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Military honors non-fighting WWII soldier

 WASHINGTON – Desmond Doss seems like an unlikely person to have a building named after him on a military post.

A Seventh-Day Adventist, Doss was a conscientious objector during World War II who refused to train on Saturdays or carry a rifle.

Courtesy Doss family
Desmond Doss is awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry Truman on Oct. 12, 1945.

"He always put God first in his life," his 86-year-old widow, Frances, said in an interview.

But the gentle, lanky Doss was also a war hero, and for his heroics on the island of Okinawa in 1945 the guest house at Walter Reed Army Medical Center was renamed Doss Memorial Hall Wednesday morning.

"Doss was a uniquely American soldier and a uniquely American story, and yet unique in all of American history," Col. Gordon Roberts, a friend, said at the dedication ceremony.

Doss grew up in Lynchburg, Va., and enlisted as a conscientious objector in 1942. He served as a combat medic on Guam, the Philippines and Okinawa.

On May 5, 1945, under heavy Japanese fire, he saved the lives of 75 sick and wounded soldiers by lowering them, one by one, down a 400-foot cliff on Okinawa. For this and other acts of courage, Doss was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S Truman.

"Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions, Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers," his Medal of Honor citation read.

(The only other conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor was Cpl. Thomas Bennett, an Army medic killed in Vietnam in 1970 while tending to wounded soldiers.)

Courtesy Doss Family
Medal of Honor winner Desmond Doss with his wife, Frances, in 1998.

Doss' widow said he would have been honored by today's ceremony, just as he was by his Medal of Honor, but she said he would have taken it all in stride.

"He was very loyal to his country," she said, "but he wasn't the kind that stuck out his chest and said, 'Look at me.' No, he wasn't that kind. He wasn't puffed up."

War wounds to Doss' legs and arm took their toll on his health. He spent five years in hospitals after the war, suffered from tuberculosis and was nearly deaf. But he lived out his life devoted to his faith, his family and his country.

Desmond Doss died in 2006 at the age of 87.

"He was just a wonderful person, that's all there is to it," Frances said. "He was so kind and his whole attitude was being so kind and wonderful to people."