Alvin Cullum York, 1887-1964, was born in a two room log cabin near Pall Mall, Tennessee. He was the oldest sibling remaining at home after the death of his father in November of 1911.
His family was impoverished, and Alvin helped his father as a blacksmith. Alvin devoted himself to his family, although he struggled with alcohol addiction; fighting in saloons and accumulating several arrests in his area. Despite his history of drinking and fighting, York attended church regularly and loved to sing the hymns. On June 5, 1917, at the age of 29, Alvin York registered for the draft for World War I. When he registered for the draft, he answered the question: “Do you claim exemption from the draft(reason)?” He answered by writing “Yes. Don’t Want to Fight.” His appeal , as a conscientious objector, was denied and the rest of the story has become a part of American military history.
The Making of a Hero:
We begin his story in the heart of the Argonne Forest on October 8, 1918, where practically unassisted, Sergeant Alvin C. York whipped an entire German machine-gun battalion, killing twenty-eight of the enemy, capturing thirty-five machine guns and with the help of a handful of soldiers (seven) captured one hundred and thirty-two prisoners. Relive the battlefield experience of the Muse-Argonne Offensive in this video.
For his extraordinary valor, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the French Legion of Honour, and the Croix de Guerre with palms, the Medaille Militaire, the Italian War Cross, and other high Allied decorations. General Pershing described him as “the outstanding civilian soldier of the war.”
Returning to New York City in May, 1919, he was given the greatest ticker tape parade ever accorded an American soldier. A few days later in Washington, D.C., both sessions of Congress welcomed him in a joint session and gave him a standing ovation.
The Reluctant Soldier:
Sergeant Alvin C. York did not volunteer to join the army, as mentioned in the above, he was a drafted man. He went reluctantly and with misgivings. He bore no hatred toward the Germans; he did not want to kill them or anybody else. In the archives of the War Department in Washington, D.C., there are letters and applications asking for his exemption from military service on the grounds that his religion was opposed to war and killing. He told the story himself that “he worried a plenty as to whether it were right or wrong.” He prayed on a mountaintop for two days seeking guidance from God. “I received my assurance. I received it from God that it were all right, that I would go and that I would come back unharmed.” He told his mother not to worry, that he was coming back all right. His time-honored diary provides evidence into his personal thoughts. As World War I closed, the “war to end all wars,” new dictators emerged around the globe seeking to divide and conqueror democratic forms of government. Civilian Alvin, C. York was once again called upon to come to aid of his country.
Why Are We Fighting this War? (World War II):
While addressing the 82nd Division, May 1942 at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana where 15,000 soldiers gathered to be addressed by retired Sergeant Alvin C. York, where he gave the troops in training a speech. This self-proclaimed mountain boy declared to the thousands of troops in attendance that day, in no uncertain terms, what their purpose was as American soldiers. He spoke out about the war; he felt like he was re-living the First World War all over again. It was such a peculiar feeling, in that; the job of fighting against dictators in the name of democracy was uncompleted. “Here you boys are training to finish the job that we thought that we had done for all time—the job of keeping our freedom from going on the heels of dictators!” The Sergeant emphasized, “Freedom is not a thing that you can win once and for all.” Major General Omar M. Bradley and Sergeant Alvin C. York addressed the troops in a 14:30 recording. This audio recording will provide the listener with a unique experience.
York’s Words for the Ages:
He spoke of the many service men and women who had to make payments with their lives and service for the protection of our Constitutional freedoms in 1917(W.W.I) and in 1941(W.W.II). He warned that it would not be the last time that Americans would have to stand up to dictators around the world. The crowd of 15,000 stood and applauded his remarks while understanding the urgency of America to defend its liberties. “Today the threat to our American freedom is greater than this country has ever known. I guarantee that the licking Uncle Sam’s boys will give those fellas will be bigger than their threat,” concluded Sergeant Alvin C. York to the cheers of the boot camp inductees at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana.
Hollywood Created a Legion:
Sergeant, Alvin C. York, 1941 was a biographical film directed by Howard Hawks, it was the highest grossing film of the year. Gary Cooper, starring in the role as Sgt. York went on to the Academy Award for Best Actor. Click the link to view the film.
History has taught us that dictatorships are often unexpected. They have arisen among properous, educated and cultured people, who seemed safe from dictatorship. There’s no reliable way to prevent bad or incompetent people from gaining power, although our political system with a separation of powers and checks and balances founded on our Constitution make it more difficult for one branch of government to dominate the others.
Ultimately, liberty can be jeopardized by runaway government spending, soaring taxes, more wars, inflation and economic collapse. The words and actions of Sergeant York can serve as a compass for our committment to our American democracy.
From the Diary of Alvin C. York:
After meeting President Wilson in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Congress, Alvin York returned home to Pall Mall, Tennessee on the 29th of May, 1919. His diary shares a moment in his life, as he trys to make sense of the war: ...” when it was all over and I had taken off the old uniform of the all American Division and got back into the overalls. I got out with the hounds and the old muzzle loader; and I got to thinking and wondering what it was all about.
And I went back to the place on the place on the mountain where I prayed before the war, and received my assurance from God that I would go and come back. And I just stayed out there and thanked that same God who had taken me through the war.”–Alvin York
Historical Quotes for Reflection:
“Life tol’ably queer. You think you’ve got a grip on it, then you open your hands and you find there’s nothing in them.”– Alvin York.
“Sergeant York won me an Academy Award, but that’s not why it’s my favorite film. I liked the role because of the background of the picture, and because I portrayed a man of strong character.”-Gary Cooper.
“The fear of God makes a hero’ the fear of man makes a coward.”–Alvin York
“Woe and death to all who resist my will.”–Kaiser Wilhem II.
“The great masses of the people will more easily fall victims to a big lie than to a small one.”–Adolph Hitler
“A figure who receives money from abroad for his political work, and thus serves some foreign interest, cannot be a politician in Russia.”
— Vladimir Putin
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” –President Ronald Reagan