Sgt. Alvin York: The greatest soldier of all time

Published: 6 March 2023

By Bob Alvis
via the Aerotech News web site

Gary Cooper

Gary Cooper played Sgt. Alvin York in the 1941 movie “Sergeant York.” (Courtesy photograph)

Spending your life around the military and educating yourself about the sacrifices, heroics, and commitments, you realize it’s pretty easy to look at all branches of the military and find many individuals who have gone above and beyond their oath and served in a manner that made them legendary.

With all the men and women who have served in the United States military in every war and conflict, it seems like trying to find that one soldier who transcends them all would be difficult.

Funny, while researching a different subject matter, a story I thought I knew very well came to light and the further I went down that trail, the more I learned about a soldier who was pretty famous, but his back story and life overall made me realize that his military service added up to considering him the greatest soldier of all time.

Few would have guessed at his humble birth in a one-room cabin on Dec. 13, 1887, that Alvin Cullum York would become the standard of excellence for a military man.

Sgt. Alvin York and his mother on return from World War I.

Sgt. Alvin York and his mother on return from World War I.

Born in Pall Mall, Tenn., Alvin York was the third of 11 children. Raised on a small farm, the son of a poor blacksmith left school after the third grade, admitted that in his youth he was “wild and bad for five or six years.”

He recalled: “I used to drink a lot of moonshine. I used to gamble my wages away week after week. I used to stay out late at night. I had a powerful lot of fist fights … I knew all the time I was going along this kind of life, deep down in my heart, that I was doing things that were not right.”

Alvin told of coming home one night “after being very drunk and fighting.” His mother, who had continually pleaded with her son to change his ways, asked him a simple question: “Alvin, when are you going to be a man like your father and your grandfathers?”

York recalled, “I promised my mother that night I would never drink again; I would never smoke or chew again; I would never gamble again; I would never cuss or fight again. And I have never drunk any whiskey, I have never touched cards, I have never smoked or chewed, and I have never fought or rough-housed since that night.”

When World War I came around, those that fought it called it the “war to end all wars” as it was as brutal as any war could have ever been. The mechanized weapons and the trench-style warfare produced killing fields that could be called the worst of all time.

When the draft came for Alvin, he had become a devout Christian and as killing went against his teaching, he fought with himself as to which leader he should answer to: His God or his country.

In June 1917, at age 29, Alvin York received his notice to register for the draft. On the same day York started a diary, which he kept faithfully throughout the war.

Read the entire article on the Aerotech News web site here:

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