Stories of America's Greatest Heroes

Ken Harbaugh tells the stories of service members who have distinguished themselves through an act of valor. These stories feature recipients from the Civil War to present day, including a few who were originally overlooked for the medal.

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Desmond Doss

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Though he hated the term "conscientious objector", Corporal Desmond Doss was the first in history to receive the Medal of Honor. He refused to shoot or even to carry a weapon, but served as a medic and saved dozens of lives in the Pacific Theatre of World War II.

His story was told in the 2017 Oscar-winning film "Hacksaw Ridge", played by actor Andrew Garfield.

Learn more about Corporal Doss here:

Ken Harbaugh: Welcome to the Medal of Honor podcast, brought to you in partnership with the National Medal of Honor Museum. I’m Ken Harbaugh. In each episode, we’ll learn about a different service member who has distinguished him or herself through an act of valor.

Born in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1919, Desmond Doss was raised a devout Seventh-Day Adventist.

Deeply committed to his religion and to nonviolence, Desmond was a vegetarian and consistently observed the Sabbath.

He was offered a deferment from military service, but after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Desmond voluntarily enlisted and went to serve with the 77th Infantry Division.

But Doss would not compromise his religious and ethical beliefs, refusing to even touch, much less carry, a weapon.

His commanders and fellow recruits did not understand and they tormented him, throwing shoes at him while he prayed.

But Doss did not waver in his commitment. He became a medic, committed to saving lives.

He was called a conscientious objector, but Doss hated the label. Doss did want to serve his country - in his own way. He called himself instead a “conscientious cooperator”.

Every week Private First Class Doss observed the Sabbath -- which for Seventh Day Adventists is Saturday -- and he worked extra hours on other days to make up for it - except for one Saturday in 1945.

The 77th was in Okinawa, Japan, tasked with taking a 400-foot cliff known as Hacksaw Ridge.

On May 5, PFC Doss was the only medic available to advance with the unit. They were close to taking the ridge from the enemy and even though it was a Saturday, he joined his men to help protect them.

They faced heavy enemy fire and all those who were not dead or injured retreated back down the escarpment - all except for Doss.

He stayed with the wounded, treating them and dragging them one by one to the edge of the cliff, where he lowered them to safety in a rope sling.

PFC Doss rescued at least 75 soldiers that day - including many who had harassed him for his religion and beliefs.

After his return, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Truman.

The Medal of Honor podcast is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. We are proud to support the National Medal of Honor Museum. To learn more, and to support their mission, go to Thanks for listening.

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