Doss was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, son of William Thomas Doss, a carpenter, and Bertha E. (Oliver) Doss.
Desmond Doss enlisted in April 1942, but refused to kill or carry a weapon into combat because of his personal beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist. He consequently became a medic, and while serving in the Pacific theatre of World War II he helped his country by saving the lives of his comrades, at the same time adhering to his religious convictions. Doss was wounded three times during the war, and shortly before leaving the Army he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, which cost him a lung. Discharged from the Army in 1946, he spent five years undergoing medical treatment for his injuries and illness.
Desmond Doss died in 2006 at his home in Piedmont, Alabama, after being hospitalized for breathing troubles, the same day as another Medal of Honor recipient, David Bleak. He was buried in Chattanooga, Tennessee's National Cemetery.