Even when they happened more than a century ago, there are some days that are worth remembering! And this, Alvin C. York Day, is certainly worth honoring and observing.
History of Alvin C. York Day
Alvin C. York was born on a farm, the oldest son of eleven children of parents who were farmers, with his father also working as a part-time blacksmith in the hills of Tennessee. As a teen, York was very rough around the edges, drinking too much and getting into trouble, particularly by fighting.
But when York met a young woman named Gracie Williams, he realized he would never have a chance with her unless he cleaned up his act. So he started going to church, had a genuine religious experience, and changed his ways from barroom brawling to leading the music at church. In fact, York became so dedicated to his faith that when he was required to sign up for the army draft, he made it known that he was a pacifist and a conscientious objector to fighting or killing other men.
Even so, the army drafted York in 1917 and, just after getting engaged to Gracie, he headed to Europe to fight. A year into his service as an infantryman, York found himself fighting in the Battle of the Meusse-Argonne offensive. As an acting corporal, York and seventeen others were sent to take down a German machine gun station, ultimately overrunning the headquarters of a German unit and taking captive more than 130 enemy soldiers.
Later recalling that he didn’t want to kill any more than was necessary, York admitted that he had personally shot down at least two dozen enemy soldiers to take the position. Eventually, the German lieutenant offered in English to surrender to the Americans and York accepted. In explaining his actions on that day, York admitted that a ‘higher power’ was responsible for his success.
Throughout his experiences in the army, York kept a diary which he eventually turned into a book that was published in 1928. But one of the reasons that Alvin C. York became even more of a household name was that Hollywood created a movie that was loosely based on his life.
Released in 1941, the movie called Sergeant York starred Gary Cooper and Joan Leslie. Though the details from York’s life were changed quite a bit for the movie, the focus of the story was about a man who was a pacifist but eventually ended up becoming a war hero.
In 1954, Alvin experienced a stroke that left him disabled for the final ten years of his life. After his death in 1964, at the age of 76, his wife Gracie lived for another 20 years. Today, Alvin C. York Day is celebrated on the anniversary of the 1918 battle in which York and the other Doughboys took the German machine gun station by force, just a month prior to the end of WWI.
Alvin C. York Day Timeline
December 13, 1887
Alvin York is born
Getting his start in a log cabin in rural Tennessee, York is the oldest of eleven children growing up on the farm.
York is drafted into the US Army
Despite being a religious man and a conscientious objector, York enters the army at age 20 to fight in Europe during WWI.
October 8, 1918
Meuse-Argonne offensive takes place
York is assigned with 17 others to infiltrate German lines, a success resulting in killing at least 25 and capturing more than 130 enemy soldiers.
Hollywood film is made to memorialize Mr. York
The film Sergeant York is released, for which Gary Cooper receives an Academy Award for his portrayal of the title character.
September 2, 1964
Alvin C. York dies
York lives disabled for ten years after a cerebral hemorrhage and is eventually buried in Tennessee where he was born.
How to Celebrate Alvin C. York Day
Looking for ways to show appreciation for and celebrate on Alvin C. York Day? Check out some of these ideas and activities to get started:
Thank a Veteran
The story of this one war hero is representative of thousands, or even millions of men and women in the military who have made many sacrifices on behalf of a greater cause. In honor of Alvin C. York Day, perhaps it would be a good idea to say ‘thank you’ to a veteran of the military, whether they served in times of war or peace. While it would be impossible to find a contemporary of York or a veteran of WWI who is still alive, there are plenty of soldiers and officers from all the branches of the US military who could be thanked for the time they spent serving their country.
Learn More About Alvin C. York
In celebration of this unique war hero, Alvin C. York Day might be a good time to do a bit more research and find out some interesting historical facts about this army soldier and man. Consider some of these facts about the man of the day:
York was not only awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by the United States, but he also received awards from the French government, the Italian government, and dozens of other awards – more than 50 in all.
After the war, York became a charter member of the American Legion, which is a nonprofit group that supports war veterans.
In support of economic development, York campaigned for a highway to be built through the mountains to service his home region. It was finished in the mid-1920s and named the Alvin C. York Highway.
In the 1920s, the Alvin C. York Foundation was formed in support of educational opportunities for those in his region of Tennessee.
Watch the Film Sergeant York
Get in the spirit of Alvin C. York Day by watching the Hollywood movie that was made based on his story which, incidentally, became the highest grossing film of its release year in 1941. See the old classic actors, including Gary Cooper, Joan Leslie and Walter Brennan as they pay heed to one of the most decorated soldiers in the US Army. Invite some friends over and make a theme party out of it by dressing up in costumes and listening to music from the WWI era.
While getting a copy of some of these older movies can be difficult, Sergeant York should be more accessible. Not only was it nominated for a number of Academy Awards (and won two) the year of its release, but years later it was ranked by the American Film Institute as 57th on its list of 100 most Inspirational American movies. In 2008, Sergeant York was also selected by the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress for preservation due its cultural and historical significance.
Alvin C. York Day FAQs
Who was Alvin C. York?
Alvin C. York was one of the most decorated soldiers of the US Army in WWI.
How did Alvin C. York die?
Army hero Alvin C. York died at age 76 of a cerebral hemorrhage.
What did Alvin C. York do in WWI?
Alvin C. York was responsible for taking over a German machine gun station and taking prisoner more than 130 enemy soldiers in 1918.
When was Alvin C. York born?
This US Army Medal of Honor recipient was born on a farm in rural Tennessee on December 13, 1887.
Who did Alvin C. York marry?
Alvin York married Gracie Williams in 1919 at a ceremony performed by the Tennessee Governor, and they were married until Alvin’s death in 1964.