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A Picture from History: Sergeant Alvin C. York

One of 11 children born to a farmer in the woods of Tennessee, Alvin York was forced to grow up fast.

After his father’s passing, the care of York’s mother and siblings fell to him.

York Family
Sergeant Alvin C. York at his Tennessee home. York’s mother pours water into the basin while his younger sister stands on the cabin’s porch.

And he did what he could to keep them fed and sheltered – much of this involved hunting in the surrounding forests.

Life grew to be too much of a burden, though. York filled the void with booze, eventually becoming a violent alcoholic.

After witnessing his friend beaten to death in a brawl, York decided something needed to change.

Sergeant Alvin C. York
Sergeant Alvin C. York

He quit bar fighting, got sober, and became a devoted Christian.

And then came the war to end all wars…

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The Day A War Hero is Made

Due to his stance as an adamant pacifist, York was confused when his draft notice came in the mail during the First World War.

However, after much discussion and prayer, York came to the conclusion that it was indeed God’s will for him to fight.

York Mom
York poses with a picture of his mother. (Photo: Sgt. York Patriotic Foundation)

He shipped out to France not long afterward.

On October 8, 1918, York’s company, led by Bernard Early, was ordered forward to capture a railroad in the near distance.

While moving through a triangular valley en route, Early quickly realized his mistake. The company had just walked into a very deadly trap.

German machine-gun fire erupted all around them. Nests placed in the surrounding hillsides pinned the Americans down.

German MG08 Machine Gun
Germans with an MG08 Machine Gun

Early directed some of the men to use the hills and brush as cover — sneaking around the flank of one of the nearest nests to attack from the rear.

They were successful in doing so, capturing the German HQ and a gaggle of POWs. But then more machine guns opened fire on them, killing six and wounding three.

One of those men was Early.

Command of the battalion now fell to York.

York ordered his men behind cover to guard the POWs as he set off to deal with the machine guns himself.

Alvin York Painting
Sergeant Alvin York during the action of October 8, 1918. (Artist: Frank Schoonover.)

Beginning from a prone position, York picked off the gunners one by one with his bolt-action 1903 Springfield.

German Assault

As he picked off machine gunners, he attracted the attention of a group of Germans in a nearby trench.

With bayonets leveled, six German soldiers emerged and charged after York. They had one goal in mind…to impale him.

By this point, York’s rifle was running low on ammunition with no time to reload. So, he quickly drew his 1911 and dropped every single German before they got close.

WWI Colt USGI M1911
WWI Colt USGI M1911

York switched back to his 1903 Springfield to deal with the remaining machine guns, putting more lead downfield.

After killing what he estimated to be about 20 Germans, he called for the remainder to surrender.

US Marines with M1903s in 1918
U.S. Marines with M1903s in 1918

The captured German major – thinking that the Americans were numerically superior – then ordered the men off in the distance to surrender.

One hundred Germans exited their hiding places to become POWs of York and his seven men.

As York and his men escorted the POWs back to headquarters, they captured 30 more Germans.

Despite pushing through incoming artillery fire, York escorted everyone back to his battalion headquarters 10 miles away at Varennes.

York Standing on Hill of Raid
York Standing on the hill the raid took place.

The end catch…132 German POWs.

York still had work to do, though.

He returned to the front where he fought and captured the Decauville Railroad.

By the end of the day, York took 35 enemy guns. He wrote about his war experiences extensively in his diary.

14
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

The End of One Man’s War

After the war, York returned to Tennessee with a Medal of Honor around his neck.

He married his beloved “Miss Gracie.” Together, they had 10 kids.

Statue of York in TN
Statue of Sergeant Alvin C. York at the Tennessee State House in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo: Sgt. York Patriotic Foundation)

This is a new style of article for Pew Pew Tactical, if you liked it — let us know in the comments! If you didn’t enjoy it…well phooey. To catch up on previous Pictures From History, click on over to our History Category.

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42 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Slay

    Hey I liked it.

    August 25, 2021 9:20 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Ronald Rierson

    I thoroughly enjoy history. Some aspects of history can be repeated and others such as the atrocities of the Nazis, Russians and Japanese should not. If we forget about our history we are apt to repeat it.

    August 2, 2021 5:33 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Gun Nut

    I have read differing accounts of which rifle York was actually carrying on 8 October, with most pointing to the M1917 Enfield, and not the M1903 as stated above.

    July 20, 2021 7:36 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Aden Tate

      That's what he was originally issued, yes, but he swapped it for a 1903.

      July 20, 2021 5:25 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Michael C.

    This kind of story telling is reminiscent of Jesse Kelly’s… like a good book you can’t put down or movie you can’t stop watching. Well done. More please.

    July 19, 2021 3:57 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Roger Thibodeau

    Love these history lessons. Please keep it up! The men and women you write about deserve our attention and praise. We solute them.

    July 19, 2021 3:43 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Duane

    Good article. I’d read more like this. Thank you.

    July 19, 2021 11:35 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    michael stroup

    Nicely done... there was a movie made 70 years ago... I think Allen Ladd was the actor who played Sgt York...

