While leading about 100 Germans to the American line, another two and a half dozen surrendered to the 82nd. Upon arriving back to their regiment, Brigadier General Julian Robert Lindsey remarked, "Well York, I hear you have captured the whole German army." York humbly replied, "No sir. I got only 132." Along with the men, Alvin also acquired 32 machine guns. Because of Alvin and his men, the Americans succeeded in capturing the Decauville Railroad.
On the cool night of December 13, 1887, Alvin Cullen York was born in the hills of Tennessee. The third of eleven children, York grew up quickly following his father's death in 1911 as he became the family's provider. Raised as a Methodist, York shed his faith and started down a rough path of drinking and fighting. After a brawl resulted in the beating death of his best friend, York sought answers at a revival. Rededicating his life to Christ on January 1, 1915, York joined the Church of Christ in Christian Union, a protestant denomination that rejects violence. An active choir member and Sunday School teacher, York also met Gracie Williams, his future wife, at church. Therefore, when America declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, York faced one of the hardest decisions in his life. (see )
A national draft occurred on June 5 for all men between ages 21 and 31. With his faith in one hand and his patriotism in the other, York desperately wanted to bring these two traits together. York registered, yet claimed exemption from the draft writing, “Don’t want to fight.” The army rejected his conscientious objector request. While waiting for a response to his appeal, York was drafted and sent to Camp Gordon in Georgia where he joined the Company G, 328th Infantry Regiment, 82nd Infantry Division.
Wrestling between being a good American or a good Christian, York turned to his superiors for help. His company commander, Captain Edward Danforth, and his battalion commander and devout Christian Major G. Edward Buxton, appreciated York's dilemma and patiently worked through his concerns. As the men combed through countless verses on violence and warfare in the Bible, York countered every example with one of peacemaking. Then, one night, Ezekiel 33:6 was read:
”But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand."
After a moment of reflection York stood up, looked at his commanders, and replied, “All right, I’m satisfied.” With a clean conscience knowing God was with him on this mission, York continued his training until his unit was sent to France in May of 1918. During a 1919 investigation into his heroic acts, York informed his brigade commander Brigadier General Julian Lindsey, ”A higher power than man power guided and watched over me and told me what to do.” Lindsey simply replied, “York, you are right.”
The Meuse-Argonne Offensive continued on as casualties accumulated. The Allies experienced several setbacks, yet continued to press forward and change tactics. The 1st Division pushed through with the support of the rest of the First Army under the strong leadership of Colonel George Patton, brigade commander Douglas MacArthur, and others, while the French made progress near the Aisne River. (see ) By the end of the month, the Germans abandoned the Argonne Forest. A week later, on November 8, they were discussing armistice and peace.
Pershing tried to convince Democrat President Woodrow Wilson to continue fighting until they received an unconditional surrender from the Germans, but his advice was adamantly rejected. (see ). At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, (11 am on November 11), the "War to end all Wars" was over. (see )
Following his heroic actions, York was immediately promoted to Sergeant and received the Distinguished Service Cross. A few months later, the army upgraded his citation to Medal of Honor, which he personally received from General Pershing on April 18, 1919. To show their appreciation, the French Republic presented York with the Croix de Guerre, the Medaille Militaire and the Legion of Honour. Americans learned of his heroism in the April 26 issue of the Saturday Evening Post, gaining him instant recognition. Therefore, upon his return to the states on May 29, York was greeted with parades and praise.
Barely home a week, York married Gracie on June 7 in Pall Mall, Tennessee. Nashville's Rotary Club collected funds to buy the new couple a home and farm. However, the house was unfinished, the farm was unfurnished, and the mortgage was unpaid as the monies fell short. After falling into hard financial times due to a farming depression, a plea for York was extended to national Rotary Clubs, who provided funds to save York's farm by Christmas 1921.
Over the next 20 years, the Yorks produced eight children, giving many of them historical names: Alvin Cullum, Jr., George Edward Buxton, Woodrow Wilson, Sam Houston, Andrew Jackson, Betsy Ross, Mary Alice, and Thomas Jefferson.
Dubbed Sgt. York by the media, York did not want to be remembered by what he did in war, but rather by what he did to promote love and peace through his faith in God as well as his efforts towards education. Having only gone to school for just nine months, York believed in the importance of a good education. Therefore, he started working on a private agricultural high school. Opening in 1926, the Alvin C. York Institute was converted to Jamestown's public high school in 1937 as a result of the depression and is still in operation today. Also in the 1920's, York established the Alvin C. York Foundation to further educational opportunities in Tennessee.
Even though he could have raised thousands of dollars for himself and his projects, York did not want to profit from his celebrity. Turning down interviews, public appearances and product endorsements, he instead lent his name to charities and civic causes. However, after years of dismissing requests to commit his life story to film, York finally relented in 1940 so he could fulfill his desire to build an interdenominational Bible school. From the day York signed up for the draft until the day he returned home, York kept a diary, which was to be the basis of the movie. Regardless, once Hollywood obtained his story, fiction entered the tale. York wanted them to focus more on his life before and after the war, yet with another world war on the horizon, producers saw a perfect opportunity to drum up military support. Entitled "Sergeant York" and released in 1941, it was the year's highest-grossing picture. The movie received 11 Oscar nominations with two wins, including Gary Cooper as Best Actor.
