Monday, November 16, 2015

The Legacy of Sgt York

Every Veterans Day we watch Sgt York, a true story about a man from the back country of Tennessee. He grew up in Daniel Boone territory in poverty with only 9 months education. Alvin York, himself, became a legend in WWI.  Although his marksmanship skills made him legendary, something deeper became his legacy. Even though I've watched this movie nearly every single year since I was a teenager, York's story powerfully affected me and my family especially more this season. Perhaps, the shooting in Paris had a lot to do with that.  (We didn't actually see the movie until the night after the shooting.)

York's marksmanship skills were legendary, as was his drinking and carousing. After becoming a Christian he reformed to become a model citizen of his community. Then the European war came to the backwoods when he received a telegram to report to duty. As a conscientious objector, he refused on religious grounds. However the law over ruled so he reported to Camp Gordon for training.

While there York drilled with superior sharpshooting skills, yet it was known that he was a conscientious objector. Therefore he met for many evenings with Maj. Buxton, a history scholar, and Capt. Danforth to discuss his concerns about fighting. The officers shared much Scripture, as well as history with York. Coming from the backwoods, York did not have a strong education. His schooling totalled only 9 months. (This was quite obvious to me when I read his diary.)

York was not familiar with his history. Yet after many talks with the major and captain, York was given a 10 day leave to think things through. I he still wanted to be discharged from the army, that would be granted. However York decided to stay in the army. 

During one of the battles on October 8, 1918 during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, sharpshooter York led an attack (which was mostly done singlehandedly) taking 32 guns, killing 20 Germans and taking 132 Germans prisoner, then marching them with the last few remains of his infantry ten miles to the American forces. (Video clip from the movie can be scene here.)

York received the highest honors of America and France. Why? Because he killed people? No, because he saved people. This awful war had been dragging on endlessly. York's heroism helped the allied cause in a most stunning way. A month later the entire Allied forces claimed victory with their many heroes when the war finally ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

Of course York did not want to be remembered for the killing. No soldier does. One does not become a soldier to kill. One becomes a soldier to save lives and defend freedoms, putting down tyranny.

When York returned home, he was offered wealth and fame, which he refused. He did not want to benefit from war even though he and his family were financially struggling.

However the state of Tennessee did gift York with a lovely home, something York would never have been able to afford on his own. Through the years he fell into debt, (as I recall from one of his biographies I read years ago, in part to trying to keep up with taxes). Furthermore numerous guests dropped in (literally) on a daily basis so they could meet the war hero. He always invited them to dinner, and feeding them cost a pretty penny that he rarely had. He never discussed the war though. (This is actually reminiscent of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who also went into debt, in part in daily hostings of 20 or more for dinner and/or lodging so all could meet their heroes.)

After York's experiences with the war, he began to speak at public functions with the hope to raise  money for a school, so that the young people of his part of Tennessee could have a better education than he had.

By the1930's, as Hitler grew in power, York became unsettled. More and more he understood his role in WWI and became a firm advocate for fighting the tyranny of Europe, to put down the despots and free the innocent.

As a result, he eventually consented with Hollywood to make a movie of his life.  It was now expediently important to him, and the producers, to make a movie about fighting for freedom. While they were making the movie, America entered the war.

Sgt. York entered the movie theaters in 1941. After watching the movie, men headed straight to the recruiting office.

Alvin York still didn't like war, or what he had to do in WWI. However the allies were not the one who started the war. Despots do not merely seek one corner of the world, but worldwide domination and the conquering of freedoms. The allies job was to conquer tyranny to restore freedom to mankind. That is what Veterans Day is all about. Today in America, we have the freedom to agree or disagree, because of those who have risked/given their lives to defend that freedom. It is important to know our history to understand the battle between freedom and tyranny throughout the history of mankind so that we can recognize it and stop it before it gets out of control.   

Resources:

Sgt. York: His Life, Legend and Legacy: The Remarkable Untold Story of Sgt. York by John Perry

The War Film by Robert Eberwein

Sgt. York movie, 2-disc special edition with documentaries

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