The Greatest American Hero of WWI

Alvin YorkMedal of Honor recipient Sergeant Alvin York. He was born on December 13, 1887, and he died September 2, 1964. The image, Copyright Underwood & Underwood, is a 1919 image of the sergeant after his promotion. Click for a larger view and some more info.

York served in the 82nd Division of the US Army, which today is usually known as the 82nd Airborne Division. (That’s important for the Musical Interlude part of the post.)

On October 8th, 1918, during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Corporal Alvin York’s battalion was assigned to capture German positions near Hill 223. For his actions that day, he received the Distinguished Service Cross, was later awarded the Medal of Honor, promoted to the rank of Sergeant, and he was also decorated by the French receiving the Croix de Guerre, the Medaille Militaire and the Legion of Honour.

So what did he do to achieve all that?

On October 8, 1918, Corporal Alvin C. York and sixteen other soldiers under the command of Sergeant Bernard Early were dispatched before sunrise to take command of the Decauville railroad behind Hill 223 in the Chatel-Chehery sector of the Meuse-Argonne sector. The seventeen men, due to a misreading of their map (which was in French not English) mistakenly wound up behind enemy lines. A brief fire fight ensued which resulted in the confusion and the unexpected surrender of a superior German force to the seventeen soldiers. Once the Germans realized that the American contingent was limited, machine gunners on the hill overlooking the scene turned the gun away from the front and toward their own troops. After ordering the German soldiers to lie down, the machine gun opened fire resulting in the deaths of nine Americans, including York’s best friend in the outfit, Murray Savage. Sergeant Early received seventeen bullet wounds and turned the command over to corporals Harry Parsons and William Cutting, who ordered York to silence the machine gun. York was successful and when all was said and done, nine men had captured 132 prisoners.

His actions were ignored, and then in usual American media fashion blown out of all proportion. Others were ignored, it took until 1927 before two others, Sergeant Early and Corporal Cutting, would be awarded Distinguished Service Crosses.

By the end of the engagement, York and his seven men marched their German prisoners back to the American lines. Upon returning to his unit, York reported to his brigade commander, Brigadier General Julian Robert Lindsey, who remarked: “Well York, I hear you have captured the whole German army.” York replied: “No sir. I got only 132.”

And so we get another bonus Musical Interlude this week. I’ve put this in Metal for Mondays, for my own benefit, even though today isn’t Monday…

This is “82nd All The Way” by Amaranthe, a cover of a song originally by Sabaton. They released this song in January of this year, ahead of their COVID-19-canceled summer tour. Here’s a link to the lyrics for completeness.

There is a 1941 Hollywood biography of his life, Sergeant York. It stars Gary Cooper. I don’t think it is particularly good, and it is way too long. As I write this it is currently available on YouTube. Free in incredibly low resolution, and paid for higher definition. Though of course that may change at any time.

2 thoughts on “The Greatest American Hero of WWI

  1. Pingback: In The Mailbox: 10.08.20 : The Other McCain

  2. The end of the War was one month away. German troops were very disheartened and surrendering was not a problem for many of them. This factor cannot be ignored. Nobody wanted to be the last guy to die.

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