Saturday, January 23, 2016

Sergeant York, A Humble Man of God....

We finished reading Sergeant York by John Perry as part of our Beautiful Feet Modern American and World History study.
When Sergeant York came home to a hero's welcome in 1919, his was the biggest ticker-tape parade in New York history up to that time.  Day after day his name appeared in the New York Times.  He was an international celebrity.  Today most Americans younger than fifty have never heard of him...  (p. 157)
Sadly, I was among most Americans younger than fifty who had never heard of Sgt. Alvin C. York.  This line in the story really bothered Ruben as York's character had a huge impact on him....really on all of us.

York was a humble backwoods farmer from TN, who turned from the grips of alcohol to God.  He not only singlehandedly broke up a machine gun nest and captured 132 German soldiers toward the end of WWI, but his speeches helped rally people in support of the U.S. entering WWII.  Upon his return from WWI, he fought relentlessly for the education of poor children in TN.

Perry's book is part of the Christian Encounters series.  His story is told from "exclusive interviews with the sergeant's three surviving children and information drawn from battlefield eyewitness reports and original film studio archives...".  There are excerpts from York's personal journal throughout.

As part of the BF final project after reading Sergeant York, Ruben dictated a biographical sketch to me while I typed.  Then he and I worked together to finalize the following...
Alvin C. York was born in Pall Mall, TN on December 13, 1887. He grew to be a backwoods farmer and hunter. In his early years, he was a drunkard, but after his father died, at his mother’s request, he became a Christian. York started going to church and met Pastor Pile, who became a close friend to him.

In 1917, York was drafted to serve in the army to fight against Germany during WWI. He didn’t like the thought of going to war and killing people, but after he thought about it for a while, he felt God was calling him to go to war and fight for his country.

I wouldn’t like to go to war and fight other people. I wouldn’t like the thought of getting killed. God tells us in the bible, “Do not kill.” However, I think York did the right thing by going to fight for his country.

York served in France. On October 8, 1918, he became famous for the battle at Hill 223. It was here, he encountered a German Machine Gun nest. York killed 20 German soldiers and captured 132 more. He also took 32 machine guns. From that day forward, York became an international hero and was awarded Medals of Honor. He declined fame and fortune and just wanted to get back home to his family and farm in Tennessee.

York knew Gracie Williams all his life, but when he was a drunkard, she didn’t like him. After York became a Christian, he and Gracie fell in love. After the war, in 1919, they married and went on to have ten children.

York wanted to start a school for backwoods Tennessee children who didn’t have enough money to go to school. York struggled financially throughout his life and nearly went bankrupt trying to build the school.

Finally, after twenty years of declining finances and fame, York agreed to have a movie made in his honor. He wanted to raise money for the school. His only condition was that Gary Cooper must play the role of York.

One month before the movie premiere, York gave one of his most compelling speeches at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. As the world was on the brink of WWII, he encouraged America to fight to keep its liberty. He stated,
“We are standing at a crossroads in history. The important capitals of the world in a few years will either be Berlin and Moscow, or Washington and London. I for one prefer Congress and Parliament to Hitler’s Reichstag and Stalin’s Kremlin. And because we were, for a time, side by side, I know this Unknown Soldier does too.
We owe it to him to renew that lease on liberty he helped us to get.
May God help us to be equal to the test.”
The movie was a success. York earned money to build his school and pay off some debt. America went on to fight in WWII.

After declining health, Sergeant Alvin C. York died on September 2, 1964. Gracie died twenty years later. York’s school is still standing in operation today.
Upon finishing Sergeant York the book, we watched Sergeant York, the movie starring Gary Cooper.  Of course, it strayed a bit from Perry's book, but it was still well done and a great family movie night film.  If you haven't already studied Sergeant Alvin C. York, I would highly encourage you to do so.  Even though Riley and I enjoyed his character immensely, I think he would resonate best with boys.

By the way, Sergeant York and His People by Sam K. Cowan; Sergeant York and The Great War by Tom Skeyhill, and Sgt. York: His Life, Legend & Legacy by John Perry are all listed on A Visual American History Timeline of Books, though I have not yet read them.

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