Thursday, November 08, 2007

Sergeant York

An army video tells the story ofthe heroics of WWI Medal of Honor winner Sergeant Alvin C. York. His wikipedia bio:

Alvin Cullum York
December 13, 1887–September 2, 1964 (aged 76)

Alvin Cullum York (December 13, 1887 – September 2, 1964) was a United States soldier, famous for both his being a conscientious objector and hero in World War I. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine gun nest, killing 25 German soldiers and capturing 132 others during the U.S.-led Meuse-Argonne Offensive in France.

Alvin Collum York was born to a impoverished farming family in Tennessee on 13 December 1887, the third of eleven children.[1] On 5 June 1917, at the age of 29, Alvin York received a notice to register for the draft. From that day, until he arrived back from the War on May 29, 1919, he kept a diary of his activities.

World War I 1917-1918

York was inducted into the United States Army and served in Company G, 328th Infantry Regiment, 82nd Infantry Division at Camp Gordon, Georgia. Discussion of the biblical stance on war with his company commander, Captain Edward Courtney Bullock Danforth (1894-1974) of Augusta, Georgia and his battalion commander, Major Gonzalo Edward Buxton (1880-1949) of Providence, Rhode Island, eventually convinced York that warfare could be justified.

On 8 October 1918, York's battalion was involved in an attack that would earn him a Medal of Honor. The mission was to take the German Decauville rail-line, thus cutting off lateral support behind the German lines and force the Germans out of the Argonne Forest. This forest was in the German hands for four years and was heavily fortified. The attack took the 328th into a funnel shaped valley, which became narrower as they advanced. On all three sides of the valley were steep ridges, occupied by German machine gun emplacements and infantry troops. As the Americans advanced, they encountered intense German machine gun fires from the left and right flanks and the front. Soon, German artillery poured in upon them, forcing the American attack to stall. The Americans were caught in a deadly cross-fire. York recalled:

"The Germans got us, and they got us right smart. They just stopped us dead in our tracks. Their machine guns were up there on the heights overlooking us and well hidden, and we couldn’t tell for certain where the terrible heavy fire was coming from…And I'm telling you they were shooting straight. Our boys just went down like the long grass before the mowing machine at home. Our attack just faded out… And there we were, lying down, about halfway across [the valley] and those German machine guns and big shells getting us hard."

The German fire took a heavy toll on the regiment. Seventeen men under the command of Sergeant Bernard Early (which included York) infiltrated behind the German lines to take out the machine guns. The group worked their way behind the Germans and overran the headquarters of a German unit, capturing a large group of German soldiers who were preparing to counter-attack against the US troops. Early’s men were contending with the prisoners when machine gun fire suddenly peppered the area, killing six Americans, Corp. Murray Savage, and Pvts. Maryan E. Dymowski, Ralph E. Weiler, Fred Waring, William Wins and Walter E. Swanson, and wounding three others, Sgt. Brenard Early, Corp. William S. Cutting (AKA Otis B. Merrithew) and Pvt. Mario Muzzi. The fire came from German machine guns on the ridge, which turned their weapons on the US soldiers. The loss of the nine put Corporal York in charge of the seven remaining U.S. soldiers, Privates Joseph Konotski (Kornacki), Percy Beardsley, Feodor Sok, Thomas C. Johnson, Michael A. Saccina, Patrick Donohue and George W. Wills. As his men remained under cover, and guarding the prisoners, York worked his way into position to silence the German machine guns. York recalled:

"And those machine guns were spitting fire and cutting down the undergrowth all around me something awful. And the Germans were yelling orders. You never heard such a racket in all of your life. I didn't have time to dodge behind a tree or dive into the brush... As soon as the machine guns opened fire on me, I began to exchange shots with them. There were over thirty of them in continuous action, and all I could do was touch the Germans off just as fast as I could. I was sharp shooting... All the time I kept yelling at them to come down. I didn't want to kill any more than I had to. But it was they or I. And I was giving them the best I had."

One of York’s prisoners, German First Lieutenant Paul J├╝rgen Vollmer, emptied his pistol trying to kill York while he was contending with the machine guns. Failing to injure York, and seeing his mounting loses, he offered to surrender the unit to York, which was gladly accepted. By the end of the engagement, York and his seven men marched 132 German prisoners back to the American lines. His actions silenced the German machine guns and were responsible for enabling the 328th Infantry Regiment to renew the offensive to capture the Decauville Railroad.

York was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism, but this was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, which was presented to York by the commanding general of the American Expeditionary Force, General John J. Pershing. The French Republic, awarded him the Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honor. Italy and Montenegro, awarded him; Croce di Guerra and War Medal, respectively.

York was a Corporal during the action. His promotion to sergeant was part of the honor for his valor. Of his deeds York said to his division commander, General Duncan, in 1919: "A higher power than man power guided and watched over me and told me what to do."

Sergeant York was selected to be a pallbearer for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier when it was created.

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