A is for America, the country I call home...the freedom I cherish...the beauty of her land...the place I love. A is for Americana, our way of life...the history we hold dear...our industry and homes...the pride that we feel. A is for an American, a citizen of the United States, a native of America.
Today, I want to tell you about an American hero, Sergeant Alvin C. York. Have you heard of him? Unless you're a history buff or someone who's old enough to remember him, then chances are you haven't. Sgt. York is the greatest hero of World War I and he was from Tennessee.
York was born December 13, 1887, the third of eleven children to Mary Elizabeth Brooks and William Uriah York, in Pall Mall, Tennessee in Fentress County near the Tennessee/Kentucky state line. In 1911, Alvin's father passed away leaving him in charge as the man of the house. He helped his mother raise his younger siblings. Life in rural Tennessee was simple. The York family lived off the land - farming and wild life. York became an excellent sharpsmen early in life with his rifle as he provided the family's meals with game. He supplemented the family income as he became a skilled worker in railroad construction and as a logger in Harriman, Tennessee.
York had a wild drinking and gambling strike, which earned him the reputation of a hell raiser and was regarded as a nuisance and someone who would never amount to anything, but in 1914, he had a religious conversion. Although, York was raised Methodist, he became a member of the Church of Christ in Christian Union, which had a strict moral code forbidding drinking, dancing, movies, swimming, swearing, popular literature, and opposed violence and war.
Shortly after the US declared war against Germany in April 1917, York's faith would be challenged. Six months prior to York's 30th birthday, he received his draft notice. Despite the strictness of his church's creed against violence and war, York sought God in prayer. He's documented saying, "There are times when war is moral and ordained by God." He followed God's direction into battle and not mans.
On October 8, 1918 Corporal Alvin C. York and sixteen other soldiers under Sergeant Bernard Early's command where dispatched before sunrise to siege Decauville railroad behind Hill 223 in the Chatel-Chehery sector of the Meuse-Argonne sector. The patrol found themselves behind enemy lines due to error in reading the map, which was in French. This day God stood shoulder to shoulder with York, as the fire fight broke out. Twenty-five Germans were killed and 132 were captured including a Major under York's command. More than half of York's patrol had been killed in that battle.
York was awarded the highest decoration, the Congressional Medal of Honor for his brave action outside the French village of Chatel-Chehery during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. York returned home in 1919 where he was singled out as the greatest individual solider of WWI. He was courted by influential people in Hollywood and Broadway. There were advertisers who wanted him to endorse their products, but he turned his back on the high life to return to Pall Mall to marry his sweetheart, Loretta Williams.
Once back home, York sought to improve life for boys and girls in the rural mountains. He realized the importance of the mechanized world, while serving our country abroad. As a young boy, he acquired only nine-months of schooling. This is something he wanted to change for future generations. He was responsible for the Alvin C. York Institute, a private agricultural high school, in 1927 and in 1950, he built part of his Bible School from the money earned from the 1941 movie Sergeant York with Gary Cooper. York died on September 2, 1964 and was given full military honors as he was laid to rest in the Wolf River Cemetery in Pall Mall. He was survived by his wife, Loretta, and seven children at the time of his death.
We visited Sergeant York's home last Saturday. It was a privilege to walk in York's footsteps through his home in Pall Mall. A sense of deep appreciation for this man's valor warmed my very core. A man from the Tennessee mountains with little education, but a fortitude of good common sense, frontier skills, and religious convictions survived the odds on that October day in 1918 against the Germans. This was not a fluke, but an act of God. Thank you, Sergeant York, and God bless America!
To learn more about Sergeant Alvin York, visit these links:
Legends & Traditions of the Great War
Sergeant York Patriotic Foundation
Alvin C. York, Wikipedia
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