While in a series of Teacher Training workshops each evening for area churches in Monterrey, Tennessee, I found my days somewhat boring with little to do in that small town. One evening I asked the pastor if there might be some place I would enjoy seeing.
He said, “Have you ever heard of Alvin York?”
At first it didn’t register until he blurred out, “Sargeant York--the war hero!”
Now that did register, because one of my favorite movies was when Gary Cooper played the role of Alvin Cullen York in the movie “Sargeant York.” York was born to an impoverished farming family on the Tennessee and Kentucky border in north-central Tennessee on December 13, 1887, the third of eleven children, and faithful to the small mountian church called the Church of Christ in Christian Union.
Up until a few years before the war, York was a hard drinker and prone to fighting in saloons. His mother, tried to convince York to change his ways to no avail. But one night during heavy drinking he and a friend got into a fight with other saloon rowdy’s and York's friend was killed. This bothered York so much that he finally became a Christian, no longer fighting or drinking. On June 5, 1917, at the age of 29, Alvin York received a notice to register for the draft.
Because York now belonged to the church he applied as a consentious objector, but it was not approved.
While visiting the mill he ran, and the grave where he is buried, I saw his real picture for the first time. In viewing his picture there was that sense of, “That can’t be him. He doesn’t look like Gary Cooper at all.” Funny how we build in our minds what we think one would be like.
In one of the diaries which he kept in the army from day one, He recalled something that struck me as being more important than looks when he said: "The Germans got us, and they got us right smart. They just stopped us dead in our tracks. Their machine guns were up there on the heights overlooking us and well hidden, and we couldn’t tell for certain where the terrible heavy fire was coming from… And I'm telling you they were shooting straight. Our boys just went down like the long grass before the mowing machine at home. Our attack just faded out… And there we were, lying down, about halfway across the valley and those German machine guns and big shells getting us hard.”
Another record said, “As his men remained under cover, and guarding the prisoners, York worked his way into position to silence the German machine guns.”
Again York recalled: "And those machine guns were spitting fire and cutting down the undergrowth all around me something awful. And the Germans were yelling orders. You never heard such a racket in all of your life. I didn't have time to dodge behind a tree or dive into the brush… As soon as the machine guns opened fire on me, I began to exchange shots with them. There were over thirty of them in continuous action, and all I could do was touch the Germans off just as fast as I could. I was sharp shooting… All the time I kept yelling at them to come down. I didn't want to kill any more than I had to. But it was they or I. And I was giving them the best I had.”
The York homesite museum had photos and personal artifacts of Alvin York and his family. It also contained many books and films about York. One very interested story the Movie doesn’t highlight is follows: “One of York’s prisoners, German first lieutenant Paul Jürgen Vollmer of 1st Battalion, 120th Württemberg Landwehr Regiment had emptied his pistol trying to kill York while he was contending with the machine guns. Failing to injure York, and seeing his mounting losses, he offered to surrender the unit to York, which was gladly accepted. By the end of the engagement, York and his seven men marched 132 German prisoners back to the American lines. His actions silenced the German machine guns and were responsible for enabling the 328th Infantry Regiment to renew the offensive to capture the Decauville Railroad.”
York was a corporal during his heroic action. His promotion to sergeant was part of the honor for his valor. Of his deeds York said to his division commander, General Duncan, in 1919: "A higher power than man power guided and watched over me and told me what to do."
Alvin York died at the Veterans Hospital in Nashville, Tennesse in 1964 and is buried in Wolf River Cemetery in Pall Mall, Tennessee.
Besides seeing the area of this noted hero, I met his son who is the park ranger for the Sgt. Alvin C. York State Historic Park that commemorates the life of Alvin York, one of the most decorated soldiers of World War I. How fitting that a son is protecting the remains of one of our nations greatest.
Returning back the 50 miles of winding mountian roads, the pastor and I discussed how God’s son was sent into battle to war against the powers of the Satanic one so we could be protected and saved.
His rewards were the decorations of scars, lacerations, thorn pentrations, and a spear in His side and then He dies that we could have life.
“For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” --Romans 5:10