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Alvin York, Tennessee hero of WWI, believed killing was wrong
Alvin C. York didn’t want to go to war.
That’s essentially what he put on his draft card. To the question, “Do you claim exemption from draft (specify grounds)?” he wrote simply, “Yes, Don’t Want to Fight.” His faith said killing was wrong, and he believed it.
His conscientious objector status was denied, however, and York retreated to a mountain in Pall Mall, Tenn., his home all of his 30 years. There he prayed fervently before reporting to Camp Gordon, Georgia, in November of 1917. World War I was in its fourth year.
At the end of his leave after boot camp, York left home to rejoin his company, then convinced he was supposed to fight and that God would keep him safe. He shipped out to France in May of 1918. He had never traveled more than 50 miles from home.
Surely you’ve heard or read the rest of the war story: Alvin York was singled out as the greatest soldier of the war. On Oct. 8, 1918, in a 15-minute firefight behind enemy lines, he took out a machine gun nest and, along with eight men of his platoon, killed 25 German soldiers and took 132 others captive. The fight took place during the U.S.-led portion of the Meuse-Argonne Offense in France.
York became a famous man. He was awarded 20 medals, including the Medal of Honor and the French Croix de Guere. Years later, Gary Cooper portrayed him in an Academy Award-winning movie, “Sergeant York.”
That’s the short version of Alvin York the soldier. But what about Alvin York the man?
“He was the type person who, if somebody come up and needed help, he’d help ’em. He’d give ’em the last dollar he had or whatever.”
Andrew Jackson “Andy” York, one of Alvin York’s sons, is speaking by telephone from the home place in Pall Mall, Tenn., now part of a state park in his father’s name.
“People have got away from loving other people,” the son, 81, says. “But that’s the most powerful word in the Bible. Love.”
His daddy, he says, spoke all over the nation after he came home from the war. But he never told the family anything about what happened in France. The family learned details from his war record and a story in the Saturday Evening Post. He was a humble man, a peaceful man, Andy York says.
On the last page of his war diary, Alvin York wrote: “And I went back to the place on the mountain where I prayed before the war, and received my assurance from God that I would go and come back. And I just stayed out there and thanked the same God who had taken me through the war.”
York never wanted to go to war. But sometimes a person has no other choice.
Sunday is the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks on America. The war goes on. If he were here and able, would Alvin York be willing to fight?
Phil Hudgins’ column is published in many newspapers around the Southeast.