Troubled by nightmares after the war, Hacksaw Ridge’s real life protagonist returned to Okinawa in 1995

Troubled by nightmares after the war, Hacksaw Ridge’s real life protagonist returned to Okinawa in 1995

June 26, 2017 Ryukyu Shimpo

Katsutoshi Matsunaga

Desmond Doss (1919-2006) was the pacifist combat medic who refused to carry a weapon and saved 75 people in the Battle of Okinawa. More recently, his likeness was depicted as the protagonist in the movie Hacksaw Ridge, which premiered throughout Japan on June 24. Back in June of 1995, he met with Ryukyu Shimpo for an interview while visiting Okinawa. Doss, who was injured at Hacksaw Ridge (known as Maeda Kochi in Japan) in Urasoe during the fighting, was admitted to a U.S. army hospital five and a half years after the war for symptoms including persistent dreams of the battle, suffering from what we now know as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). According to him, “The dreams had continued for some time, but I do not see them anymore. By talking about my experiences I was able to conquer them.”

Doss was 76 year-old at the time of the interview in 1995. The visit to Okinawa was his second post-war trip to the island, the first being in 1969. The visit in 1995 was to participate in the U.S. military’s 50th anniversary marking the end of the war, and he stayed from June 18-28.

In April of 1945, Doss landed on Okinawa with B Company, 1st Battalion, 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division. A Christian Seventh-day Adventist, he volunteered for the Army with the condition that he not carry a weapon, to uphold is strongly held belief in the 10th commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” He explained, “I did not go to war to kill, but rather to save people.” On May 5, 1945 Doss and B Company became entangled in unbelievably bloody battle while climbing Hacksaw Ridge.

President Truman awarding Desmond Doss the Medal of Honor. October 12, 1945 Washington D.C. (Photo courtesy of the Desmond Doss Council)

The name of the movie, Hacksaw Ridge, comes from the jagged cliffs on Maeda Kochi in Urasoe. These same cliffs accompanied Desmond Doss, who the main character in the movie is modeled after, in the Battle of May 5.

The 150 soldiers attached to B Company scaled these cliffs to reach the top of the hill. “I prayed for my brothers at the top. I prayed for them to come back safely,” Doss reflected.

However, the Japanese Army lay in wait on the hill, and launched a violent attack led by mounted machine guns. This forced B Company to retreat. The soldiers began descending one-by-one down the cliffs, however the wounded soldiers were unable to move on their own and left behind.

Because of this, Doss stayed behind on the hill, and moved the wounded to the edge of the cliff, using a litter secured at the feet and chest to lower them down the cliff in an operation that took four hours.
The next day, the Japanese Army threw some grenades into the trench Doss was in, injuring his leg. Then, while being carried away on a stretcher five hours later, he was struck in the left arm by a Japanese bullet. He was taken to the military hospital in Guam, where he came down with tuberculosis, requiring the removal of one of his lungs.

Doss continued to see the nightmares which plagued him while he was in the hospital. Doss reflected “I could hardly sleep, and when I did in my dreams bombs would explode, killing me. I would see my friends dying. For whatever reason I saw my mother come to me on the battlefield, only to be killed by an explosion. I would awake in the middle, crying. Among my friends from the battle, I knew some whose nerves were completely shot. I do not see these dreams anymore. By talking about my experiences I was able to conquer them.”

While staying in Okinawa, he visited Maeda Kochi four times. He explained, “By coming here, I can confirm what happened then. I wanted to heal by coming to grips with what happened here.

22 years after the article, a note from the reporter who interviewed Desmond Doss

Interview notes from the Desmond Doss interview (from June, 1995)

At the beginning of this month, I saw the trailer for Hacksaw Ridge on the internet. The story told of a combat medic who saved many people in the war, while refusing to carry a weapon due to religious belief. I knew I had heard that story before. It was the story of the former serviceman I had interviewed when I worked at the Gushikawa bureau (now combined with the Chubu bureau).

I looked for the interview notes I had somewhere in my house. I found them, six pages of notes with the name “Desmond T. Doss” written in ball point pen at the top.

After the interview, I sent the article to the Society section, but it was not published. This was right before the memorial service for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Okinawa, and there was already a surplus of articles about the battle. It seemed like my article had missed its chance. Now that the movie is being released, I decided to flip through my 22 year-old interview notes and revise the article.

(English Translation by T&CT and Sam Grieb)

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