    July 19, 2021 10:20 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      michael stroup

      it was actually Gary Cooper.... Alvin York had an interesting life story AFT WW1 too.... and you can visit his home in Pall Mall Tn...

      July 19, 2021 1:15 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    David Barrett

    Very good article. Well researched. Well Written. Enjoy reading material from Pew Pew Tactical, my go-to web site.

    July 19, 2021 9:41 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Ed Opitz

    Loved the Alvin York article. More articles of this type should be forthcoming. God Bless the USA!

    July 19, 2021 9:05 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Steve Beacon

    Well written. Yes, continue on this type of article.

    July 19, 2021 8:57 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jim Brausch

    A good read, a good format.

    July 19, 2021 7:53 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Craig

    Great article! Loved it! More please!

    July 19, 2021 5:53 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Tad

    Love it!!

    July 19, 2021 5:38 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Larry

    History articles are gyrations keep it up.

    July 18, 2021 8:08 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Larry

    Love your history article

    July 18, 2021 8:07 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    jerry mayo

    I LOVED IT. I was very well aware of Mr York but never tire hearing about bravery - the kind that makes America special. I also might suggest Chester Pulley as a subject. THANK YOU FOR THE ARTICLE

    July 18, 2021 7:31 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Trail_chic42

    As an army veteran I am familiar with this amazing story. I hope you’ll continue to add historical stories like this. Every gun has a history as does every person.

    July 18, 2021 6:25 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Billy Smith

    Loved the history of sergeant York. Our country needs more articles like this.
    THANK YOU

    July 18, 2021 6:23 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    TDV

    Really enjoyed the quick history of Sgt. York's famous action in WWI. Hope you'll keep these inspiring stories coming!

    July 18, 2021 6:23 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Greg Garrett

    Nice article, keep it up

    July 18, 2021 6:22 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    George Sandlin, USN

    Keep up these patriotic history articles. We Veterans need to let our upcoming children know that a hero can step up for our America when needed from anywhere and can be anyone.

    July 18, 2021 5:43 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    D Stallard

    I really enjoyed this article on Sgt York. Keep up the good work on these stories.

    July 18, 2021 5:28 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Stuart H Blodgett

    Well I enjoyed the article. Please keep them coming.

    July 18, 2021 5:03 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Mitch Turnipseed

    Excellent article on Sgt. York! I wish more people knew of his amazing courage and feats! Well done and thank you!

    Mitch Turnipseed
    Georgia

    July 18, 2021 4:58 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Dave

    Keep the stories coming, my father was a Korean war veteran and a member of the "Chosin Few". Combat veterans are a whole different breed and they are never the same afterward. Their stories deserve to be told and they deserve to be remembered for what they endured.

    July 18, 2021 4:54 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Terry Bean

    Most have forgotten Alvin York and his ilk. America has been blessed throughout its history with REAL heroes who have risen to the task at hand while inspiring others to accomplish feats they never thought possible. While not all American heroes have attained the status of Alvin York; all need to be celebrated or, at least, recognized. This subject is indeed timely today. If there is anything our culture needs it's a clear depiction of true heroism. Keep it up, don’t compromise, don’t apologize.

    July 18, 2021 4:46 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Thomas

    Incredible account of a real American hero. I enjoyed the style of the story ; with a short capsule of Sargent York's early life and a hint of his life after the War.
    Thank you for this enjoyable history lesson.

    July 18, 2021 4:06 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Aden Tate

      More on the way, Thomas! So stay tuned!

      July 18, 2021 5:00 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Regular Guy

    It was an enjoyable read. I liked learning about a real American bad ass, and not some Hollywood BS. I can't help but think adversity helped him. He learned to be tough and survive because others were counting on him. Not unlike his heroic actions in WW I. I also love the part about the .45 taking out the six enemy troops. Love that .45!

    July 18, 2021 5:29 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Dave

    Stories like this one demonstrate the importance of courage and character over hardware. The outcome of conflicts are determined by the former.

    July 17, 2021 8:17 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Frank

    Loving these articles.

    July 17, 2021 7:36 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Aden Tate

      Thanks for being frank, Frank! Glad you're enjoying them!

      July 17, 2021 3:30 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    JCM

    Actually, Sgt. York was issued an M1917 rifle, not an M1903 as stated in the article.

    July 17, 2021 7:29 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Aden Tate

      He may have been initially issued the M1917, but according to his journal, at some point they were issued different weapons once they arrived in Europe. As such, it's not entirely clear, (you'll hear back and forth) but the general consensus seems to be that it was an M1903.

      July 17, 2021 3:30 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Will

    What a great story. People need to be reminded of the great Americans of our history. Thank you.

    July 17, 2021 6:07 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Aden Tate

      I agree. American history rocks.

      July 17, 2021 3:32 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Greg

    Great article! Stories like this need to be told and retold. Keep it up.......someone needs to!

    July 16, 2021 5:09 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Aden Tate

      Thanks for the encouragement, Greg!

      July 17, 2021 3:31 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Erik

    Thanks for writing this informative short story, it was a good read!

    July 16, 2021 11:40 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Aden Tate

      No problemo, Erik! I'm glad you liked it!

      July 16, 2021 12:25 pm
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