Sgt. Alvin Cullum York
Sergeant York represents an American type of a generation previous to ours. It’s true he was a hero, but he also represented a type. He was a backwoods boy that made good in the outside world. Abe Lincoln fit the type and before him, David Crockett, Andrew Jackson or Sam Houston having become successful as congressmen and even presidents, also characterized the type.
Raised with ten other brothers and sisters in a one room cabin in a remote valley in the Tennessee mountains, he understood life with very few of the necessities that we feel are indispensable today. During his late teens and early adulthood he went through a wild period of drinking and cutting up in the various taverns to be found on the state line. He quit drinking and settled down after embracing Christianity, an act which he attributed to his mother’s Godly life style and prayers. His father had died many years prior, but not before teaching Alvin the value of a good rifle.
At the outbreak of WW 1, he filed as a conscientious objector, based on his religious convictions. However after much consideration and sixteen hours of fasting and prayer, he changed his mind and decided he would go and serve his time in the U.S. infantry.
The rest of the story is well known. In France his unit was trapped behind enemy lines and pinned down in the mud. While everyone lay on the ground, Alvin stood upright, and with his bolt action 30-06 Springfield and a pistol, he knocked out over a dozen machine gun positions. During the entire exchange York was the only American to fire a shot. He finally convinced the Germans to surrender, which they did believing they were surrounded by an entire division. Every bush on the ground in front of him had been cut down by machine gun fire.
He finished the day by marching the 136 surviving German troops back to the American side of the line and captivity. When asked by reporters to explain his remarkable feat, he attributed the whole affair to God. He said that God had told him in prayer, prior to leaving Tennessee that he would return to his native home without so much as losing “nary a hair on my haid”.
York went on to use his fame and influence, and much of the earnings from a book and movie, to establish the first schools (of a variety of types, trade, homemaking and academic) and year around roads in his part of the mountains. Alvin Cullum York. The last of a type perhaps, yet it was a type that left a positive imprint on the American fabric.