Alvin C. York Day
annually on October 8th
Today we remember the famed World War I hero, Alvin C. York. Born on December 13, 1887, in Pall Mall, Tennessee, York became a member of the Church of Christ in Christian Union while in his twenties. This fundamentalist group forbade violence, among other things, which influenced York to become a pacifist. After receiving his draft registration notice, his pastor advised him to seek conscientious objector status. He wrote "Don't want to fight" on his draft card before registering. His request was denied, he was drafted in November 1917, and was sent to basic training.
York became a member of Company G, 238th Infantry Regiment, 82nd Infantry Division. At Camp Gordon in Georgia, two of his superiors convinced him of Biblical justification for war, and he became convinced that God wanted him to fight. York arrived in France in May 1918. After being promoted to corporal, he fought in the St. Mihiel offensive that September.
Soon afterward, the 82nd Infantry Division took part in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive near Chatel-Chehery, France. On October 7, York's unit was given orders to take Hill 223 the following morning, and then to advance to Decauville Railroad. The Americans took the hill around 6 a.m., but after continuing forward, while in a valley, they were pinned down by German machine gunners attacking from surrounding hills, and suffered many casualties.
Four officers, including York, and thirteen privates were sent behind enemy lines in order to take out the German machine-gun nests. It started well, with the group going up one of the hills, taking over a unit headquarters, and lining up German prisoners. But, machine-gun fire erupted from one of the slopes, and three officers and six of the privates were hit. York was then in command and had seven men with him. He had his men guard the prisoners, and went on his own, creeping toward the machine gunners. He eventually was spotted, and a total of six German soldiers came after him with bayonets, only to be taken down by York's pistol. York then returned to his rifle and sniped German machine gunners, taking out about 20 of them, and then calling for their surrender.
On account of the heroism of Alvin C. York, the Americans won the battle. York and his remaining seven privates captured 132 German prisoners in total, and they then rejoined the fight to Decauville Railroad, which also was successful, with a position being secured. Afterward, York was promoted to sergeant and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. He was awarded the Medal of Honor on April 18, 1919, and also received the French Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honour and the Italian Croce el Merito di Guerra. Upon returning to the United States in late-May 1919, he received a ticker-tape parade in New York City.
York married Gracie Williams, with whom he had ten children, eight of which made it to adulthood. He became a celebrity and did speaking tours, but largely eschewed fame, and instead focused on improving education for youth. A fruit of this was the opening of the Alvin C. York Agricultural Institute in Jamestown, Tennessee, in 1926. Today it is Jamestown's high school. In 1941, Gary Cooper played York in Sergeant York. The film fared well at the box office, and Cooper won an Academy Award for his role.
Before Pearl Harbor, York was opposed to involvement in World War II, although he helped restart the Tennessee State Guard in 1941, and served as a colonel in it. When the United States entered the war, York became a spokesperson for the pro-war Fight For Freedom Committee. He tried to re-enlist in the Army but was not allowed in because of his age and weight. Instead, he participated in war bond and inspection tours. York suffered a stroke in 1954 and passed away ten years later, on September 2, 1964. In the 2000s, York's account of his fight was corroborated by scientific evidence, showing that his high regard over the years was justified, and illustrating why his continued remembrance on Alvin C. York Day is appropriate.
How to Observe
One way to celebrate the day is to travel to a location of significance to Alvin C. York. There is perhaps no better place to stop than the location where York demonstrated his feat of bravery. Other sites where you could stop include the Sgt. Alvin C. York State Historic Park, which is located where York's farm was in Pall Mall, Tennessee; the Alvin C. York Institute in Jamestown, Tennessee, which is now a high school; and the Tennessee State Capitol, where a statue of York is located. If staying closer to home better suits you, you could watch Sergeant York or read a book about York, such as Sergeant York: His Own Life Story and War Diary or Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne. You could also join the Sergeant York Patriotic Foundation.