may 15, 2016
LYNCHBURG — In a surprise to Liberty University graduates, actors Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn and screenwriter Randall Wallace made an appearance at Saturday’s commencement.
Gibson and Wallace spoke briefly to the crowd about their upcoming film “Hacksaw Ridge,” which depicts the true and heroic story of Pfc. Desmond T. Doss, the first conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.
“When I came here the first time to Lynchburg, I didn’t know about Desmond Doss,” Gibson, who directed the film, said during the ceremony. “I’ve lived with Desmond’s story for about almost two years now, and I’ve gained a tremendous admiration for this man. He was one of the most heroic figures in American history.”
Gibson noted that while Medal of Honor recipients receive their decoration for a specific moment of valor, Doss had numerous moments of heroism as he continued to enter the line of fire to rescue his fellow soldiers. Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist who refused to carry a weapon in combat, is credited with saving as many as 75 men during the Battle of Okinawa.
In a brief press conference following the commencement, Wallace said when he first learned of the World War II veteran’s story it shocked him, especially having grown up in Lynchburg without ever hearing of his deeds.
While answering questions during a private question and answer session after graduation, Wallace expanded on his previous comment.
“For him to have such courage based on convictions that weren’t about a belief that war was something Christians should avoid, but that he had made a promise to God he was determined to keep, that made this story different from any other I’d ever heard,” he said.
Wallace also said he had been tapped to direct the film, but instead wrote a draft for the script before directing the 2014 film, “Heaven is for Real,” at which point he suggested Gibson for the Desmond T. Doss story.
“I … thought he would really relate to the material for a lot of the things he had been through,” said Wallace. “And Desmond Doss being misunderstood for a lot of his beliefs could speak well to what Mel could bring to the movie.”
During his commencement remarks, Gibson said he had brought the film to Lynchburg to show “some friends.”
“As Randy said, ‘Stories are important to us all,’ and when I make stories, I don’t make them for an elite,” the actor turned director said. “I make them so that other people can witness them and be inspired by them. I think it’s a little lesson for myself first, and then I like to share that with others.”