Sergeant York – Obedient Heart in Action
“… A great story to illustrate to your children how obedience may be hard for the moment, but will lead to greater good in the end.” ~Rick
If you’ve ever seen the wonderful 1941 movie, Sergeant York you’re already acquainted with the story of the Tennessee mountaineer, a hard-drinking, brawling, straight-shooting country boy who became the most famous American hero of World War I.
Alvin York grew up a hard case, spending his time between working on the family farm, hunting in the surrounding mountains and causing trouble. But when he met Jesus Christ as a young man, his life changed completely. He stopped drinking, stopped fighting and began to study his Bible seriously. Folks all around his mountain community could see that Alvin York was a different man.
But it was the advent of the first World War that most clearly brought that change to light. Alvin got drafted. And when faced with the reality of war, he discovered that he no longer liked the idea of a fight. He applied for status as a Conscientious Objector, hoping to avoid service in the army. His request was denied. He entered the army as a Private.
York’s commander, a Major Buxton, was a Christian as well. He urged Alvin to study the Scriptures relating to war, self-defense and obedience to one’s country. Alvin was prepared to face the consequences of disobedience to orders when it came to killing other men, but he took Major Buxton’s advice and searched the Scriptures to see whether they actually required him to take such a stand.
After much study and soul-searching, Alvin York concluded that he could, in good conscience go to war. He would not have to disobey God in order to obey his government.
In September of 1918, the Argonne Forest in northeastern France looked like a scene from Dante’s Inferno. Bare dirt, churned up by thousands of artillery shells was broken by occasional areas of bushes and dotted with the skeletons of shattered, burned trees. It was in that man-made hell that Alvin York won the stripes of a sergeant and the undying love of millions of Americans.
His unit pinned down and most of his comrades dead or wounded by machine gun fire, Tennessean Alvin York called upon his lifelong woodman skills to silence those guns. Dashing, crawling, slinking from bush to tree to rock for cover, Alvin wormed his way up the hill from which the fire came. His mountaineer marksmanship soon prevailed and machine gun after machine gun was silenced. German after German went down before his gun or surrendered. Before his one-man counterattack was over, Alvin York led his unit to safety, 132 German prisoners carrying his wounded buddies on litters.
Alvin York had concluded that God’s orders to him required him to obey the orders of the Army to fight in war. It was a soul-wrenching decision to make, but because he made it he was able to help silence 35 machine guns and capture 132 enemy soldiers. Alvin would receive many honors and worldwide fame for his courage, but the reward that meant the most to him was the knowledge that many men would live because he had done so much to stop the killing.
We tell York’s story in much more detail in Portraits of Integrity. It’s a great way to illustrate to your children how obedience may be hard for the moment, but will lead to greater good in the end.