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THE GOOD WAR
In the Field



IN THE FIELD

For the first time in American history, World War II draftees who were deemed legal conscientious objectors had two choices: non-combatant service in the Armed Forces or alternative work in the Civilian Public Service. Twenty-five thousand World War II conscientious objectors served as non-combatant medical corpsmen and chaplains in the armed forces. These men were enlisted in the military and wore the uniform, but refused to kill another human being. Unlike other medics in their unit, they went into battle unarmed. CO Medic Desmond Doss won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his courage under fire.

Scene from the Lew Ayres film All Quiet on the Western Front
Scene from the Lew Ayres film All Quiet on the Western Front


Lew Ayers Audio Clip

Ayres as a noncombatant medic
Ayres as a noncombatant medic

Lew Ayres
The best-known conscientious objector of WWII was Lew Ayres, star of the classic anti-war film All Quiet on the Western Front. The film had influenced a generation of pacifists, including the actor himself. When Ayres declared himself a conscientious objector, his films were boycotted. Louis B. Mayer declared, "You're through in Hollywood," and his wife Ginger Rogers filed for divorce. When drafted, Ayres wanted to go into the Medical Corps but his draft board wouldn't guarantee him that job, so he applied for CPS and was sent to camp in Cascade Locks, Oregon.

After repeated requests Ayres got his chance to be a medic and the military changed its policy for all other COs, who could then be guaranteed service in the Medical Corps as noncombatants. When called up, Ayres was 34 and had just starred in the eighth film in the popular Dr. Kildare series. He went from doctor on the silver screen to become an exceptional medic on the battlefields in the South Pacific. Ayres served three and a half years as a medic and chaplain's aide, earning three battle stars. His wartime service restored him to favor in Hollywood, and he went on to win an Oscar nomination and produce an award-winning documentary series on religions of the world.

Oh, the soldiers admired Lew Ayres, actually, because he was the most publicized CO in the country....[Ayres] was the one conspicuous CO because he was a film star. And the troops that I dealt with thought he was terrific. They envied him. They wished they'd thought of it.
- Paul Fussell, author, Wartime and The Great War and Modern Memory





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