While at the end of the movie it says Desmond saved seventy-five men by directly lowering them from the escarpment, he also treated around fifty-five more that were able to retreat without assistance after treatment during the battle. Over the course of his tour, which lasted approximately three weeks, he rescued nearly three hundred men.
Mel Gibson said that the battle scenes were influenced by nightmares he had during his childhood, when his father Hutton Gibson, a World War II veteran who served in Guadalcanal in the Pacific theater, described the horrors he witnessed as bedtime stories.
The trailer states that Desmond T. Doss was the only soldier to serve in a frontline capacity without carrying a weapon. In World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, the military gave several Seventh-Day Adventists the status 1A-O--willing to serve, but not to carry a weapon in combat. Numerous Quakers volunteered for service in World War I.
In 2004, Terry Benedict directed The Conscientious Objector (2004), a documentary on the life of Desmond T. Doss. The film was produced mostly before Doss died, and it reveals many small details that were changed for the Hollywood release. In the documentary, Doss reveals that his nonviolence was inspired by a drunken fight between his father and his uncle in which a gun was involved. If his mother hadn't gotten between them, taken the gun, given it to Desmond and told him to hide it, his father may have killed his own brother-in-law. Desmond said that was the defining moment in which he swore to never carry a gun.
Teresa Palmer wanted a role in the film so badly that she auditioned via her iPhone and sent the recording to Mel Gibson. She heard nothing back for three months, until Gibson called Palmer to tell her in a Skype chat that she landed the role of Dorothy, Doss' wife.
The battlefield sequence, overseen by Mel Gibson's longtime stunt double Mic Rodgers, was filmed on a small dairy farm (about one hundred square meters) near Sydney, Australia. Smoke trucks circled the perimeter to make sure any scenery that didn't look like World War II Okinawa was effectively blocked out.
With the exception of Vince Vaughn (Sergeant Howell), the rest of the major actors, as well as the supporting cast in the movie were born or raised in either England or Australia. This is because the film had a relatively low budget and the production needed a majority-Australian cast to qualify for Australian government subsidies as a supplement.
Several events were changed or left out of the movie: Desmond almost shooting his father after a fight with his mother. In real-life the fight was between Desmond's father and his uncle, and his mother stepped in to take away the gun, getting Desmond to hide it. Desmond also had an older sister, Audrey, who was not portrayed in the film. Desmond didn't meet Dorothy while she was a nurse at a hospital. In fact, she didn't become a nurse until after the war. They met when she came to his church selling Adventist books. He also didn't miss their wedding by being put in a holding cell, as they were already married by that point. Desmond's prior combat at the Battle of Guam and the Battle of Leyte is skipped over, making it seem as if the Battle of Okinawa was his first combat experience. The assault on Hacksaw Ridge seems to only last a few days, although Desmond's Medal of Honor citation covers events over about three weeks, and the Battle of Okinawa itself lasted eighty-two days.
When the Doss family is eating supper and Desmond's brother enters wearing an Army uniform, Desmond only has vegetables on his plate. Later, in the foxhole, Desmond refuses canned meat, saying he doesn't eat meat. In real-life, Desmond T. Doss was a vegetarian, like many Seventh-day Adventists.
Desmond T. Doss was a member of the U.S. Army's 77th Infantry Division. Known as the "Liberty Division" for its distinctive insignia of a gold Statue of Liberty on a blue isosceles-trapezoid background, the 77th fought at Guam, Leyte (Philippines) and Okinawa. One of its units, Company C of the 306th Infantry Regiment, left the U.S. in 1944 with two hundred three officers and men. By war's end in August 1945, just thirteen of the original members were left. The 77th fought alongside the Marines, and a newspaper article during the war described how the division's soldiers fought so well at Guam that they earned the ultimate compliment, the Leathernecks nicknamed their Army counterparts the "77th Marine Division". Famed War Correspondent Ernie Pyle was killed by an enemy sniper while covering the 77th on Ie Shima, a small island off the west coast of Okinawa. The 77th was part of the Allied force that occupied Japan after hostilities ceased, and was deactivated on March 15, 1946. However, the lineage of the 77th Infantry Division has since been 'inherited' and continued by the 77th Sustainment Brigade, a unit of the U.S. Army Reserve raised in 1963, and which remains in service and uses the same insignia as the 77th Infantry Division.
