Alvin Cullum York was born on December 13, 1887 was born in a log cabin in Pall Mall, Tennessee, the third of eleven children born to Mary Brooks and William York. William York worked as a farmer and a blacksmith, and the family collected its own wood and made their own clothing. Alvin York only attended school for nine months because his father wanted him to help run the farm and hunt game. In 1911, William York died, and because Alvin was he oldest sibling still in the country, he supported the family as a logger and as a railroad worker. During this time, he gained a reputation as an alcoholic and as a fighter. This continued until 1915, when he converted to Christianity. He joined the Church of Christ in Christian Union, which was opposed to all forms of violence.
World War I
Because of his religious views, York was worried when the United States entered World War I in 1917. York, like all other men between the ages of 21 and 31, was forced to sign up for the draft. On his draft form, there was a question that read "Do you claim exemption from draft?", and York responded by writing "Yes. Don't want to fight." His claim was denied. He was drafted into the United States Army and served in Company G, 328th Infantry Regiment, 82nd Infantry Division at Camp Gordon, Georgia. Other soldiers convinced York of the morality of the war, and York became convinced that God would keep him safe.
Medal of Honor
Under the command of Sergeant Bernard Early, Cpl. York and seventeen others went behind German lines to take out the machine guns. The group made their way to the German headquarters, capturing a large group of German soldiers, but while dealing with the prisoners, the group was showered with machine gun fire. Nine soldiers were killed, including Sergeant Early. This left York in charge of the remaining seven U.S. soldiers. He told his men to get undercover, then York worked his way to the German machine guns. The machine guns began open firing at York, who returned fire with his rifle. Even though there were over 30 Germans on duty around the machine guns, York picked them off, one by one. When six Germans charged him with bayonets, he drew his Colt automatic pistol and shot all the soldiers before they reached him. After emptying his pistol while trying to hit York, German First Lieutenant Paul Jurgen Vollmer offered to surrender the unit to York, who accepted. York and his seven men marched back to American lines with 132 German prisoners. York was honored with the American Distinguished Service Cross, the Medal of Honor, the French Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honor, and the Italian Croce di Guerra al Merito.
York's story was relatively unknown until 1919, when his story was published by George Patullo in the Saturday Evening Post, which made him an American hero. He died on September 2, 1964 of a cerebral hemorrhage. Over the course of his life, he received over fifty decorations. Alvin York is on our list because he has one of the most epic war stories of all time. He is a true hero of the battlefield.