When Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Pfc. Desmond Doss risked his life to save his comrades in the bloody island campaigns against Japan in World War II, he was just being who he was.
His son, Desmond Doss Jr., shared that message with Collegedale Academy students in a special chapel service on Thursday.
The elder Doss, subject of the movie "Hacksaw Ridge," refused to carry weapons because of his religious beliefs and served as a United States Army medic. His Medal of Honor citation credits him with rescuing 75 soldiers wounded by heavy enemy fire at the top of a 400-foot cliff during the battle for Okinawa in spring 1945. He brought the injured men back to the ledge, one by one, and lowered them by a rope litter to safety.
"He did this for 12 hours," Doss said of his late father's actions at Hacksaw Ridge. "That's a really long time to be doing something. There's still all these bullets still flying around, still bad things happening out there and he's going back, [bringing them back] one at a time."
For more information about Desmond Doss, visit www.desmonddoss.com.
Before Okinawa, the elder Doss had already received the Bronze Star Medal twice for heroic service, Doss said. He saved the lives of fellow soldiers who had mocked and beat him for not wanting to fight the enemy. He also showed kindness to an injured enemy soldier.
While described as a conscientious objector because he refused to carry weapons, his father preferred to be described as a "conscientious cooperator," Doss said.
From a young age, his father, a Seventh-day Adventist, decided to embrace the qualities of unconditional love, forgiveness and clarity of purpose, he said. That's what made him do what he did. Doss urged his audience to nurture those qualities within themselves and to live by them.
"What we do today determines what we do tomorrow," Doss said. "It's really like that."
The elder Doss, who died in 2006, wasn't larger than life, but an ordinary man who did extraordinary things, his son said.
Jamie Henderson, a Collegedale Academy senior, shared her thoughts on Doss's example after the assembly.
"I read the book about Desmond Doss back in middle school and ever since then I've been so inspired by him and his willingness to stand up for what he believes in," Henderson said. "To have his son here today was just amazing."
Another senior, Calle Turk, said it was uplifting to understand Doss was a real, ordinary man who was "passionate about God."
Doss assured students the movie portrayed his father accurately, describing how he would not approve of a film unless it met two requirements. It had to glorify God, not him, and it couldn't be fictionalized.
His father turned down a movie proposal 70 years ago because it couldn't meet those conditions, he said. Seventeen years ago, he gave his blessing to the "Hacksaw Ridge" script concept, which materialized as the Mel Gibson-directed film released in 2016.
Doss said his father inspired him to serve others with love. Like the elder Doss, he joined the U.S. Army as a conscientious objector and trained as a medic. Afterward, he primarily served as a firefighter, he said.
When his father was young, he had to face the fact he could have killed another boy when he hit him with a rock. It turned into a defining moment that he carried with him ever after, Doss said.
The elder Doss struggled to make the right choices, and he made mistakes like everybody does, his son said.
"A lot of times we think that people that we hold in high esteem, they were just born that way somehow," Doss said. "They never screwed anything up in their whole life, right? And that's just not how it works."
This story was updated Oct. 12 at 11:59 p.m. with more information.