Our Harry Truman-inspired courage blog this month (below) was written before an angry mob stormed the Capitol on January 6. We stand by the column's sentiments, but the moment requires something more. The founder of the Republican party, Abraham Lincoln, launched his political career with a speech denouncing “the mobocratic spirit” too evident in parts of the country. He contended that should it happen, American demise would not come from across the Atlantic (recall the War of 1812 when the British stormed the Capitol), but from free Americans themselves, who chose to take the law into their own hands. He called on Americans to have the courage to stand by our laws and institutions, and change bad laws rather than take the law into their own hands. Lincoln’s 1838 Lyceum address (somewhat shortened here) bears re-reading.
Harry Truman, president of the United States at the close of World War II, said “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.” We associate Truman with ending WWII, employing the atomic bomb against Japan. But his inspirational quotation applies to the bravery and sacrifice of conscientious objector Desmond Doss, to whom Truman awarded the Medal of Honor.
During World War II, Doss (despite being granted a deferment) enlisted in the Army and served as a combat medic in the Pacific. A Seventh Day Adventist, he refused to carry a gun or kill the enemy, and endured the scorn of fellow soldiers, who saw him as a coward. But he earned two Bronze medals for heroism in Guam and the Philippines (caring for the wounded in combat). And Harry Truman awarded him the Medal of Honor for his remarkable bravery in Okinawa.
There, Doss’s unit, stationed on a cliff, came under attack by the Japanese, who cut down nearly every man. Under constant fire, Doss rigged a stretcher with ropes and a pulley to lower each wounded man to safety—one at a time, over and over. Lord, help me save one more. Truman estimated the number of fellow soldiers Desmond saved at seventy-five men, though Doss said probably fifty. The Medal of Honor is the military’s highest award, and Doss is the only conscientious objector (he described himself as “conscientious cooperator”) to have won it. Memorialized by Mel Gibson in the 2016 film Hacksaw Ridge, the courageous actions of Desmond Doss make our daily battle against an invisible foe seem just a bit more manageable. As Rosie the Riveter would remind us, “We can do it!”
Mary Beth Klee
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