SERGEANT YORK the Christian Soldier
If someone remembers the name Sergeant York, they remark by saying, “That’s the movie starring Gary Cooper, right?” Who is this hillbilly from Tennessee? This is where our story begins.
In December 1887, in the hills of Pall Mall, Tennessee, Alvin York was born. Alvin came from a family of 10 brothers and sisters. His father, William York, was a blacksmith. He was known for his honesty and fairness, as well as, his good work. When people in the valley had disputes, they would go to him and accept whatever he decided was fair.
Alvin’s father loved to hunt and often took Alvin and his brothers with him. When Alvin grew, he became known as one of the best shots in the county. He was having a good life, but tragedy was about to hit the family.
Alvin’s father was kicked by a mule so hard that it lead to his death. This left Alvin the responsibility of leading their large family. Soon after his father’s death, Alvin started running around with the wrong crowd. He started to drink and smoke and was eventually known as a hell raiser.
His mother prayed for him. It seemed her prayers were in vain until one night when he and a friend were involved in a bar fight. His friend was shot and killed. Seeing his friend die had such an effect on him. Once when he came home, his mother was still up and visibly heartbroken over his life style. This caused Alvin to “break” and he promised he would no longer pursue that type of life style.
Alvin started going to church and soon received Christ as his Savior. Looking back at his former wild life, he realized how alcohol and smoking were destroying him. He then took every opportunity to speak against such things. Alvin soon fell in love with a girl named Gracie Williams. Now with a girl and his new faith, he was happier than any man could be. York’s happiness was about to be tried in the furnace of his faith.
President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany and soon Alvin was to be drafted into the armed services. Alvin was very troubled. Because of his faith in God, he did not believe in killing. He was now being called by his country to fight and kill the enemy.
When Alvin filled out his draft card he put in the comments that he did not want to fight and applied for an exemption. His exemption was denied. Soon after being inducted into the Army, Alvin’s sharpshooter skills were noticed. He had gained the respect of the men of his company and was promoted to the rank of Corporal. York was still battling over what he should do concerning not wanting to fight.
Major Buxton, who was York’s company commander, was also a Christian who had for many hours talked to him concerning the Bible and his situation. Soon, Major Buxton gave York a furlough to decide what he wanted to do.
During his time at home, Alvin went to one of the local hilltops. He prayed and fasted trying to decide what the Lord wanted him to do. One night, York said the spirit of the Lord came to him and revealed to him that he should go to war and that nothing, in any way, would hurt him.
Still not sure, but knowing that was what the Lord wanted, he stayed in the Army and did what he needed to do. His skills as a rifleman were about to be tested in the Argonne Forest in France. On October 8, 1918, York’s company was assigned to take Hill 223. When they got close, half of their company was wiped out by machine gun nests that were set in place on the hill.
Most of the company’s sergeants being dead or wounded, York was given command and was able to outflank the machine guns. He took out 25 Germans until they surrendered. The total prisoners that York took were 132. Once the prisoners were taken to the proper authorities, York went back to see if there were any survivors. He then said a prayer for those that were killed, especially the ones that he had killed.
Word got out about York’s heroic feat. He was then made Sergeant, as well as, awarded several medals including the Congressional Medal of Honor. York had become the most decorated soldier in American history. York was still against killing. But on that day, seeing enemy guns killing hundreds of good men, he felt that stopping those guns was, in turn, saving lives. Once back in the states, many companies were offering him large amounts of money to endorse products. He refused, by saying, “The uniform is not for sale.” After all the parades and honors that were bestowed upon him, York went back home to marry his Gracie and settle down. He soon realized that he wanted to build a school. He wanted the mountain children to get a good education, but most of all to learn about God.
York went all over the country raising money and giving speeches. The speeches were not about his experience in the Argonne Forest, but about the need for a school for mountain children in Tennessee. Years later, the school was built and classes were started. The school board officials constantly attacked York because of his religious teachings. When asked about his philosophy of education, York replied, “The only way to raise the standard in this country is by religion and education.” Once he remarked about a school in Florida. He said, “If this school is a center of learning, it will be well. But if it is a place where religious hatred is encouraged, it will be useless.”
In the late 1930s, York could see the evils of Hitler and Japan. Even though it was not popular to be for war, he felt we needed to be involved. Hollywood also wanted to do a movie on York. Although he had turned them down many times, he now thought it was time. Months before Pearl Harbor, the movie “Sergeant York”, starring Gary Cooper, was the movie everyone was seeing. It encouraged men to do what was right concerning our freedoms. During the war, York rallied and gave speeches to help the war effort. The proceeds York made from the movie served to pay back debts and to build a Bible college. When York was home, people from all over the country would come and visit him and his family. No one was ever turned away from a meal.
In 1954, York suffered a cerebral hemorrhage which caused him to be bedridden for the remainder of his life. To make matters worse, IRS informed him that he owed them over $170,000 in back taxes and penalties. An appeal was made that reduced the taxes to $26,000, but he was still unable to pay it.
Someone spoke to Ed Sullivan about making an announcement on his show concerning the Sergeant. Thousands of letters poured in with financial support. Those letters paid the taxes that were owed. In September 1964, Alvin C. York walked into the arms of his Savior. He is buried near the church were he first met the Savior. Not far from his grave is the hill where he was seeking guidance about fighting. Gracie lived another 20 years and died in September 1984. Alvin and Gracie had 10 children.
One of the things that Alvin wanted to be remembered by is from his own words:
“When I die, I had rather it be said about me that I gave my life toward aiding my fellow man than for it to be said that I became a millionaire through capitalizing on my fame as a fighter. I do not care to be remembered as a warrior, but as one who helped others to Christ.”
What a testimony of a simple man that allowed a loving Creator to direct his life in such a way that all could benefit from his example. Even though he could have had it all and had servants waiting on him, he chose rather be servant to all.
The most important decision Alvin decided in his life was where he would spend eternity? That was mine as well, should not that be yours as well.
Contributed by Jeff Strite on Mar 20, 2016
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