Handgunner of the Week: Alvin York

Sgt Alvin C. York

  This week's Handgunner of the Week is Sgt Alvin York. Sgt York, a Christian pacifist, was drafted into the US Army in 1917 despite having filed for conscientious objector status. During a battle in France in October, 1918 York's NCOIC was killed by German machinegun fire, leaving York in charge of 7 men and mission continuity. He and his men continued to exchange fire with enemy machinegunners. Upon seeing York's M1917 Enfield rifle run dry, 6 nearby German soldiers fixed bayonets and charged. Their charge, however, was stopped dead in its tracks when York drew his Colt M1911 pistol, killing all 6. Sgt York and his men accomplished the mission, killing 25 enemy soldiers, capturing 132, and seizing several enemy crew-served machineguns.

The Colt M1911 pistol.

   On December 31, 1919 Sgt Alvin York was awarded the Medal of Honor for the above actions. His MoH citation reads as follows:

  After his platoon had suffered heavy casualties and 3 other noncommissioned officers had become casualties, Cpl. York assumed command. Fearlessly leading 7 men, he charged with great daring a machinegun nest which was pouring deadly and incessant fire upon his platoon. In this heroic feat the machinegun nest was taken, together with 4 officers and 128 men and several guns.

Artist Frank Schoonover's 1919 painting depicting Sgt York's actions.

   After returning home to Tennessee, Sgt York created the Alvin C. York Foundation with hopes to better educational opportunities in his home state. He remained a devout Christian and he and his wife, Grace, had 8 children together. York died on September 2, 1964 and was laid to rest at Wolf River Cemetery in Pall Mall, Tennessee.

Sgt York's grave in Pall Mall, TN.