This WWI Sergeant Attacked A German Machine Gun Nest – And Captured The “Whole German Army”

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Image: Signal Corps, U.S. Army / Old Magazine Articles

The situation looked hopeless. It was October 1918 in war-torn France, and things were far from quiet on the Western Front for one group of brave U.S. soldiers. World War I was drawing to a close, but for Corporal Alvin York and his men it looked like the conflict would be coming to a premature and very bloody end. The originally 17-strong squad, tasked with overcoming a German machine-gun position, had watched as the tables were turned on them. Now nine members of the party, including the sergeant in charge, were lying dead or wounded, having been cut down by enemy fire. German machine guns were pinning down York and the seven other remaining survivors, and the game looked very much like it was over. The Americans needed someone very special to pull something quite extraordinary out of the bag and step up to the plate. But the hero of the hour would be a man who’s personal pacifist credo meant that he had been conflicted about being at war in the first place…

Image: Underwood & Underwood

Alvin Cullum York was born the third of 11 siblings in the rural Tennessee hamlet of Pall Mall in December 1887. The Yorks lived there in a small log cabin and William, the head of the household, held down two jobs as farmer and blacksmith. Nevertheless, the family struggled financially and Alvin’s mother, Mary, had to make all of their clothes by hand.

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Image: Weyle & Barber/Getty Images

Indeed, the York’s poverty was such that education was a part-time and sporadic pursuit for young Alvin and his brothers and sisters. The death of William in 1911 meant that Alvin needed to contribute financially in order to support his family. The now 24-year-old helped provide for his fatherless younger siblings by working as a logger and railroad builder.

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