WEST JEFFERSON-Local veterans and faith groups will be among the first people in the country to see Mel Gibson’s new war epic, Hacksaw Ridge.
That comes thanks, in part, to a connection with one of the men entrusted to keep alive the true story of Desmond Doss. Doss was a man of deep faith who became a national hero in 1945 after he was thrust into some of the bloodiest fighting the world had ever seen in the closing days of World War II.
Veterans will be able to pick up free tickets next week to two separate screenings of the movie that will be shown early next month ahead of its nationwide release. Here’s what you need to know.
Who was Desmond Doss?
Hacksaw Ridge tells the story of Desmond Doss, Seventh-day Adventist and conscientious objector – he preferred the term “conscientious co-operator” – who served as a medic with the U.S. Army’s 77th Infantry Division in the Pacific theatre of World War II. He entered the service in 1942, but quickly clashed with his fellow soldiers and superior officers when he revealed his religious beliefs wouldn’t allow him to kill or carry a gun.
Doss was called a coward by others until…
He distinguished himself throughout multiple battles, including on the islands of Leyte and Guam, according to the website Hacksaw Ridge Resources, where he earned two Bronze Stars for valor. His most harrowing action might have come on the island of Okinawa, however, where his actions were ultimately recognized with the nation’s highest military award, the Medal of Honor.
Like walking into a hacksaw
In May of 1945, Doss and his fellow soldiers climbed hundreds of feet up a sheer cliff to assault the Maeda Escarpment. The fighting men dubbed the area, Hacksaw Ridge. Waiting at the top was an entrenched Japanese force that quickly cut down dozens of American servicemen. According to Doss’s Medal of Honor citation, “As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying them one-by-one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands.”
He only once touched a gun
Several days later he was severely wounded in a night raid, where he was hit by shrapnel and sniper fire, the latter shattering his arm. He bound a rifle stock to his fractured arm as a makeshift splint and crawled some 300 yards to an aid station.
Medal of Honor awarded by President Harry Truman
Doss was recognized for his gallantry by then President Harry Truman in 1945. “Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers,” according to his Medal of Honor citation. “His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.”
A quiet life
Doss was later diagnosed with tuberculosis, which cost him a lung. Discharged from the Army in 1946, he spent five years undergoing medical treatment for his injuries and illness, and lived much of the remainder of his life near Lookout Mountain in Tennessee. He died in 2006.
How movies are made
Local veteran and retired U.S. Army Colonel Dr. Charles Knapp has served for more than a decade as the Chairman of the Desmond Doss Council, the organization entrusted to tell Doss’s life story. He knew Doss personally, as the Medal of Honor recipient gave the graduation address for Knapp’s boot camp class. He said Doss shied away from two opportunities to create movies based on his life story during the 1970s as he was worried about the authenticity of such efforts. The council later helped produce a documentary about Doss, which in turn helped in the push to create a full length feature about Doss’s story a decade after his passing.
All star cast
Hacksaw Ridge will feature Amazing Spider-man alum Andrew Garfield as Doss, along with big name talents Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving and Vince Vaughn. It currently has a 93 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a film review website that aggregates reviews from critics and audiences.
So how did Ashe County end up with a special showing?
That’s due to the efforts of Knapp, who served as a consultant for the project and worked to help convince Lionsgate to set aside two days for special showings to faith and veteran groups locally.
How can you get tickets?
Veterans will be able to snag tickets to two special screenings at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 2-3 at Parkway Theater in downtown West Jefferson. They’ll be available for free on a first-come first-served basis at the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce beginning Oct. 26.
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058.