodge Japanese fire. After each successful rescue, he is reported to have said, "Dear God, let me get just one more man."
By the time the sun rose the next morning, Desmond had rescued 75 men. 75! It was a truly Herculean effort, and it can be said with confidence that every single one of those men owe their lives to Pfc. Desmond Doss. And that wasn't even the end of the story!
Doss was wounded twice in the subsequent assaults, taking a grenade to the leg and a sniper bullet to the arm. He treated himself both times and even gave up his place on a stretcher for another wounded soldier. A truly incredible man.
Desmond Doss returned to the United States and received the Medal of Honor from President Truman. He was also awarded the Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, all without firing a single bullet. He is a testament to the power of faith, morals, and principles, even against all odds.
So what can we take away from this, despite the obvious inspiration that Pfc. Doss provides? I think the lesson here is about conviction. Sometimes, it can be really difficult to stand up for our beliefs, specifically our Catholic faith. As we all know, the teachings of Christ, especially on certain issues, are not particularly popular in our morally bankrupt society.
Don't take this the wrong way, but tough toenails. Jesus died for the truth! Desmond Doss risked life and limb for what he believed in! Who are we to moderate or soften the Word of God due to social pressure or the fear of ostracization? Jesus never said it would be easy to follow Him.
Just look at what He said in John 15:18: "If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first." This was never supposed to be a cakewalk. It wasn't for Christ, it wasn't for Desmond Doss, and it won't be for us. But just like Desmond, if we don't back down from what we know to be true, if we don't shirk our duty as ambassadors of the Lord, if we stand strong in faith, God can do miraculous things through us.
Will we ever save 75 lives in one night? Probably not. But who knows? That sure seemed impossible back in 1945; imagine what impossibilities the Lord can perform through you if you only allow Him.