Sergeant Alvin York
Hero of WWIby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Alvin Cullum York. A man, born in the mountains of eastern Tennessee, in a little town called Pall Mall on December 13, 1887. This man had a humble beginning, born in a rough little ramshackle cottage. He later became the most known hero of World War I. “He was the third in a family or eleven children, eight boys and three girls.”(1) In his diary, he says that his family "growed up like a lot of little pigs," playing on the mountainside and running wild.
The boys of the family, all grew up with guns in their hands, because the “York family eked out a hardscrabble existence of subsistence farming, supplemented by hunting.”(2) Children of the York family were hardy. Alvin was rough and rowdy, often getting in to fist fights. Young Alvin became an expert marksman in the back woods around Pall Mall. “As he entered his teens, Alvin became known as a hell-raiser and a "nuisance" to the community as he frequented bars.”(3)
One night when he came home from a bar, Alvin’s mother asked him when he was going act like his father and grandfather. (His grandfather had been in the Mexican-American war and the Civil war.) He promised her that night that he would never drink or smoke or fight or chew or gamble ever again. “And I have never drunk any whiskey, I have never touched cards, I have never smoked or chewed, and I have never fought or rough-housed since that night.” He said.(4)
The year of 1914, Alvin’s best friend was killed in a bar brawl prompting him to go to a prayer meeting. As a result of attending the prayer meeting, he accepted Christ. “He became a member of the Church of Christ in Christian Union and was soon teaching Sunday school classes and leading the choir.”(5) This church was strongly against swimming, dancing, smoking, drinking and many others including war. York accepted this quite readily.
In 1917, Alvin was given a red slip, meaning that the army wanted him to draft. “When York registered for the draft he wrote simply on the form, "I don’t want to fight.’”(6) Four times he tried to say no, but all four times he was told that had to sign up anyway. The Government did not think that he had valid reasons by saying that his church felt strongly about war. When he went for his health examination there was nothing wrong with him. Alvin was very confused about war. He believed that God did not like war, but he had also been brought up to be patriotic to his country.
By the time Alvin was placed in the Company G, 328th Infantry, 82nd Division, his misgivings and doubts were so high that he mentioned them to his company commander. “His company commander sent him to see Battalion Commander General George Edward Buxton. Buxton was a devout New Englander. He and York spent hours discussing the Bible’s teachings about war.”(7) Buxton quoted several scriptures like "He that hath no sword, let him sell his cloak and buy one" (Luke 22:36). After this discussion, Alvin was even more confused and Buxton allowed him a ten day pass to go home and sort out his feelings. At the end of the ten days, York came back, ready for battle.
He became, in no time flat, a sharpshooter for the army and was asked to teach other men how to shoot. York was in many a battle over in Europe, but his greatest victory and the one that he was most humble about was the battle at Argonne. His battalion had been ordered to capture some German machine guns. With a patrol of seven men, he took on some machine guns. “After pushing along with his squad, he found himself alone opposing a German machine gun company with just a rifle and a pistol. Without hesitation, York "took them on" by himself. He killed six Germans sent to draw him out, then positioned himself at the end of their trench and began shooting them as they stood in line.”(8) Upon taking these men out, he and his patrol came upon a group of officers who promised that if York wouldn’t shoot, they would tell all the machine guns on the top of the hill to surrender. The officer kept his word and that day, 132 Germans surrendered to York and his crew of seven. For this, York was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
When York returned home, due to a newspaper story that had made him
famous, the city of New York honored him with a ticker-tape parade. “After
a few days of sight-seeing, he came back to Tennessee where he married
Gracie with Governor Albert H. Roberts officiating.”(9) Gracie was
a young woman whom York had fallen in love with. He had asked her to marry
him shortly before he was given the draft slip in 1917, and she had said
yes. Alvin and Gracie had put off the wedding until after he came home
from the war. Their honeymoon, happening two days after the marriage ceremony,
saw them in Nashville Tennessee, where York was welcomed home by the state
Through out the remainder of his life, Sergeant Alvin C. York was asked to speak to schools and at conventions about his experience during the war. His war diary, which he started the day he was drafted, has been published at least once if not twice. A movie was created about his life in the Mountains of Tennessee and during the war. This movie is called Sergeant York, and the actor, Gary Cooper, was handpicked by York to play the part. York and Gracie had five sons together. In 1954 he suffered a stroke imprisoning him in his bed or a wheel chair for the last ten year of his life. “He was hospitalized ten times in the last two years of his life. Finally the old soldier just faded away for ‘old Soldiers never die; they simply fade away.’ The end came for Sgt. Alvin C. York at the Veterans Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee on September 2, 1964, at the age of 76 years.”(10)
1. Sergeant York, His Own Journal and War Diary
2. Alvin C. York by Dr. Bridwell, http://www.alvincyork.org/AlvinCullomYork.htm
3. Alvin York, Army Legend, by John Silva, http://www.grunts.net/legends/alvinyork.html
4. The Real Sergeant York by Thomas A. Burzynski, http://www.thenewamerican.com/tna/1998/vo14no01/vo14no01_york.htm
5. Alvin York, Army Legend, by John Silva, http://www.grunts.net/legends/alvinyork.html
6. The Real Sergeant York by Thomas A. Burzynski, http://www.thenewamerican.com/tna/1998/vo14no01/vo14no01_york.htm
7. Tennessee’s “Christian Warrior”, By Stan Griffen, http://www.workersforjesus.com/york.htm
8. See above http://www.workersforjesus.com/york.htm
9. See the above, http://www.workersforjesus.com/york.htm
10. Alvin C. York by Gladys Williams, http://voyager.rtd.utk.edu/volweb/Schools/York/biography.html
As the eldest grandson of Col. G. Edward Buxton, Jr., I can attest that some of the information contained in your piece is not factual.
First of all, my grandfather was never a general and when in command of the 328th in WWI he was a Major when he had his now famous discussions with Alvin York. Col. Buxton never achieved the rank of General.
Also, his name is not “George”. His correct and full name is G. Edward Buxton, Jr. Only his closest friends knew what the “G” stood for and I am not so sure that Alvin would have known. I can assure you that no biographers of York or Buxton would have been privy to that information.
Also, the correct designation for the honor that Sergeant York received for his gallantry is the “Medal of Honor”, not the Congressional Medal of Honor. You can reference this on the Internet for verification.
I thank you for the piece that will forever keep alive the memory of two great men.
Best Regards, Aye