Desmond Doss Sculpture Unveiled at Veterans Memorial Park

The Statue of Adventist noncombatant medic Desmond T. Doss salutes at Veterans Memorial Park in Tennessee. [Photos: Merlin Wittenberg/ANN]Source: Adventist Review

[May 14, 2007] First immortalized when former United States' president, Harry Truman, presented him with the prestigious Congressional Medal of Honor, the late Cpl. Desmond T. Doss' story of faith and service lives on in Collegedale, Tennessee's Veterans Memorial Park.

Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist World War II medic, was recognized for single-handedly rescuing 75 fellow soldiers off a jagged escarpment amid enemy mortar fire on the Japanese Island of Okinawa. In 2004, Adventist filmmaker Terry Benedict's documentary, The Conscientious Objector, charted Doss' journey of faith and service.

A smiling, saluting Doss--sculpted in bronze by Georgia-based sculptor Gregory Johnson--now joins a collection of other military-inspired sculptures in Veterans Memorial Park. Johnson has crafted the bronze likenesses of everyone from gold miners and apple-peeling girls to governors and generals. The Doss sculpture is the third piece Johnson has done for the Park. He says Doss' legacy changed his mind about what it meant to be a noncombatant.

"When I grew up [during the Vietnam War], being a 'conscientious objector' meant burning your draft card and moving to Canada," Johnson told ANN. But then he learned about Doss and other Adventist noncombatants whose refusal to carry weapons did not compromise their courage or commitment.

"If my sculpture gets any one thing across, I hope it inspires [people] to really go beyond the call of duty," Johnson says. "[Doss' legacy] is about service and dedication despite all odds, and I suppose the sculpture is about giving of yourself for a greater cause."

Johnson explains that the sculpting process, while labor-intensive and time-consuming, is always rewarding, especially with such "worthy subject matter" as Doss. By borrowing Doss' uniform from a local museum, Johnson says he was able to capture "a full 360 degrees of accuracy. Being as authentic as possible is important. I don't want World War II veterans to visit the park and say, 'That doesn't look a thing like what we remember,'" he adds.

An accompanying citation inscribed in granite explains Doss' life and legacy to those visiting the park. Dr. Phil Garver, president of Veterans Memorial Park and commissioner of the Doss sculpture says, "Our park is the only place in the world that recognizes the value of noncombatants with a sculpture of Doss. What we have here is a monument to the tremendous commitment to Christ and to the community that Doss so aptly demonstrated." Garver also serves as dean of the School of Physical Education, Health and Wellness at nearby Southern Adventist University.

Johnson agrees. "Doss is a true American hero. He ranks right up there with George Washington. I think president Harry Truman said it best [when he presented Doss with the Medal]: 'I consider this a greater honor than being president.'"

Benedict, who delivered the keynote address at the sculpture dedication, adds that "Doss' greatest achievement was not up there saving lives on the escarpment, but his trial by fire--enduring the two and a half years of harassment and abuse, yet getting up on the battlefield and being able to save the very people who had persecuted him."

Benedict hopes the Doss sculpture will inspire generations to embrace a similar spirit of selflessness.