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York, Alvin

York, Alvin (1887–1964), American soldier and World War I hero known as “Sergeant York.”A semieducated Tennessee mountaineer and sharpshooter, York in his late twenties joined a fundamentalist pacifist sect. In 1917, when his draft board rejected his claim for deferment as a conscientious objector, York went off to war, convinced, after a second conversion experience, that God wanted him to fight for his country.

During the Meuse‐Argonne offensive in France in an engagement on 8 October 1918, York's small detachment from the 82nd Division was pinned down by German fire. He personally shot and killed 25 German soldiers, captured 132 more, and put 35 enemy machine guns out of action. Promoted from corporal to sergeant, he was awarded the highest decorations of the American and French governments, and became, as “Sergeant York,” the most renowned doughboy of the war.

York rejected offers of commercial ventures and returned to Pall Mall, Tennessee, to a farm partially funded by public subscription. He founded a vocational school for the undereducated mountain children.

In 1940–41, York became an ardent interventionist, endorsing U.S. defense measures and aid to the Allies. He approved a Warner Bros. film, Sergeant York (1941), starring Gary Cooper.

A plain‐talking mountaineer combining religious piety and deep‐rooted patriotism, York was a latter‐day descendant of the American frontier and perfect hero for the new popular press and for a United States fighting its first war in Europe.
[See also Conscientious Objection; World War I: Military and Diplomatic Course.]


Alvin C. York , Sergeant York: His Own Life Story and War Diary, ed. Tom Skeyhill, 1928.
David D. Lee , Sergeant York: An American Hero, 1985.

John Whiteclay Chambers II

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