October 8th, 1919 – The Legend of Sergeant York

Today-In-History

On October 8th, 1918, US Corporal Alvin C. York led seven men into battle in the Argonne Forest of France, killing 28 German soldiers and capturing another 132.

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York’s actions earned him the Medal of Honor for the attack (Muese-Argonne) by his battalion to capture German positions near Hill 223 along the Decauville rail-line north of Chatel-Chéhéry.

York

Alvin Cullum York (December 13th, 1887 – September 2nd, 1964), known also by his rank, Sergeant York.

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. (Alvin C. York)

Under the command of Sergeant Bernard Early, four non-commissioned officers, including recently promoted Cpl. York, and thirteen privates were ordered to infiltrate 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 a counter-attack against the U.S. troops. Early’s men were contending with the prisoners when machine gun fire suddenly peppered the area, killing six Americans and wounding three others. The fire came from German machine guns on the ridge. The loss of the nine put Corporal York in charge of the seven remaining U.S. soldiers. As his men remained under cover, guarding the prisoners, York worked his way into position to silence the German machine guns.

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. (Alvin C. York)

Poster - Sergeant York 680

Gary Cooper portrayed York in the 1941 movie “Sergeant York.”

During the assault, six German soldiers in a trench near York charged him with fixed bayonets. York had fired all the rounds in his M1917 Enfield rifle, but drew his .45 Colt automatic pistol and shot all six soldiers before they could reach him.

German First Lieutenant Paul Jürgen Vollmer, commander of the First Battalion, 120th Landwehr Infantry, emptied his pistol trying to kill York while he was contending with the machine guns. Failing to injure York, and seeing his mounting losses, he offered in English to surrender the unit to York, who 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 to renew its attack to capture the Decauville Railroad.

York was promptly promoted to Sergeant, and received the Distinguished Service Cross. A few months later, a thorough investigation resulted in an upgrade of his Distinguished Service Cross 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 the Legion of Honor. Italy awarded him its Croce di Guerra al Merito and Montenegro its War Medal. He eventually received nearly 50 decorations.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


 

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