History · Music · World War II

Miracle at Hacksaw Ridge: A Collage Musical

I just can’t quit you, Desmond T. Doss and Hacksaw Ridge. A bunch of my iPod tracks jumped out and organized themselves into what I call a “mock musical” or “collage musical” – a playlist in the shape of a story. Gospel, swing, bluegrass, hymns, folk, and showtunes.

Listen to it here.

Enhanced liner notes:

Act I

  1. Keep on the Firing Line/Onward Christian Soldiers – The Nelons

    Meet Desmond Doss, a sweet young Southerner whose warfar is all spiritual.

  2. When Johnny Comes Marching Home – Glenn Miller

    The Second World War crashes into America’s Swing Era.

  3. Song of Freedom – Bing Crosby, from Holiday Inn

    The film Holiday Inn was created in 1942, just after Pearl Harbor. This song spoke for thousands, including Desmond, called to serve the cause of freedom. Free to worship as we please was especially important to him as a Seventh-Day Adventist.

  4. Smoke on the Water – Red Foley

    A tuneful hit in 1944, this song expressed popular sentiment, vengeful and merciless toward the Japanese opponent.

  5. Let It Be Me – Indigo Girls

    But Desmond joins the Army solely to be a combat medic and will not turn his hand to violence. “While others are taking life, I’ll be saving life,” he said. This is not a fighting song/Not a wrong for a wrong…

  6. G.I. Jive – Johnny Mercer

    Desmond seems like a bad fit for the armed forces. Goshdarnit, why can’t he go to church on Sundays and fire a gun on Mondays like everyone else?

  7. Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive – Johnny Mercer

    Friction between strong-willed Desmond and his commanding officers and fellow soldiers – but he refuses to let it get him down. His personal code is absolute. Don’t mess with Mister In-Between.

  8. Battle Hymn of the Republic – Nashville Bluegrass Ensemble

    After tough training, run-ins with authorities, and threats of a court-martial, Desmond’s finally where he aimed to be: with the 77th Division, 307th Infantry, 1st Battalion, Company B, on the way to the last year of the Pacific War.

  9. The Hand Song – Nickel Creek

    As he ships out, Desmond thinks about his mother who taught him his faith, Christ whose example he follows, and what might happen to him in the line of fire.

  10. The Greatest Love – Ken Medema

    Desmond explains how he can walk into battle armed only with a first-aid kit. Love’s a matter of the mind and will/a matter of the head and heart.

Act II

  1. Lonesome Valley – The Fairfield Four

    A harsh introduction to combat on Guam.

  2. A Cockeyed Optimist – Kelli O’Hara, from South Pacific

    Desmond saves a soldier whose legs have been blown off when others had given him up for dead. “Where there’s life, there’s hope,” he declared.

  3. I Saw the Light – Hank Williams

    On Leyte, Desmond treats a man who got blood crusted over his eyes and thought he was blind. When he wiped away the blood, Desmond said, the man’s face lit up. “If I hadn’t gotten anything more from the war than that smile he gave me, I would’ve been well repaid.”

  4. Three-Five-Zero-Zero – from Hair

    This wail of a song borrows imagery from a later war between Americans and Asians, but it catches something about the dehumanization of any combat. Warning: contains graphic and deliberately ugly language.

  5. How Are the Mighty Fallen – Marcus Lovett, from King David

    Desmond’s closest buddies, medics Clarence Glenn and Herb Schecter, were both killed in action on Leyte. Schecter was an observant Jew, the first Desmond had known well. These Biblical words carry special poignance in that year of Holocaust. The many who persecute Israel must never rejoice…

  6. On Eagles’ Wings – John Michael Talbot

    Psalm 91. To rescue a wounded man, Desmond crawls into a rice paddy right under the muzzle of a sniper – and walks away unharmed. On Okinawa, men fall all around, but in Desmond’s company no one is seriously injured. He gains an unsought aura of divine protection among the soldiers.

  7. Stranger to the Rain – Kelli Rabke, Children of Eden

    The Maeda Escarpment, or Hacksaw Ridge, May 5, 1945. Under withering Japanese fire, the Americans are ordered to retreat, but dozens of men lie bleeding on the battlefield. Desmond is bound to walk among the wounded and the slain with no guarantee that he’ll get out of it alive.

  8. A Mighty Fortress Is Our God – Sheila Walsh

    With only an improvised pulley and the strength of his will and mission, Desmond lowers soldier after soldier over the ridge’s edge to safety.

  9. You Raise Me Up – Josh Groban

    “Lord, help me get one more,” Desmond prayed as he headed back into the combat zone again and again. “Help me get one more.”

  10. Lay Down Yr Mountain – The Mammals

    Two weeks after his miracle day, Desmond is seriously wounded. He has also contracted an illness that will keep him in hospitals off and on for years. He has given everything but life itself to the love of his brother soldiers and the example of his Lord. At last he’s able to lay down his burdens and head home.

  11. How Beautiful – Twila Paris

    The U.S. Army, previously not his biggest fan, now awards Desmond the Congressional Medal of Honor for saving (officially) 75 lives at Hacksaw Ridge. How beautiful when humble hearts give/the fruit of pure life so that others may live.

  12. Quite Early Morning – Pete Seeger

    “Where there’s life, there’s hope,” said Desmond Doss. Some say that humankind won’t long endure/but what makes them so doggone sure?/I know that you who hear my singing/will make those freedom bells go ringing…

Listen here.