Service to Country

Desmond Doss was greatly influenced by his mother’s religion. As a Seventh Day Adventist, he was raised to honor the Sabbath, believe in nonviolence, and maintain a vegetarian diet. When World War II began, he could have had a deferment since he was working in a shipyard. He chose military service even though he was a conscientious objector.

He served as a medic in Guam and the Philippines and refused to carry a gun. He received two Bronze Medals for bravery in aiding wounded soldiers under fire. He saved the lives of 50-100 soldiers during the Battle of Okinawa. He was wounded four times in the same battles. In an attempt to kick a grenade away from his comrades, he had 17 pieces of shrapnel lodged in his body. A sniper’s bullet fractured his arm. He was the first conscientious objector to win the Medal of Honor.

Thomas Bennett was a deeply religious student. While in college during the Vietnam War, he opted to enlist even though he was a conscientious objector. He was assigned duty as a medic. During a patrol, his unit came under intense fire. Thomas risked his life by pulling five men to safety. For his bravery, he was recommended for a Silver Star. Forty-two days after arriving in Vietnam he was killed trying to rescue a wounded soldier. He was awarded the Medal of Honor, and at the time was the only conscientious objector receiving the Medal of Honor posthumously.

Joseph LaPointe Jr. was drafted during the Vietnam War in 1968. He declared himself a conscientious objector and was assigned medic duty. When his unit came under heavy fire, he ran through an automatic weapons barrage to reach two soldiers. He shielded them with his body after treating them and was wounded twice. A grenade subsequently killed all three men. He received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and the National Defense Service Medal in addition to the Medal of Honor.

Hidden heroes often face uncomfortable choices. In the case of these three heroes, they could have escaped military duty because of their personal beliefs. But each also had a strong belief in service to their country. They chose to serve their country by serving in a non-combat role. They chose the less comfortable decision and by so they became role models for how to stand up for one’s beliefs. To date, they’re the only three conscientious objectors to win the Medal of Honor.

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“War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.” – John F. Kennedy

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