America is a land filled with heroes. They come from every walk of life in this nation. Some are rich some are poor but they all have served their nation and made a sacrifice in doing so.
During World War I one of the greatest American heroes was Sgt. Alvin Callum York.
York was a country boy born on December 13, 1887 in a two room double pen cabin in Pall Mall, Tennessee. York was one of 11 children raised by a subsistence farming family in Fentress County, Tennessee. Here in the hill country of Tennessee education was not a high priority and York only had about 9 months schooling in his life. But despite the lack of education, he was to become a hero due to his dedication to duty as an American soldier.
As a young adult York was a hard drinking and gambling man but he was converted to Christianity in 1914 and he joined the Church of Christ in Christian Union. He became a devout church member and even led singing at his church. His conversion was complete and he quit all of his evil ways. But something would happen that would affect York’s lifestyle. On April 6, 1917 the United States declared war on Germany. On June 5, 1917 York, age 30, was drafted into the US Army.
Even though he entered the army as a conscientious objector, he was assigned to Company G 328th Infantry Regiment 82nd Infantry Division. He trained at camp Gordon, Georgia and was an odyssey by being an excellent marksman who wanted to not take part in the war. But his commanding officer debated with him and York saw that at times war is morally right and he agreed to fight. And fight he did!
On October 8, 1918 Corporal York and 16 soldiers of his unit were detailed to capture part of a railroad in the Meuse-Argonne sector.
Misreading their map that was printed in French, they ended up behind German lines.
After a brief firefight the large German contingent surrendered. When other German machine gunners saw just a small American force, they opened fire on the Americans and their own men.
With nine Americans dead and his platoon leader wounded, York advanced to silence the German machine gun emplacements. He was successful and wiped out all the German gun positions. He and his surviving men captured 132 German prisoners.
Due to his courageous exploits on the field of battle York was promoted to the rank of Sergeant and was awarded both the Distinguished Service Cross and the Medal of Honor.
York, the country boy from Tennessee, was proclaimed as the greatest American soldier of World War I.
He returned home to Tennessee and was presented a farm and home by the Rotary Club of Nashville. The old soldier had come home.
During the 192o’s and 1930’s York went on speaking tours and was involved in some state and national politics. Never wanting publicity, he finally allowed Hollywood to make a movie of his life. And what a big hit “Sgt. York” was in July 1941.
Little did York and Hollywood know but they were giving America a morale boost for the upcoming war on the horizon.
World War II began on December 7, 1941 for America. During World War II, York tried to enlist several times into the infantry but was turned down due to his age and due to health problems. But he wanted to do something for the war effort.
Getting with the US Army Signal Corps, York travelled all across the country on war bond tours, recruitment drives, and military camp inspections. But he also got to come to Louisiana. Yes he came to Camp Claiborne, Louisiana in 1942.
York’s old World War I unit, the 82nd Infantry Division, was reactivated on March 25, 1942 at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. Commander of this famous unit was Major General Omar N. Bradley who would become a hero and legend himself during World War II.
On May 7, 1942 the complete division held its first retreat ceremony since activation. And at this ceremony came York. He gave a very rousing speech to the men of his old unit.
He told them to leave alcohol alone and to read the Bible daily. He gave a morale-boosting speech that was enjoyed and appreciated by the whole 82nd Division.
On August 15, 1942, Sgt. York’s old division became one of the first airborne divisions formed in the American Army. It became a legend for its fighting capabilities just as one of its alumni, York had done in World War I.