Who's Who - Alvin C. York

Alvin C. York Alvin Cullum York (1887-1964) ended the First World War as one of America's most famous soldiers, with fame and popular recognition assured following a remarkable act of courage and coolness in October 1918.

Having grown up in poverty the young York honed his skills as a crack marksman, a useful talent for use in hunting food for himself and his family - and one put to high effect during the war.

Despite his remarkable reputation for bravery and the win-at-all-costs attitude displayed during his wartime service York was and remained a pacifist.  Following a religious conversion in 1911 - he became lay deacon of a local pacifist sect - he declared himself a convinced pacifist.

Consequently with the U.S. entry into World War One York initially returned his draft papers before they were summarily resent to him by the draft board, at which stage he was drafted into 328th Regiment, 82nd Infantry.  During training however he was convinced by his battalion commander, Gonzalo Edward Buxton - a fellow Bible student - that the Bible sanctioned active service.

Once in France the semi-literate York earned lifetime fame for his part in an attack in the Argonne Forest against German machine gun positions on 8 October 1918.  York, an acting Corporal, led 17 men in action against a German stronghold, the aim being to secure the position and return with German prisoners.

Initially successful without coming under fire, the small expedition took a number of prisoners before the Germans launched a heavy counterattack.  With 11 of York's men guarding the captured prisoners (and with the other six killed) York resolved to proceed alone and tackle the German gunners ranged against them.

Having shot some 17 gunners via sniping, York was charged by seven German soldiers who realised that he was operating on his own.  He killed them all with his pistol.  With the aid of a German Major captured earlier York brought in a total of 132 German prisoners, a remarkable feat.

He was well rewarded however, receiving lavish press coverage at home and the Congressional Medal of Honor, in addition to the French Croix de Guerre (and a fulsome citation from Supreme Allied Commander Ferdinand Foch).

Returning home to a New York City parade, York was awarded a gift of a farm by his home state, Tennessee.  A film of his life was made in 1940, Sergeant York, starring Gary Cooper; York used the fee he was paid for the film to fund a Bible college.

He died in 1964.

In slang a "beetle" was a landing craft for 200 men.

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