Desmond T. Doss lived a long and happy life with Dorothy and their son Tommy on a small farm in northwestern Georgia, despite his injuries and the lingering effect of the tuberculosis he contracted during the war. Desmond and Dorothy were together just shy of fifty years, until her death in 1991. He married Frances Duman in 1993, and remained with her until his death in 2006 at the age of eighty-seven.
While only listed as "Japanese General" in the credits, the seppuku (ritual suicide) scene shows the death of General Ushijima Mitsuru, commanding officer of the 32nd Army, which bore the brunt of the fighting on Okinawa. The details as shown were relayed by his chief of staff, Colonel Yahara Hiromichi.
Desmond T. Doss was not the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor. Sergeant Alvin C. York was also a conscientious objector. Gary Cooper portrayed him in Sergeant York (1941). According to Wikipedia, York denied that he had been a conscientious objector. York carried a weapon, Doss did not.
Mel Gibson stated that Desmond T. Doss was the first conscientious objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor, and he has inspired others to save almost the same number of lives and those inspired have gone on to become recipients of the Medal of Honor.
Desmond Doss Medal of Honor citation, verbatim. The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Private First Class Desmond Thomas Doss, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty from April 29 - 21 May 1945, while serving with the Medical Detachment, 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division, in action at Urasoe Mura, Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands. Private First Class Doss was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet high 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. Private First Class 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. On 2 May, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and two days later he treated four men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within eight yards of enemy forces in a cave's mouth, where he dressed his comrades' wounds before making four separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety. On 5 May, he unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist an artillery officer. He applied bandages, moved his patient to a spot that offered protection from small arms fire and, while artillery and mortar shells fell close by, painstakingly administered plasma. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, Private First Class Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire. On 21 May, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of a grenade. Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his own injuries and waited five hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover. The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Private First Class Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby, crawled off the litter; and directed the bearers to give their first attention to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearers' return, he was again struck, this time suffering a compound fracture of one arm. With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards over rough terrain to the aid station. Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Private First Class Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty. General Orders: War Department, General Orders No. 97 (November 1, 1945)
One of the philosophies the Japanese soldiers had on Hacksaw Ridge was to target and eliminate medics and B.A.R. (Browning Automatic Rifle) men. Their objective in doing so was to lower American soldiers' morale and which would make them easier to defeat. However, the Americans found out about this and took countermeasures: medics removed their armbands and helmets with the Red Crosses on them so they could not be easily identified and targeted. B.A.R. men took extra precautions as well, and contributed greatly to the Japanese defeat on Hacksaw Ridge.
The weapon Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) is using is an M3, .45-cal. ACP submachine gun, known as the "Grease Gun" or "Greaser". It received its name because it resembles the common garage tool. It came into use late in the war, supplanting the venerable Thompson submachine gun ("Tommy Gun"). It was not a general-issue weapon to infantrymen; normally it was meant to be the crew weapon on a tank due to its compactness, firepower, and maneuverability in confined spaces like in a tank, or for officers, both non-commissioned and commissioned, and special units. Many, however, did find their way to regular frontline troops in mid 1944. Initially, the M3 was not popular; it had some mechanical faults and did not look like a reliable weapon to the soldiers using them, especially when compared to the more elegant Thompson, but the M3 eventually won their respect with its advantages and effectiveness in action. The feed system consisted of a thirty-round detachable box magazine. This earlier-model weapon had a cocking lever on the side that you can see during some scenes in the movie if you look closely. Later models (M3A1) were charged by simply pulling back on the bolt by inserting your finger into a recess in the bolt, with the M3's handle eliminated due to complaints of it breaking under rigorous use. The M3A1 wire stock included a tab to help load magazines, the ends were threaded to accept a cleaning brush to clean the barrel as well as being used as a wrench to unscrew the barrel for disassembly. The M3A1 went on to serve the U.S. Army from the end of World War II up to its own replacement by the M4 carbine in the 1990s, commonly accompanying tank crewmen. Some examples may have served for longer in the U.S. Military, and other nations continue to use them actively. The weapon was manufactured by, among others, General Motors Headlight Division, and cost about twenty dollars apiece, as opposed to the Thompson, which cost about one hundred dollars apiece, even after being simplified. In 2016, the unit cost to manufacture the M3 was approximately two hundred eight dollars.
