The 11th of 13 children, Alvin Cullum York was born on December 13th, 1887 to parents Mary Elizabeth and William Uriah York, in a rural area outside of Pall Mall Tennessee in a two room log cabin. The York children attended school for less than a year because of the need for them to help support the family. The York sons worked on the farm harvesting for the family and their mother made all their clothing. Their father, William worked as a blacksmith to supplement their livelihood.
Alvin York was prone to drinking heavily and fighting often. Despite these negative attributes he was a regular church goer and attended the Church of Christ of Christian Union, a Protestant denomination. It was in 1914 at a revival meeting that York decided to mend his ways, giving up drinking and fighting to live a Christian life. With the advent of World War I a draft was instituted for all men ages 21 to 31 and on June 17th, 1917 Alvin York at the age of 29 signed as a conscientious objector. His request was rejected then he appealed and was denied a second time.
In November 1917 York was drafted into the Army and trained at Camp Gordon in Georgia. Alvin York spoke often with his company commander and his battalion commander about his feelings about war and killing. His battalion commander was a devout Christian and understood the conflict going on in York’s mind. He quoted verses out of the Bible that pertained to violence and when such violence is acceptable in the eyes of the Lord. His commander gave him a 10 day pass to go home and think about what they discussed. Alvin York returned to camp convinced that God meant for him to fight and He would keep him safe.
Soon after returning to camp his battalion was sent to fight on the front lines in France. Through his actions on the battlefield and heroism he was promoted to sergeant. Sergeant Alvin York was the decorated United States solider in World War I. During his service in the war he was awarded the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, and World War I Victory Medal by the U.S. government. The French awarded him the French Legion of Honor and the Croix de Guerre. He was also awarded the Italian Croce di Guerra and the Montenegro war medal from Italy.
After the war Alvin was presented with many opportunities to profit from his war experiences but refused most of them. Instead he used his fame to raise funds for charities and the Alvin C York Foundation that he established in 1920. Its purpose was to create education opportunities in his region of Tennessee. York reenlisted in the army during World War II but due to his overweight and arthritis was rejected. Instead he was given a special commission and was made a major. His job was to sell war bonds and visit training camps around the country.
Sergeant Alvin C. York was feted with many honors such as having buildings and streets named after him. The United States postal Service commemorated a stamp in his name in their Distinguished Service collection. The “riderless horse” in President Ronald Reagan’s funeral procession was named Sergeant York. Alvin C. York died on September 2nd 1964 in the Veteran’s Hospital in Nashville Tennessee of a cerebral hemorrhage.
Celebrate the brave men and women who serve in all our military branches, honor all the heroes of our armed forces. If you know anyone that served their country during war or is a member of the armed forces presently, show your appreciation for their devotion, their steadfast to stand with their country in defending its freedoms.
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By Victor Porrello
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