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Monday, June 5, 2017
The Legacy of Sgt. Alvin C. York – Service Beyond Heroism
By Mark Herr, Center for Self-Governance Co-founder and President
War I changed the world, in many ways it is the forgotten war that needs to be
remembered once again in the 21st Century. One such remembrance is owed Sgt.
Alvin C. York of the Upper Cumberland Valley of Tennessee. He did not want to
fight in the war due to his religious convictions, but was inspired to do so by
his drill sergeant who gave him a Bible and an American history book.
8, 1918, in less than fifteen minutes, his life would change forever. He
single-handedly captured four German officers and one hundred twenty-eight
German soldiers while leading his battered platoon behind enemy lines. For his
uncanny heroism, he received the U.S. Medal of Honor and the French Croix de
Guerre and became an instant nationwide hero. In 1941, the movie ‘Sergeant York’
starring actor Gary Cooper was released portraying his fifteen-minute heroic
feat and the events that led up to it.
heroism may have brought World War I to an early conclusion. But what is
striking is how much the world changed Sgt. York after the war. He said, “When I
went out into that ‘big outside world’ I...realized how un-educated I was and
what a terrible handicap it were.”
the glaring fanfare, York’s priority in life was not the fame, title or
fortune, but to make education a priority across the countryside of his boyhood
home – the rural Upper Cumberland Valley in Tennessee.
See, as York
was growing up, there were no asphalt streets, electricity or indoor plumbing.
He was exposed to such conveniences when he went abroad during the war and
initiated these advancements in his community when he returned. The irony is,
that even with all these modern innovations in the advanced societies of that
time, such as in Germany & France, they had still devolved into World War.
Congressional Medal of Honor
this, Sgt. York felt it was his post-war duty to make modern improvements and
to “train our boys and girls...in the rural sections that have been forgotten
for ages. I am giving my life [to] establish a school there.” As a result, York
Institute was founded in 1926.
truly inspiring. York fought a war that he did not start or want to be part of.
And when his heroism was to be celebrated nationally, he chose to return to his
local community and improve it instead. He had the opportunity to live anywhere
and do many other things, but chose to direct his energy into his hometown.
gleaned the best of what he saw while he was abroad. And he brought what he
learned back into his community and chose to give the next generation a “chance
to get a sensible education.” It is noteworthy that he improved his community,
lived in his community and in 1964, died in his community. More than 6,000
attended his funeral at a humble cemetery in the small rural area he loved and
as the 100th anniversary of the famous, heroic fifteen-minutes approaches, it
is worth pondering the legacy of Sgt. Alvin C York. Will the current
inhabitants of the Upper Cumberland and other rural areas in this beautiful
countryside continue his legacy of learning from the ‘big outside world’? Will
the youth who become “well qualified to take care of our future” bring those
innovations back to benefit their hometown? Or will they forget Sgt. York’s
example and abandon their rural home to the ruin of time?
Gary Cooper as York
In honor of
Memorial Day, let’s remember the famous fifteen minutes. Be inspired by the
heroism. Treasure the selflessness and service to country. More than that, take
the memories one step further. Reaffirm in your lifetime that you too will
become the rudder on the ship of your community and improve its course forever.
Thank you, Sgt.
Alvin C. York, for your fifteen minutes of heroism and the little-known years
of service to your community long afterward.
Language of Liberty series is a collaborative effort of the Center for Self-Governance
(CSG) Administrative Team. CSG is a non-profit, non-partisan educational
organization, dedicated to training citizens in applied civics. The authors
include administrative staff, selected students, and guest columnists. The views expressed by the authors are their own and may
not reflect the views of CSG.Learn more