Alvin C. York

A higher power than man power guided and watched over me and told me what to do.

Alvin Cullum York (13 December 18872 September 1964) was a United States soldier, famous as a World War I hero. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine gun nest, taking control of 32 machine guns, killing 28 German soldiers and capturing 132 others.

See also:
Sergeant York (1941 film based on his Diary)

QuotesEdit

God would never be cruel enough to create a cyclone as terrible as that Argonne battle. Only man would ever think of doing an awful thing like that.
  • You know we were in the Argonne Forest twenty-eight days, and had some mighty hard fighting in there. A lot of our boys were killed off. Every company has to have so many sergeants. They needed a sergeant; and they jes' took me.
    • On how he came to be known as "Sergeant York" when he was still technically only a corporal, as quoted in Sergeant York And His People (1922) by Sam K. Cowan, Ch. I : A Fight In The Forest Of The Argonne

Diary of Alvin YorkEdit

I'm telling you the little log cabin in Wolf Valley in old Tennessee seemed a long long way off.
Accounts as published in Understanding the Odyssey : A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historic Documents (2003) by Claudia D. Johnson and Online text at The Internet Archive
All the time I kept yelling at them to come down. I didn't want to kill any more than I had to. But it was they or I. And I was giving them the best I had.
I had orders to report to Brigadier General Lindsey, and he said to me, "Well, York, I hear you have captured the whole damned German army." And I told him I only had 132.
I noticed the bushes all around where I stood in my fight with the machine guns were all cut down. The bullets went over my head and on either side. But they never touched me.
No other power under heaven could bring a man out of a place like that. Men were killed on both sides of me; and I was the biggest and the most exposed of all.
This story has been carefully checked in every possible detail from headquarters of this division and is entirely substantiated.
Although York's statement tends to underestimate the desperate odds which he overcame, it has been decided to forward to higher authority the account given in his own name.
  • God would never be cruel enough to create a cyclone as terrible as that Argonne battle. Only man would ever think of doing an awful thing like that. It looked like "the abomination of desolation" must look like. And all through the long night those big guns flashed and growled just like the lightning and the thunder when it storms in the mountains at home.
    And, oh my, we had to pass the wounded. And some of them were on stretchers going back to the dressing stations, and some of them were lying around, moaning and twitching. And the dead were all along the road. And it was wet and cold. And it all made me think of the Bible and the story of the Anti-Christ and Armageddon.
    And I'm telling you the little log cabin in Wolf Valley in old Tennessee seemed a long long way off.
    • Account of 7 October 1918
  • We were deep in the brush and we couldn't see the Germans and they couldn't see us. But we could hear their machine guns shooting something awful. Savage's squad was leading, and mine, Early's and Cutting's followed. — And when we jumped across a little stream of water that was there, they was about 15 or 20 Germans jumped up and threw up their hands and said, "Kamerad!" So the one in charge of us boys told us not to shoot: they was going to give up anyway.
    It was headquarters. There were orderlies, stretcher bearers and runners, and a major and two other officers, They were just having breakfast and there was a mess of beef-steaks, jellies, jams, and loaf bread around. They were unarmed, all except the major.
    We jumped them right smart and covered them, and told them to throw up their hands and to keep them up. And they did. I guess they thought the whole American army was in their rear. And we didn't stop to tell them anything different. No shots were fired, and there was no talking between us except when we told them to "put them up."
    • Account of 8 October 1918
  • So by this time some of the Germans from on the hill was shooting at us. Well I was giving them the best I had, and by this time the Germans had got their machine guns turned around and fired on us. So they killed 6 and wounded 3 of us. So that just left 8, and then we got into it right by this time. So we had a hard battle for a little while —
    • Account of 8 October 1918
  • I don't know whether it was the German major, but one yelled something out in German that we couldn't understand. And then the machine guns on top swung around and opened fire on us. There were about thirty of them. They were commanding us from a hillside less than thirty yards away. They couldn't miss. And they didn't!
    They killed all of Savage's squad; they got all of mine but two; they wounded Cutting and killed two of his squad; and Early's squad was well back in the brush on the extreme right and not yet under the direct fire of the machine guns, and so they escaped. All except Early. He went down with three bullets in his body. That left me in command. I was right out there in the open.
    And those machine guns were spitting fire and cutting down the undergrowth all around me something awful.
    And the Germans were yelling orders. You never heard such a racket in all of your life. I didn't have time to dodge behind a tree or dive into the brush, I didn't even have time to kneel or lie down.
    I don't know what the other boys were doing. They claim They didn't fire a shot. They said afterwards they were on the right, guarding the prisoners. And the prisoners were lying down and the machine guns had to shoot over them to get me. As soon as the machine guns opened fire on me, I began to exchange shots with them.
    • Account of 8 October 1918