Originally against the United States again entering into a world war, York's mind changed following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. (see ) He tried to re-enlist but was denied due to age, weight and health issues. Instead, the Army Signal Corps commissioned him as a major, touring training camps and raising funds in bond drives as well as for charities such as the Red Cross. (see ). His Bible school became a causality of the war, lasting only one year as targeted attendees enlisted or focused their efforts on helping the nation. By the time the Cold War began (see ), York recommended using the atomic bomb to deal with Russia, stating, "If they can't find anyone else to push the button, I will." He also criticized the United Nations for failing to do the same in Korea. (see )
Starting in 1951, the Internal Revenue Service began what would be a 10-year long battle with York over taxes regarding his movie profits. The York Relief Fund, established by Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn and Congressman Joe L. Evins, raised funds to cover expenses. Characterizing the IRS's behavior as a national disgrace, Democrat President John F. Kennedy instructed the governmental agency to resolve the issue. Meanwhile, the IRS received $100,000 from the relief fund with another $30,000 placed in a trust for the family.
A stroke in 1954 left York bedridden until his death on September 2, 1964, at the Veterans Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, from a cerebral hemorrhage. He was buried with full military honors at Wolf River Cemetery in Pall Mall.
Liberty, Christians often find themselves in dilemma's regarding following their faith or following their desire to support their country. During World War II, Desmond Doss also wanted to serve his country but refused to carry a gun. As a medic, his unit ridiculed him until his prayers seemed to protect them in battle. (see ) Doss reconciled his faithfulness to God and to his country, becoming the first ever and only conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor in World War II.
York gives us a wonderful witness and example for us when we find ourselves in such a situation. He sought answers from the Bible. Though we may not understand it, or even see it, God can always use any event for His good. Our dreams are not necessarily God's plans. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is surrender yourself to God's guidance, but if Christ could allow himself to die on the cross for us, how can we say "no" to the Lord.
That’s my 2 cents.
October 8, 2018
The 82nd Division, known as the "All American Division," quietly worked its way through the forest as the sound of machine gun fire filled the air. The Germans occupying the machine gun nests before them were unaware their participation in the war was about to end. Then again, neither did half of the 82nd.
Fresh from the fighting at St. Mihiel, the 82nd was not as green as many of the units sent into the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. As the original units found themselves in trouble, more experienced units, like the 82nd, along with the well-seasoned 1st Division, were sent in. (see and ) Overhead, America’s leading flying ace, Eddie Rickenbacker, led the 94th Aero Squadron in dogfights against the elite force of the Richthofen Circus, started by the Red Baron. (see and )
Despite damage done from bombs dropped from above, trenches, concrete dugouts, and barbed wire continued to hinder infantry troops, just like in St. Mihiel. (see ) While the 1st Division achieved some progress, it was met at the cost of 9,387 men. Regretting giving the Supreme Allied Commander Marshal Ferdinand Foch such an aggressive offensive timeline, General John J. Pershing needed a miracle. (see )
The Allied forces made the recapture of Decauville Railroad a priority. Controlled by the Germans for four years, Allied forces strategized to reclaim the railroad, thus denying supplies to the German Army. Sergeant Bernard Early received orders to lead the 82nd into the Meuse-Argonne sector on October 8, 1918, to complete the railroad mission. As they marched towards their destination, 30 German machine gunners positioned along the ridge overhead rained down gunfire on the Americans. While the others in the First Army took cover and returned gunfire, the 82nd received a new objective.
Ordered to circle around and attack the machine gun nests from behind, the soldiers snuck through the Argonne Forest undetected. Their sneak attack from behind proved to be a complete success, capturing numerous soldiers. While the 82nd gathered their prisoners, another line of German machine gunners perched higher on the mountainside spotted their victory. Word spread down the line prompting gunners to immediately reposition their weapons from the front onto the small 17 men American unit hidden behind German lines.
In a gust of fire, half of the unit dropped of fatal or critical hits. A recently promoted corporal realized among the nine casualties were the unit's four superior officers. Therefore, as the only corporal with seven privates, Alvin assumed control.
Instructing the remaining seven soldiers to take cover and guard the prisoners, Alvin headed up the mountain to confront thirty Germans on his own. Growing up in Tennessee, Alvin became extremely proficient with a gun, picking off prey with ease. Now a skilled sharp shooter and unable to reach cover, Alvin eliminated the enemy one by one as he made his way up the hill.
After emptying yet another clip, a band of six Germans leapt from their trench with their bayonets focused squarely on Alvin. With no time to reload or a bayonet of his own, Alvin dropped his rifle and grabbed his Colt .45. Knowing the group would drop in the grass if they saw the lead men fall, Alvin strategically started with the last German. As if playing a child's game, Alvin disposed of his attackers needing only one bullet per predator.
Picking up and reloading his rifle, Alvin continued his assault while begging his enemy to stop because he didn't want to kill any more men. German First Lieutenant Paul Jürgen Vollmer, determined not to let this American reach their nests, unloaded his pistol towards Alvin. Every shot missed. Seeing over 25 dead soldiers lying around him, Vollmer surrendered.
A RELUCTANT HERO