Sergeant York

(Alvin York)


Alvin York was born in Tennessee and took on the role of providing for his family after his father passed away in 1911. He took a career in railroad construction and later logging; yet despite his dedication to his job, his faith, and his family, he was also a violent alcoholic who was arrested on several accounts. This behavior finally ceased in 1915, at a revival meeting for the Church of Christ in Christian Union. The church had its groundings in anti-Civil War pacifism, and when he was obliged to register for the national draft, he claimed exemption on the grounds of his new beliefs.

Sergeant York
Nevertheless, York was drafted in November 1917, and despite later opportunities for discharge, he remained in the army until the completion of his service in 1919. His commanders, also devout Christians, assured York that God meant for him to fight, and York, persuaded by this new philosophy, went on to become one of the most decorated soldiers during The Great War, or World War I. In 1918, he earned great fame for an attack to secure German positions in France. The Germans were armed with machine guns, and they quickly killed six members of York’s battalion, but York managed to evade fire, shooting repeatedly at his attackers, until their surrender. He killed twenty-eight Germans and left the battlefield with 132 prisoners in tow. In addition to the Medal of Honor, York received the Distinguished Service Cross, the Legion of Honor from France, and nearly fifty other decorations. Upon his return to Tennessee, he was greeted with a formal banquet and five-day tour of the eastern United States. He was offered thousands of dollars for newspaper stories, advertisement appearances, and movie rights to his story, but York declined, instead lending his support to various charities and civil causes. The one gift he did accept was a 400-acre farm given him by the Rotary Club, but the farm proved unprofitable and the club unable to make the property payments. York was forced to appeal for financial aid, which was finally given him in 1921.

In the 1920s, York also created the Alvin C. York Foundation with the aim of increasing education opportunities in northern Tennessee, but during the Great Depression, the government failed to assist financially, and York was soon ousted as president. Regardless, he continued to donate money to the cause. During World War II, York attempted to re-enlist, but he was denied and instead given the honorary rank of Colonel in the Army Signal Corps, a role that he played extremely well. Upon his return home, he finally allowed for a film about his life, and in 1941 the movie Sergeant York debuted. Sergeant York passed away in 1964 and was buried in his hometown.

Key events during the life of Sergeant York:

Father died.
Underwent a conversion following a revival meeting.
Drafted into the U.S. Army
Earned great recognition after a victory against the Germans in France.
Was discharged from the service.
  Married Gracie Loretta Williams.
Went into debt while trying to pay for a farm given him by the Rotary Club.
Attempted to re-emlist during WWII but was instead made Colonel in the Army Signal Corps.
  The movie Sergeant York was released.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Sergeant York  in  America First—100 Stories from Our History  by  Lawton B. Evans

Short Biography
General Pershing Leader of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I.
Woodrow Wilson United States President during the First World War. Founder of the League of Nations.