Revisiting Desmond Doss (1919–2006): Merging Combat Medicine and Benevolence on the Battlefield

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Journal of Emergency Medicine


Conscientious objectors are typically defined only by their unwillingness to serve in the armed forces. Desmond Doss participated in World War II as a combat medic and a conscientious objector by providing emergency medicine on active battlefields while refusing to handle a weapon or harm another human being. Born and raised with humility, Doss developed spiritually as a Seventh Day Adventist. Although fixated on the Ten Commandments and “Thou shall not kill,” Doss felt a call to serve and voluntarily enlisted in the U.S. Army with aspirations of becoming a combat medic. Throughout his training he was met with physical, spiritual, and political obstacles as his superiors unsuccessfully tried to convince him and eventually to force him out of the military or to take up arms and fight. Doss was granted his request as a combat medic, was not required to handle a weapon or fight, and was deployed with the 307th Infantry Regiment overseas. His heroism on the battlefield saved hundreds of lives and earned him the Medal of Honor. A thorough yet concise examination of Doss’ formative years, the obstacles presented by the country he aimed to serve, how he evolved from a conscientious objector to a combat medic worthy of emulation, and his lasting legacy is a necessary reminder of what we risk when courageous people are limited by outdated and potentially unconstitutional policies and perceptions.

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