Sergeant Alvin York: World War I American Hero

Last week, marked the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Meuse-Argonne, a key turning point in America’s critical efforts to bring World War I to its conclusion.

Determined to hold its legendary Argonne Region Hindenburg Line, the Germans packed their defensive strong points with troops and armament, as they dug in to face the comparatively fresh American Expeditionary Force’s 82nd Infantry Division. The battle was a costly one for both sides, lasting for 47-days.

Enlistee, now-Corporal, Alvin York was a member of the 82nd. The Division was sent in with the hopes of smashing though the Line and finally forcing an overall German surrender. But well into the battle, an American battalion from the 82nd found itself surrounded by the Germans, cut off from the remaining Division troops, facing annihilation if not quickly provided a way to escape.  Alvin York’s unit was sent in to achieve that.  In short order, withering gun fire struck down several of those Americans, including the officers in command.  As the highest ranking unit member still standing, Corporal York took charge of his remaining men.

York led them forward in an attempt to confront the Germans from a better, more defensible position.  They were soon spotted, of course, and the close-in fight was on.  York, a Tennessee country boy, used to hunting while growing up, was an excellent shot.  He would quickly need to call on every bit of that skill.

He effectively took on an enemy machine gun position by himself.  He single-handedly killed 28 German soldiers on the way to ending the machine gun threat.  In a desperation move to get at York, a German officer and a handful of his men, decided to charge him head-on.  One by one, York picked off all of those charging, gun-firing men, leaving only the German officer.  At which point, York quickly stuck his .45 hand gun in the face of the German and told him, if he’d like to continue living, he was to immediately order all of his remaining troops to stop firing.  Choosing life, the German officer issued the order, and over 130 enemy soldiers left their cover and, effectively surrendered to Corporal York !!  He then ushered his prisoners on back to the American lines, ending one of the longest and costliest battles of the War.  With the American forces now largely unstoppable, the Meuse-Argonne campaign marked the beginning of the end for German forces in World War I.

Alvin York’s extraordinary heroism earned him a rapid promotion to Sergeant, but most impressively, for his valor in combat, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, with other awards to follow from our Allied nations.

Ever patriotic, when World War II began, he tried to enlist, but his age and health issues prevented that from happening.  Realizing his legendary value to the nation, the Army did choose to commission him as a Major in the Signal Corps, with the assignment of visiting with soldiers at training camps around America, and making public appearances to assist with the important sale of war bonds, on trips all around the country.  York passed away in 1964 at the age of 77. Although commissioned as a Major, to most Americans then and now, he will always be remembered as Sergeant York.

Alvin York is to be remembered as an outstanding, courageous soldier and hero in World War I, and joins the proud historic ranks of America’s finest military members in combat.