  • There were over thirty of them in continuous action, and all I could do was touch the Germans off just as fast as I could. I was sharpshooting. I don't think I missed a shot. It was no time to miss.
    In order to sight me or to swing their machine guns on me, the Germans had to show their heads above the trench, and every time I saw a head I just touched it off. All the time I kept yelling at them to come down. I didn't want to kill any more than I had to. But it was they or I. And I was giving them the best I had.
    Suddenly a German officer and five men jumped out of the trench and charged me with fixed bayonets. I changed to the old automatic and just touched them off too. I touched off the sixth man first, then the fifth, then the fourth, then the third and so on. I wanted them to keep coming.
    I didn't want the rear ones to see me touching off the front ones. I was afraid they would drop down and pump a volley into me. — and I got hold of the German major, and he told me if I wouldn't kill any more of them he would make them quit firing. So I told him all right, if he would do it now. So he blew a little whistle, and they quit shooting and come down and gave up.
    • Account of 8 October 1918
  • I had killed over twenty before the German major said he would make them give up. I covered him with my automatic and told him if he didn't make them stop firing I would take off his head next. And he knew I meant it. He told me if I didn't kill him, and if I stopped shooting the others in the trench, he would make them surrender.
    He blew a little whistle and they came down and began to gather around and throw down their guns and belts. All but one of them came off the hill with their hands up, and just before that one got to me he threw a little hand grenade which burst in the air in front of me.
    I had to touch him off. The rest surrendered without any more trouble. There were nearly 100 of them.
    • Account of 8 October 1918
  • So we had about 80 or 90 Germans there disarmed, and had another line of Germans to go through to get out. So I called for my men, and one of them answered from behind a big oak tree, and the others were on my right in the brush.
    So I said, "Let's get these Germans out of here."
    One of my men said, "it is impossible."
    So I said, "No; let's get them out."
    • Account of 8 October 1918
  • The major suggested we go down a gully, but I knew that was the wrong way. And I told him we were not going down any gully. We were going straight through the German front line trenches back to the American lines.
    It was their second line that I had captured. We sure did get a long way behind the German trenches! And so I marched them straight at that old German front line trench. And some more machine guns swung around and began to spit at us. I told the major to blow his whistle or I would take off his head and theirs too. So he blew his whistle and they all surrendered — all except one. I made the major order him to surrender twice. But he wouldn't. And I had to touch him off. I hated to do it. But I couldn't afford to take any chances and so I had to let him have it.
    • Account of 8 October 1918
  • There were considerably over 100 prisoners now. It was a problem to get them back safely to our own lines. There were so many of them, there was danger of our own artillery mistaking us for a German counterattack and opening upon us. I sure was relieved when we ran into the relief squads that had been sent forward through the brush to help us.
    • Account of 8 October 1918
  • On the way back we were constantly under heavy shell fire and I had to double time them to get them through safely.
    There was nothing to be gained by having any more of them wounded or killed. They had surrendered to me, and it was up to me to look after them. And so I did.
    • Account of 8 October 1918
  • I had orders to report to Brigadier General Lindsey, and he said to me, "Well, York, I hear you have captured the whole damned German army." And I told him I only had 132.
    • Account of 8 October 1918
  • So you can see here in this case of mine where God helped me out. I had been living for God and working in the church some time before I come to the army. So I am a witness to the fact that God did help me out of that hard battle; for the bushes were shot up all around me and I never got a scratch.
    • Account of 8 October 1918
  • I noticed the bushes all around where I stood in my fight with the machine guns were all cut down. The bullets went over my head and on either side. But they never touched me.
    • Account of 8 October 1918
  • After the Armistice was signed, I was ordered to go back to the scene of my fight with the machine guns. General Lindsey and some other generals went with me.
    We went over the ground carefully. The officers spent a right smart amount of time examining the hill and the trenches where the machine guns were, and measuring and discussing everything.
    And then General Lindsey asked me to describe the fight to him. And I did. And then he asked me to march him out just like I marched the German major out, over the same ground and back to the American lines.
    Our general was very popular. He was a natural born fighter and he could swear just as awful as he could fight. He could swear most awful bad.
    And when I marched him back to our old lines he said to me, "York, how did you do it?" And I answered him, "Sir, it is not man power. A higher power than man power guided and watched over me and told me what to do." And the general bowed his head and put his hand on my shoulder and solemnly said, "York, you are right."
    There can be no doubt in the world of the fact of the divine power being in that. No other power under heaven could bring a man out of a place like that. Men were killed on both sides of me; and I was the biggest and the most exposed of all. Over thirty machine guns were maintaining rapid fire at me, point-blank from a range of about twenty-five yards.
    • Addendum to the account of 8 October 1918

