In the early morning hours of October 18, 1918, American forces in the French forest of Argonne were in a nearly impossible position.
The American offensive was attempting to push through the German defense to the Decauville Railroad, a major supply artery to the motherland.
As the sun burned away the morning mist, the “All America” 82nd Division was bombarded by artillery and heavy fire from entrenched German machine guns lining the tops of hills in three directions.
Alvin York and 16 other men were sent out to eliminate machine gunners who were picking off American soldiers as they attempted to advance. They scurried underneath enemy gunfire and boldly ascended the hillside and entered a trench in which they continued their single file climb up the hill.
After crossing the hilltop they came upon 20 Germans and captured them after a brief skirmish. York was then astounded at what he saw from his position that was apart from the other men. Lining the crest of the hill, 40 yards away, was a battalion of German machine gunners turning their guns toward them. The view of York’s fellow soldiers was blocked.
York attempted to warn his fellow soldiers but they could not hear him. The German prisoners dropped to the ground as the machine-gunners began peppering the Americans with machine gun and rifle fire. Nine of the 17 men were killed or wounded and the others could not move from their position. York was separated from the others but he also drew fire. He later said, “The bullets were so close they burned my face.”
Although York was new to battle, in the mountains of Fentress County, Tennessee, he had won fame for his outstanding eye with a rifle and revolver. He had been adept at shooting moving targets since he was a small boy and York said the Germans were easy targets at a distance of 40 yards. He picked them off one after another.
“Our men were all behind trees but there wasn’t a tree left for me. I just sat in the mud and used my rifle. When I seed a German, I jes’ tetched him off,” York recalled later, in his own vernacular, in explaining how he single-handedly broke the morale of the Germans.
Time and again York would yell out, “Come down”, after shooting an enemy soldier. It was an invitation for the Germans to surrender.
The Germans then sent a bayonet-charge of seven men after York which he resisted with his revolver. He shot those farthest away first, their bodies forming a line down the hillside. York later said if he had shot the ones nearest him first, the others may have panicked and taken shelter closer to him which could have made his position impossible to defend.
The battle continued until a German officer blew a whistle of surrender. York maintained his position as German after German rose, unbuckled munition belts, and trod down the hillside.
Although the other seven Americans were penned down by gunfire and could not aid York in his battle, they were able to assist him by watching his flank.
York and the American survivors marched the prisoners back through enemy territory. He held the German commander at gunpoint and forced him to have other German soldiers surrender as they were encountered. With great difficulty they snaked their way back to the American line and were greeted by cheers. York had captured 132 elite, well-armed German soldiers.
The message of York’s valor spread throughout the United States, France, Great Britain, Italy and other countries. It electrified a public who could not envision one man silencing a battalion of machine gunners and bringing in so many prisoners. All was verified.
General John Pershing awarded York the Congressional Medal of Honor, our highest award for valor, and called him “the greatest soldier of the war” and Marshal Foch called his feat, “the greatest achievement by an individual in the war.” The hill on which York’s heroics occurred was named York’s Hill.
York was accorded all the fanfare and adulation deserving of a national hero. Receptions, banquets, medals, news reports and even a popular movie documented his exploits.
He was offered residence in many places and countries but chose to return to the “Valley of the Three Forks of the Wolf” in Fentress County where the 48-mile mountainous road from the railway station to Pall Mall, Tn., was lined with people bidding him welcome home.
A statue of Alvin York rests on the grounds of Tennessee’s State Capitol and the York Grist Mill is part of Pickett State Park in Fentress County. Andy York, Alvin’s son, became a Tennessee ranger at the park.
This story is dedicated to all of our service men and women, both past and present. It’s also dedicated to all of our police officers who protect and make our lives safer on the home front. We Back the Blue and urge you to do likewise.
Editor’s note: Gibson is a freelance writer from Harrogate, TN.
A Voice for God – a voice for good
My good Lord in Heaven has been so good to me. Several times in recent months I began one of my Voice for God columns with gossiping and bullying as the subject matter but then discontinued it.
Recently I ran across a poem by Helen Steiner Rice – ‘Worry no more! God knows the score!’ The jist of the poem is apropos, on target, for what I had in mind. It brightened my day and can for others.
“Have you ever been caught in a web you didn’t weave, involved in conditions that are hard to believe?
Have you felt you must speak and explain and deny a story that’s groundless or a small whispered lie?
Have you ever heard rumors you would like to refute or some tell-tale gossip you would like to dispute?
Well, don’t be upset for God knows the score and with God as your judge you need worry no more.
For men may misjudge you but God’s verdict is fair For He looks deep inside and He is clearly aware.
Of every small detail in your pattern of living and always He is lenient and fair and forgiving –
And knowing that God is your judge and jury frees you completely from man’s falseness and fury.
And sure in this knowledge let your thoughts rise above man’s small shallow judgments that are so empty of
God’s Goodness and Greatness in judging all men And forget ‘ugly rumors’ and be happy again.”
Bullying and gossiping may be two of our leading social problems today. Some have said that many instances of suicide and some mass shootings are somehow related to bullying or to malicious untrue gossiping. Some youngsters withdraw into themselves and have difficulty coping when they are ostracized by their peers.
Some things are said to cause others to dislike or feel less about an individual. Although they may not believe it, some will repeat it to another and then to another. Grown-ups are guilty of this as well. In either case it damages the credibility of the innocent.
The innocent ones can take heart in Helen Steiner Rice’s poem however. God is the final judge and he is all-knowing.My good Lord in Heaven has been so good to me. He will be to you as well. Keep Him in your heart and talk to Him regularly in prayer.