Sergeant York

Today (October 8, 2018) is the 100th anniversary of one of the most extraordinary feats of battlefield courage, that being the actions of Corporal Alvin C. York of Tennessee. On this date in 1918, York was part of a group from the 328th Infantry Regiment sent around a hill in the Meuse-Argonne area of France, in an attempt to silence German heavy fire. A legitimate, but extremely dangerous, tactic during the latter part of the Great War, the Americans were ready to do their duty.

Alvin C. York by Frank Schoonover

During their flanking maneuver, the Americans surprised a group of Germans who were not expecting Yanks at that location. But as they accepted the surrender, the Doughboys, themselves, were suddenly devastated by German gunfire from a nearby hill. York's commanding officer and best friend were hit and out of action, and he found himself in command. More importantly, he found himself in a position where he might be able to fight back.

Sergeant Alvin C. York
There was no better marksman in those French woods, and Alvin York soon began shooting back - almost always hitting his target. He shouted for the enemy to surrender, but the German soldiers could barely stomach the thought. At one point, a group of six German soldiers charged down the hill toward York, but he drew his Colt pistol and "touched them off." He shot them from rear to front, worried that if they realized what was happening that they would stop to shoot, and kill him. (In a bit of irony, as they filmed Sergeant York, the production crew was unable to make their Colt fire blanks properly, so they used a German Luger for the scene. It's said that Gary Cooper wanted to re-shoot the scene with the correct gun, but that was never done. Cooper won an Academy Award for his portrayal of York, so the fact that he filmed that scene with an enemy pistol was forgiven.)

That day York and his unit captured 132 German prisoners and marched them back to the American lines. I tell York's story about this day in my book The Battlefield Guide to Life, and the lesson to be taken from it is one of redemption. Alvin York had been a drinking man and a bit of a hellion, then he found God and became a devout Christian. He had a bit of hesitation as he was drafted, but soon reconciled himself that war was not an enemy to his faith, and he marched off to the Western Front with the understanding that God was with him - no matter what happened to him personally.

In the hills where I come from he's the most famous soldier we'll likely ever see. Later promoted to sergeant, Alvin York was award the United States Medal of Honor, the French Croix de Guerre, as well as honors from Italy and Montenegro. Sergeant York is buried near his home in Pall Mall, Tennessee, which is now part of a state historic park. It's a great place to reflect and learn about one of the greatest American heroes, a man we should never forget.

James K. Turner -