Sergeant York Of Tennessee

: Winning A Cause World War Stories

People will always differ as to what was the most remarkable exploit of

the World War. Major General George B. Duncan, one of the American

commanders who helped to drive the Germans out of the Argonne forest,

has said that Corporal Alvin C. York, a tall, red-headed, raw-boned

mountaineer from Tennessee distinguished himself above all men in the

achievement of the greatest individual deed in the World War.

[Illustration: Sergeant York wearing the French Croix de Guerre and the

Congressional Medal of Honor.]

Because of his brave acts, Corporal York was made Sergeant York, was

given the Croix de Guerre with a palm, and the Congressional Medal of

Honor. His own state has made him a colonel for life on the Governor's


Before the officers of York's division, the 82d, Major General C. P.

Summerall, a soldier not given to over-praise or exaggeration,

commended him in these words:

Corporal York, your division commander has reported to me your

exceedingly gallant conduct during the operations of your division in

the Meuse-Argonne battle. I desire to express to you my pleasure and

commendation for the courage, skill, and gallantry which you displayed

on that occasion. It is an honor to command such soldiers as you.

Your conduct reflects great credit not only upon the American army, but

also upon the American people. Your deeds will be recorded in the

history of this great war, and they will live as an inspiration not

only to your comrades, but also to the generations that will come after

us. I wish to commend you publicly and in the presence of the officers

of your division.

Corporal York was about thirty years of age, six feet tall, and weighed

a little over two hundred pounds. He would not be called handsome,

although he was really a fine looking man, with keen gray eyes that

could become hard and penetrating when he was greatly moved. He was a

gentle man with a soft, quiet voice and a Southern drawl. He was very

religious and was the Second Elder in the Church of Christ and

Christian Union when he was called to the service of his country.

The church to which he belonged did not believe in war. Like the

Quakers, its members were conscientious objectors. It was supposed

that Alvin C. York would ask exemption as a conscientious objector;

but he did not, although his friends begged him to do so. He reported

for duty at Camp Gordon, Georgia, on November 14, 1917.

He was often troubled however with the feeling that to kill men, even

in a righteous war to ensure liberty to all the world, was contrary to

his religion and the teachings of the Bible. He finally came to

realize that in this belief he was wrong, and that it was his duty, and

the duty of every brave man, to meet armed oppression by arms, and when

no other way was left, to kill those who would by force take away the

life and liberty of others.

He was an expert pistol and rifle shot, as are almost all Tennessee and

Kentucky mountaineers. In a shooting match with a major of his

division, York is said to have hit with his automatic pistol at every

shot a penny match-box over one hundred feet distant. His coolness and

courage in the face of danger and his skill with the pistol and rifle

enabled him to do the impossible--or at any rate, what every one would

have declared impossible, before Alvin C. York accomplished it.

All through the Argonne forest, from Verdun almost to Sedan, the

Americans were obliged to advance between hills, and often over hills

covered with dense tangles of shrubs, vines, and trees, among which the

Germans had hidden machine-gun nests.

Corporal York, on the morning of October 8, 1918, with his battalion

was attempting to get behind the machine-gun nests on a hillside and to

destroy them. The hill was then only known by number; it is now called

York Hill.

They were to climb the hill and come down over the crest, as in this

way they would get behind the German machine-guns. Sergeant Bernard

Early with sixteen men was ordered to undertake the task. Corporal

York was one of the men. At the start they were observed and were

caught by German fire from three directions. Six of the small company

were killed and three wounded, leaving Corporal York with seven

privates to advance up the hillside.

They succeeded in reaching the crest of the hill, although machine-gun

bullets were constantly whipping about them, usually however over their

heads in the branches. They came upon an old trench and followed it

over the brow of the hill, when suddenly they saw two Germans ahead of

them. They fired on the Germans; one ran and escaped, the other

surrendered. Going on, they soon discovered a couple of dozen Germans

gathered about a small hut beside a stream which ran through the valley

below. The Americans opened fire. The Germans dropped their guns,

threw up their hands, and yelled, Kamerad! Kamerad! This meant they

had surrendered. Among them was the major in command.

Some of York's seven men were assigned to guard the prisoners and had

assembled them, when a hail of machine-gun bullets came from the

hillside directly in front of them and across the brook. Every one,

Germans included, fell flat on the ground. The Americans had indeed

come over the hilltop down behind the German machine-guns, but the

gunners had now turned them squarely around and were sending a rain of

bullets upon the Americans. They avoided firing upon their German

comrades and thus the American privates guarding them were

comparatively safe. Corporal York was on the hill above the prisoners

and it was difficult for the gunners to hit him without killing or

injuring some of their own men. A well-aimed rifle or pistol shot

might have done it, however.

He had fallen into a path and was somewhat protected by the rise on the

side toward the German guns. From here, lying flat upon his face, he

coolly aimed his rifle and picked off German after German, after every

shot calling upon those left to come down and surrender.

His comrades could not assist him, for those who were not with the

German prisoners were so situated that to show themselves meant instant


Seeing York must be taken at any cost, a German lieutenant and seven

men sprang up from behind one of the machine-guns, only about one

hundred feet distant, and charged upon the red-headed American who was

fighting a whole company. The officer who ordered the Germans to

charge knew of course that some of them would be killed, but he was

sure the remaining ones would capture or kill the American; but York,

the man from Tennessee, who was not sure at one time that it was right

to fight, did not lose his coolness, his courage, or his skill with the

automatic pistol, and a German lieutenant and seven German privates

fell before his unerring aim.

Then the German commander offered to surrender, and Corporal York and

his seven American privates escorted one hundred and thirty-two German

prisoners back to the American lines. About forty of these were added

to the original number by the capture of another German machine-gun

nest on the way back.

Corporal York showed the extreme modesty which is characteristic of

very brave men, in not mentioning his exploit when he reached his own

battalion headquarters. The prisoners had been delivered at another,

and it was only by accident that York's superior officers learned of it


When Sergeant York returned to America, he was received with great

pride by the Tennessee Society of New York City, and was granted his

first wish to talk over the long-distance telephone with his old mother

in Tennessee. He was taken to see the New York Stock Exchange where

business was suspended for half an hour while the members cheered him.

Thousands of persons on the streets recognized him and crowded around

the automobile in which he rode so that the police had to clear a path

for the car.

At the banquet given in his honor at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel,

generals, admirals, noted bankers, and members of Congress united in

his praise. During the dinner, Sergeant York was unanimously elected

an honorary life-member of the Tennessee Society.

From New York, he went to Washington, where he was similarly received

because of these and other acts of heroism which distinguish him as one

of the great soldiers of the World War. After being honorably

discharged, he returned to the Tennessee Mountains to marry the girl

who had been waiting for him to return from the war. The wedding which

took place in a humble mountain home was attended by thousands of

people from all over the state. The Governor of Tennessee, a former

judge of the district, performed the ceremony, after which York and his

bride were his guests at the Executive Mansion in Nashville, where a

public reception was given in his honor.

Through these tributes to Sergeant York the people of the United States

attempted to show their true appreciation and admiration of the courage

and fortitude of the non-commissioned officer.