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 and from 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’s warning could not be heard and as if by design 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.
“The bullets were so close they burned my face,” he said later.
Although York was new to battle, in the mountains of Fentress County in eastern 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.
“The Germans were easy targets on this day at a distance of 40 yards,” York recalled later in his own vernacular. “I picked them off one after another. But I was very blessed because the enemy fire was whizzing all around me for what seemed like a long time.
“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,”
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 single handedly led to the allied victory that day, maintaining 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 the 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 o’ the Wolf” in Fentress County, Tennessee, 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, was a Tennessee ranger at the park for many years.
Editor’s note: Jadon Gibson is a freelance writer from Harrogate, TN. His writings are both historical and nostalgic in nature and can be read regularly at bereaonline.com
A Voice for God – a Voice for Good
Our good Lord in Heaven has been so good to us. Thanks to all of those who have given their time and lives in service to our country.
“Those of us in America are filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service,” President Woodrow Wilson said in commemoration of the first Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. “We have gratitude from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations.”
Thousands have given their lives in defense of our American way of life. As Billy Ray Cyrus sang, Some gave Some, Some gave All. We all have family or friends who have served in our Armed Forces through the years.
Marine George Meister, my wife’s brother, lost his life on the 12th day after arriving in the Vietnam War. My brother, Larry R. Gibson, author of Recollections of a Marine Attack Pilot, had two illustrious tours of duty in Vietnam. All four of my sister’s sons served honorably in the U. S. Army. My son Robert served 21 years in the Army including his part in Operation Desert Storm. Our son Remo served 24 years in the Air Force.
Thousands upon thousands of others gave some and thousands upon thousands of others gave all!
Thank you dear God for all of those who gave so much for our country and for their loved ones. Keep our nation safe through strength. In Jesus name, Amen.