Vince Vaughn's involvement was his first visit to Australia since Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004). During filming he explored Sydney and its attractions and made headlines when he participated in a public climb of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
As they are marching in Okinawa the sergeant tells someone singing to knock it off. The private responds, saying, "Killjoy was here." This is a pun referring to the popular graffiti art and tagline "Killroy was here." Most commonly used in the European theatre, it represents an imaginary voyeur who serves as a silent witness and statement of presence most anywhere that American foot soldiers happen to be.
Experts at goldderby.com had widely predicted the film to be the Academy Award frontrunner for Best Sound Editing. Arrival (2016) won instead, while this film won two Oscars that La La Land (2016) had been predicted to win.
The war movie The Lighthorsemen (1987), set during World War I features a pacifist character who does not kill. This movie featured a central character who was also a pacifist character, with his pacifism in World War II being the major theme in the picture. This movie was released twenty-nine years after The Lighthorsemen (1987) and was directed by Mel Gibson, who had starred in the classic Australian feature film about World War I, Gallipoli (1981), which was directed by Peter Weir. Gallipoli (1981) and The Lighthorsemen (1987) shared two major filming locations of Port Lincoln and the Flinders Ranges, which are located in South Australia. Gallipoli (1981) and this movie won several AFI/AACTA Australian film awards, including Best Film, with The Lighthorsemen (1987) winning a couple of AFI awards, the same number as this movie won Oscars.
Movies about the military actions that resulted in the award of the Medal of Honor include the following: Hacksaw Ridge (Desmond Doss, Okinawa in World War II); To Hell and Back (Audie Murphy, Colmar Pocket in Southern France in World War II); Black Hawk Down (Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart, Mogadishu); and Sergeant York (Alvin York, Meuse-Argonne in World War I). Additionally, the television mini-series Rough Riders (Theodore Roosevelt, San Juan Hill/Kettle Hill, Spanish-American War): and The Longest Day, which has one episode about Theodore Roosevelt Jr. (Utah Beach, D-Day, World War II).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Private First Class Desmond T. Doss was not wounded and evacuated in a daylight assault at Hacksaw Ridge. He was wounded a couple of weeks later in the Okinawa campaign during a night attack near Shuri. As per his Medal of Honor citation, he was wounded in the legs by a grenade, but had to wait five hours before stretcher bearers could reach him, during which time he dressed his own wounds. While being carried back to safety by three stretcher bearers, they were attacked by a Japanese tank. Doss crawled off the stretcher to a more seriously wounded man and insisted the others evacuate that soldier and then return for him. While waiting for the stretcher to return, he was shot by a sniper as he was being carried by another soldier. This caused a compound fracture of his arm, for which he improvised a splint using a rifle stock. He then crawled three hundred yards to an aid station for treatment.
Mel Gibson stated there were aspects of this event that were true, but that he couldn't include in the film because he felt people wouldn't believe they were true: Doss stepped on a grenade to save his buddies and was hit by shrapnel, but as he was being carried away by medics he saw another soldier injured. Since Doss himself was a medic, he jumped off his stretcher and treated that soldier and told the medics to take care of other wounded soldiers. He then crawled back to safety while being shot at by enemy snipers. While lowering men down the ridge, a Japanese soldier had Doss in his sights several times, and every time he did, his gun jammed, preventing him from shooting him. This was also for fear that no one would believe it. In reality, Doss' Bible went missing as he dragged himself to safety. Months after he was shipped home, he found it in the mail; his entire company, which once mocked him for his convictions, searched all over Hacksaw until they found it.