Sergeant Alvin York is a war hero. He has an amazing story which you can see for yourself on the 1941 film, simply entitled: "Sergeant York".
I love this guy because I will for one thing, forever see him played by Gary Cooper. (If I had lived in Gary Cooper's day, I think I may have become a swooning fan.) But more than that, this man was a genuine hero.
York was a crack-shot. Everyone in his back-woods Tennessee homeland knew it. He was a Christian convert with a past full of bitterness, drunkeness and brawls. But when he gave his heart to God, he did it with all barrels loaded. In so doing, he became a peaceable man and turned 180 degrees from his former ways. When World War I came along, York was not interested in going to fight. He believed "war's killing and killing's against God." So when his buddies lined up to enlist, he stayed back.
But eventually, America came looking for him in the form of the draft. He initially resisted, but entered the war effort, labeled on record as a 'conscientious objector'. No one really knew what he'd do if he was in a situation where he was required to kill.
With time, York's expertise with a rifle set him apart from his comrades and he was approached about taking on leadership responsibilities. This was not Alvin's idea of a good thing. His superior officer, a Christian himself, spoke at length withYork, then sent him home on leave to pray and sort things out. Upon his return, York was to give his answer. If he refused the promotion, he would be allowed to return home, discharged from the Army. The captain knew only by his guts that Alvin was the real deal. He was right to believe that in the end, York would lead and lead well.
Fasting, praying and reading his Bible, York spent his leave days at his mountain home mostly in the woods. In the film, this is the first real indication given that York was conflicted. The scene is quite convincing. Of course, you know he returned and accepted the promotion. Not long afterwards, he was shipped overseas with his comrades and they eventually ended up on the front lines.
In a battle with the Germans, Alvin's platoon was being squashed. All around him, Americans were falling to the ruthless guns of the enemy. His superior was killed and circimstances of war caused Alvin to fall headlong into the leadership role he never wanted. It looked hopeless, but as one soldier after another fell around him, York resolved to put an end to it.
Sneaking up to a rear postion where he could 'pick off' the enemy with sniper shots, York began to pull the trigger. So precise was his aim and smooth his method, that at first, the Germans didn't even realize know that their comrades, behind them, were being shot, or from where the shots were coming. York kept shooting until the Germans finally stopped shooting and surrendered.
As Alvin, and those left of his troop, escorted their prisoners through the battle trenches, towards a camp for safe incarceration, they ran headlong into more Germans. York ordered the highest ranking German soldier among their captives to shout out an order for surrender. With York's gun pointed at his head, he complied. Story has it that this incident repeated itself several times.
In the end, York had captured so many Germans, and the story had become so exaggerated, that the biggest brass of the Army came out to the actual areas with York to drill him about the events that had taken place. The stories had become Paul Bunyan-like and there was now a military need to discern their authenticity.
Look at this dialouge from the part of the film where a Major and Colonel observed the area and questioned York:
Alvin: Well I'm as much agin' killin' as ever, sir. But it was this way, Colonel...When I started out, I felt just like you said, but when I hear them machine guns a-goin', and all them fellas are droppin' around me... I figured them guns was killin' hundreds, maybe thousands, and there weren't nothin' anybody could do, but to stop them guns. And that's what I done.
Maj. Buxton: Do you mean to tell me that you did it to save lives?
Alvin: Yes sir, that was why.
Maj. Buxton: [amazed] Well, York, what you've just told me is the most extraordinary thing of all!
The accomplishment in itself was truly heroic and amazing, but more amazing still, is how York managed to get into the position to shoot at the enemy without suffering a single bullet wound although all around him were falling. Once the story was verified, the miraculous event caused Alvin, the backwoods boy from Tennessee, to become the most decorated war hero of WWI.
And after watching the film at least once a year for the past 25 years, I have to say, he is certainly one of the most decorated heroes in my life and I would like to be like him.
No, I don't want to kill people. But I do want to be able to move from where I comfortably and safely stand right now to where I need to be if it means making others safe. If it means saving a child from the hands of a tormented adult, or saving a woman from the hands of a rage-filled spouse. As I have grown older, my eyes have seen a lot of heartache that I was oblivious to in my younger years. Perhaps that was the mercy of God, since I was raising children, but some of the hardships that have come to my attention did so because they first visted some of my own children and grandchildren.
Now, as I consider the deeds of Sergeant York, it comes to my attention that he led his soldiers out of harm's way through the use of aggression. He aggressively and relentlessly faced the enemy with one thing in mind. "Stop them guns."
The war has come to my door. I didn't want it. I wanted peace. I wanted to live in my little corner of the world and leave the fighting to those who had a penchant for it. If I were to fight a war, I wanted it to be in the form of a little battle that was quickly ended through the use of squirt guns. I don't know about my being any sort of a crack shot. I'm not sure where my particular talent lies when it comes to battle-fighting, but see, the war has come. I did not enlist, but it appears, I have been drafted. Now I am an unwilling participant. I am inwardly kicking and screaming, "No! You've got the wrong lady! I'm a conscientious objector!"
Like York, I have been given a choice. I can go home and ignore the war and hope others keep it in a distant land while I live in denial, or make up my mind to fight it tooth and nail as it threatens to destroy my country...in my case, that would be my family.
Well, I have made the choice. I don't even know all the tactics I will use yet, but I know I will use prayer and the wisdom of those who have fought similar battles before me. Already, I have moved toward the hill of battle. Like York, I plan to do whatever I can to "stop them guns" so others can live in safety. If it takes stealth, I will learn stealth. If it takes skill, I will learn that, too. I am more fortunate than York was. He went before others, leading the way. I will only have to faithfully follow other 'Yorks' who have blazed a trail and written manuals on how to fight a war such as this one. I had no idea until most recently, the multitude of battle-wounded war survivors there are out there. And they stand at the ready for any who would seek their aid.
Unlike our dear Sergeant, they are the invisible, unsung and undecorated heros.
But today, I see them.
Today, I hear them.
They whisper ever so urgently, "Stop them guns!"