New Oscar Contender: ‘Hacksaw Ridge’

Mel Gibson's inspiring tale of a soldier who never fired a shot during a violent war

Desmond T. Doss was the first conscientious objector to win the Medal of Honor, and he’s also the focus of the new Mel Gibson-directed movie, “Hacksaw Ridge,” which is earning serious Oscar buzz. Despite Doss’ objection to carrying a gun or taking a life, he saved dozens of fellow soldiers during his time serving his country in World War II.

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Debuting in theaters Friday, “Ridge” marks Gibson’s return behind the camera after years troubled by tabloid stories and canceled projects. His last feature as director, “Apocalypto,” was released in 2006.

Real superheroes don’t wear Spandex.

The brutal but inspiring story of “Ridge” fits perfectly with Gibson’s filmography, which includes graphic, but faith-friendly pics including “Braveheart” and “The Passion of the Christ.”

Desmond T. Doss’ experiences during World War II, specifically in the Pacific War, were certainly bloody. Still, the devout Seventh-Day Adventist never compromised the personal limits he set for his own faith.

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Related: Mel Gibson on God, Heroes, and War

Enlisting voluntarily, Doss was a conscientious objector to the war. He said it was against his Seventh-Day Adventist beliefs to carry a weapon of any kind, whether gun or bayonet. He also refused to train on Saturdays — the Sabbath.

Belonging to the 1st Battalion, 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division, Doss faced backlash for his unusual beliefs. However, he slowly earned a reputation as a caring and hard worker, despite needing to refuse a Section 8 discharge — which is a separation from the military meant for soldiers deemed mentally unfit.

As a medic, Doss landed in Okinawa in April 1945 with his unit. After a successful capture of the 400-foot Maeda Escarpment, the tide turned against the American soldiers on May 5. The Japanese recaptured the space and wounded 75 men, forcing the rest into retreat.

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A weaponless Doss ignored artillery fire and enemy combatants to tend to the wounded and to help at least 75 fellow soldiers escape enemy lines and be reunited with their unit. Many of the soldiers would provide Doss cover fire while he worked on their injuries and dragged them out of the battlefield.

“It’s a story worth telling about a guy who existed, for real. He shows us a light about what we’re capable of as human beings,” Gibson told Raymond Arroyo, managing editor and lead anchor of EWTN News and host of “The World Over,” in a recent interview.  “It’s just that whole thing of being able to rise above our natures — because he did unnatural things, God-like things, in the midst of the worst place on Earth.”

Related: Mel Gibson’s Quiet Comeback

The movie is now earning strong Oscar buzz in a surprisingly disappointing year when it comes to film. Both Gibson’s direction and lead actor Andrew Garfield’s performance are winning high praise from critics and audiences previously unaware of the unique heroics of Desmond Doss.

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On Nov. 1, 1945, Doss, who passed away in 2006 at the age of 87, was recognized by President Harry Truman with the Medal of Honor. The citation detailed many of Doss’ actions in battle, including administering plasma to another soldier under enemy fire and continuing his medical services to brothers in arms, despite his own leg wounds from a grenade.

“Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty,” the citation reads.

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Gibson told reporters at the Venice Film Festival that it’s clear where Doss’ courage came from. “Desmond attributed his actions to a power greater than himself, and the difference between a real superhero and a comic-book superhero is that real superheroes didn’t wear any Spandex.”

Though Doss’ personal convictions and story are unusual compared to most, it goes without question that the objector to violence found a way to serve his nation and earned a debt in battle that his country will never be able to repay.

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