Upcoming Desmond Doss movie awakens gratitude in grandson of WWII vet
By CHUCK RUPNOW | Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis. | Published: October 27, 2016
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (Tribune News Service) — A movie about the heroics of Desmond T. Doss, a conscientious objector during World War II, will soon hit theaters.
Mark Gamroth of Eau Claire personally knows the value of Doss’ efforts.
Gamroth’s grandfather Henry “Hank” Gamroth of Independence was one of the 75 soldiers an unarmed Doss amazingly saved on one day in May 1945.
But it wasn’t until recently that Mark Gamroth put together an account from his grandfather and an advertisement for “Hacksaw Ridge,” which is scheduled to hit theaters Friday, Nov. 4.
“I was like 18 or 19 when he told me the story, somewhere in the early 1990s at his place,” Gamroth recalled Tuesday when asked about his grandfather, a former Independence police chief who died at age 75.
“You know, at that time and at that age, it was one of those things for me; you know, in one ear and out the other.
“But (one) Saturday as I was watching the Badgers game on TV, a trailer came over about that movie,” he continued. “As I watched it, it hit me that it was the same thing that my grandfather told me, about when he was rescued on Okinawa (island) in World War II.”
Gamroth searched through bins of memorabilia, locating a VHS tape from a 1959 “This is Your Life” show about Doss, and a decades-old newspaper article about Henry Gamroth in which he relates his encounter with Doss.
“My grandfather was a huge part of my life when I was growing up. He was funny and humble,” Gamroth said. “I had a couple of sleepless nights since (that) Saturday out of true excitement.”
Henry Gamroth received several military citations for his war efforts and served 26 years on the Independence police force.
“I look at this movie as a tribute to Doss, as well as my grandfather and others who served,” Gamroth said. “I just get goose bumps when thinking about it all.”
Doss, of Virginia, was working in a shipyard and wanted to serve in other capacities during the war, but his religious beliefs did not allow him to hold or fire a weapon, according to various accounts.
Classified as a conscientious objector, one who opposes serving in the armed forces and/?or bearing arms because of moral or religious principles, Doss eventually served with the U.S. Army’s Medical Detachment, 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division.
Reports indicate he was repeatedly ridiculed by military personnel for his beliefs, but that mind-set drastically changed in spring 1945.
Doss’ brave and selfless actions earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty.” He was the first conscientious objector to receive the prestigious honor.
According to various accounts: The 1st Battalion used cargo nets to scale a jagged, 400-foot-high escarpment, where it came under heavy enemy attack, suffering numerous deaths and injuries. Doss, then 26, reportedly saved 75 wounded comrades in a matter of hours by removing them from the area. He also is credited with risking his life many other times amid enemy fire to treat the wounded and escort them to safety.
One reported instance, Gamroth believes, involves his grandfather.
Henry Gamroth was struck in a leg by fire and fell about 25 feet off a cliff. Doss, a private first class, crawled to Gamroth, rendered aid and removed him from the area.
“The whole story is almost so unbelievable; a shocker,” Mark Gamroth said. “I started to think about what Doss did, and without what he does, maybe my grandfather isn’t around, and then the rest of the family isn’t here.
“And think of all those others he saved and their families; what Doss did impacted them as well,” he added. “It’s all so amazing. I can’t wait to see the movie.”
Henry Gamroth, in the La Crosse Tribune article decades ago, said about Doss: “I can’t figure that guy out. The lead was flying. He was bending over and treating the wounded.”
Doss, according to one account, lost his pocket Bible during a skirmish, but because of the appreciation and respect he earned from his comrades, they diligently searched until finding it and returning it to him.
Doss died in 2006 at age 87. He was wounded three times in the war and was diagnosed with tuberculosis shortly before leaving the Army in 1946. He underwent medical treatment for five years for illness and injuries.
Mark Gamroth recalls his grandfather making a call to Doss and speaking to Doss’ wife because Doss had severe hearing issues.
“I know they were trying to work something out to meet,” Gamroth said. “They never did. That was too bad.”
Gamroth says he may try to reach Doss family members out of respect for his grandfather and Doss.
“If not for that one time my grandfather talked about Doss, I wouldn’t have known about what had happened. He was pretty quiet about all that went on with the war,” Gamroth said, adding that his grandfather once left after watching only 15 minutes of a war movie because of how it dredged up undesirable memories for his grandfather.
“I wonder how many other families there are out there who don’t know how Doss impacted their lives, largely because those who served didn’t talk about what they went through,” Gamroth said.
Henry Gamroth has two daughters, Patty Bagniewski of Holmen and Bonnie Klimek of Arcadia.
“When I saw that movie trailer, it got my adrenaline going, and I called my aunt Patty, but it didn’t ring a bell too much with her,” Gamroth said. “That’s when I went to my albums and found the news clipping. I’m so glad I did.”
©2016 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.)
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