Quotes about YorkEdit

What you did was the greatest thing accomplished by any private soldier of all of the armies of Europe. ~ Ferdinand Foch
So accurate were his observations that the officers of his regiment looked upon him as one by nature a soldier, and they said of him that he "always seemed instinctively to know the right thing to do." ~ Sam K. Cowan
  • The part which Corporal York individually played in this attack (the capture of the Decauville Railroad) is difficult to estimate. Practically unassisted, he captured 132 Germans (three of whom were officers), took about thirty-five machine guns, and killed no less than twenty-five of the enemy, later found by others on the scene of York's extraordinary exploit.
    This story has been carefully checked in every possible detail from headquarters of this division and is entirely substantiated.
    Although York's statement tends to underestimate the desperate odds which he overcame, it has been decided to forward to higher authority the account given in his own name.
    The success of this assault had a far reaching effect in relieving the enemy pressure against American forces in the heart of the Argonne Forest.
    • Official report made by officers of the Eighty-Second Division to General Headquarters (1918)
  • Caught by the enemy in the cove of a hill in the Forest of Argonne, he did not run; but sank into the bushes and single-handed fought a battalion of German machine gunners until he made them come down that hill to him with their hands in air. There were one hundred and thirty-two of them left, and he marched them, prisoners, into the American line.
    Marshal Foch, in decorating him, said, "What you did was the greatest thing accomplished by any private soldier of all of the armies of Europe."
  • He came out of the mountains of Tennessee with an education equal to that of a child of eight or nine years of age, with no experience in the world beyond the primitive, wholesome life of his mountain community, with but little knowledge of the lives and customs, the ambitions and struggles of men who lived over the summit of the Blue Ridge and beyond the foot-hills of the Cumberlands.
    But he was wise enough to know there were many things he did not know. He was brave enough to frankly admit them. When placed in a situation that was new to him, he would try quietly to think his way out of it; and through inheritance and training he thought calmly. He had the mental power to stand at ease under any condition and await sufficient developments to justify him to speak or act. Even German bullets could not hurry nor disconcert him.
    He was keenly observant of all that went on around him in the training-camp. Few sounds or motions escaped him, though it was in a seemingly stoic mien that he contemplated the things that were new to him. In the presence of those whose knowledge or training he recognized as superior to his own he calmly waited for them to act, and so accurate were his observations that the officers of his regiment looked upon him as one by nature a soldier, and they said of him that he "always seemed instinctively to know the right thing to do."
    • Sam K. Cowan, in Sergeant York And His People (1922), Ch. VI : Sergeant York's Own Story

External linksEdit

Wikipedia
Wikipedia has an article about:
Commons
Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
Last modified on 12 March 2014, at 13:13