Sgt. Alvin C. York was a farmer. He was a Bible school teacher. He was a husband, father and son. He was a conscientious objector to World War I and the most decorated soldier of that terrible conflict, and his beloved Valley of the Three Forks where he was born, lived and died is just a short drive north on Hwy. 127 to Pall Mall, TN, in Fentress County.
Accounts show York was a skilled sharp shooter and a hard worker, working the family farm and supplementing income as a logger and railroad construction worker, but also a bit of a wild child, with several arrests for fighting. That changed in 1915 when he converted following a revival held by the Church of Christ in Christian Union. Later in life, York wrote of his reaction when war broke out in Europe, saying, “I was worried clean through. I didn’t want to go and kill. I believed in my Bible.”
But York was subject to the draft and he registered in 1917 at the age of 29, adding he didn’t want to fight based on his religious beliefs. His conscientious objection was denied and he appealed. While that appeal was pending, York began his military career. After talking at length with his company and battalion commanders about the conflict he felt between his religious belief in pacifism and military service, and being granted leave to return home, York returned to the Army ready to serve.
On Oct. 8, 1918, York’s platoon suffered heavy casualties and the three other noncommissioned officers serving with then Cpl. York were killed. York assumed command of the remaining seven men and charged a machine gun nest. The nest was taken, along with four German officers and 128 men. For these actions, York was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. After a thorough investigation, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the Croix de Guerre by the French Republic and the Croce di Guerra al Merito by Italy. He eventually received nearly 50 decorations.
York was greeted with a gala celebration upon his arrival in New York City and honored with a standing ovation by the U.S. House of Representatives on a tour stop in Washington, DC. He was discharged at Fort Oglethorpe, GA, and returned home where he married his sweetheart, Garcie Williams. The two began their lives together on a farm purchased by the Nashville Rotary Club.
York’s life of service wasn’t over, however. He worked with the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, served in the Army Signal Corps during World War II, and worked with Warner Bros. on the Oscar-winning film, Sgt. York, with proceeds benefiting an interdenominational Bible school.
He also worked to found York Agricultural Institute in Jamestown, providing educational opportunities that he had been denied. It was a life-long endeavor for York, who ran into conflicts with the local school board, the state and unkept financial promises, leading him to mortgage his home in order to pay the teachers. The school, still in operation, can be seen on Hwy. 127 in Jamestown, en route to the York historic site.
His homesite has been preserved for visitors to learn about this American hero and his legacy. The Sgt. Alvin C. York Historic Park in Pall Mall includes tours of his home, a picnic and play area at the York Grist Mill across the way, a short nature hike across a swinging bridge to his burial place and the church where he had his religious conversion.
Sgt. Alvin C. York State Historic Park will commemorate Veterans Day Weekend Nov. 8-10 prior to a Veterans Day ceremony at the park on Nov. 11.
Each year in November, the park honors York and veterans past and present, with demonstrations, reenactments and events specific to the war from 1914-’18. This year, programs will be held throughout the weekend leading up to Veterans Day, highlighting York’s experience in Europe.
Among the programs will be “Back from War: Pall Mall Parade,” on Saturday, Nov. 9, at 4 p.m. The parade will highlight the return of the Doughboys in 1919 and honor all veterans from wars past and present.
The weekend will feature World War I era biplanes, historians, period music, replica trenches, and battle reenactments in the Wolf River Valley, where York called home. The purpose is to remember what York and other brave men and women endured during the war.
The Veterans Day ceremony will be held on Monday, Nov. 11, in the York Barn at 11 a.m.
For more information, call Sgt. Alvin C. York State Historic Park Visitor Center at (931) 879-6456 or visit www.tnstateparks.com/parks/sgt-alvin-c-york or follow the state park’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/sgtalvincyorkstatepark.