And then General Lindsey asked me to describe the fight to him. And I did. And then he asked me to march him out just like I marched the German major out, over the same ground and back to the American lines.
Our general was very popular. He was a natural born fighter and he could swear just as awful as he could fight. He could swear most awful bad.
And when I marched him back to our old lines he said to me, "York, how did you do it?" And I answered him, "Sir, it is not man power. A higher power than man power guided and watched over me and told me what to do." And the general bowed his head and put his hand on my shoulder and solemnly said, "York, you are right."
There can be no doubt in the world of the fact of the divine power being in that. No other power under heaven could bring a man out of a place like that.
-Sgt. Alvin York, from The Diary of Alvin York
And after all these years, it appears that the unmarked site of these events has been found. A team led by United States Army Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Mastriano has discovered a site where, among the most significant features, were found 21 spent Colt .45 bullet casings, matching the type of one of two of then Cpl. York's weapons, in a ten-foot area at the base of a hillside.
And so, perhaps, the heroic efforts of a man who placed his fate squarely in God's hands will be re-visited. Perhaps we can hope for a re-make of the Gary Cooper classic; or perhaps we should pray that it isn't re-made. At any rate, it would be difficult for any movie to match the drama, humility, and Godly devotion displayed by Sgt. York in his diary.
Much was made in the movie of York's personal struggle with the decision to go to war, and it was perhaps slanted (no!) to reflect a personal pacifism. The movie site above highlights this line from the movie...
Well I'm as much agin killin' as ever sir. --- But it was this way Colonel. --- When I started out I felt just like you said, but when I hear them machine guns a goin' and all them fellas are droppin' around me --- I figured them guns was killin' hundreds maybe thousands and there wern't nothin' any body could do, but to stop them guns. And that's what I done.
However, I can't find any evidence that York ever actually said that. It isn't in his diary. Here's what he actually said on the subject...
"So I went to Jamestown and reported to the local board, and I stayed all night that night at Dr. Alexander's. I knew now I was in it. I was bothered a plenty as to whether it was right or wrong. I knew that if it was right, everything would be all right. And I also knew that if it was wrong and we were only fighting for a bunch of foreigners, it would be all wrong. And I prayed and prayed. I prayed two whole days and a night out on the mountainside. And I received my assurance that it was all right, that I should go, and that I would come back without a scratch. I received this assurance direct from God. And I have always been led to believe that He always keeps his promise. I told my little old mother not to worry; that it was all right, and that I was coming back; and I told my brothers and sisters; and I told Pastor Pile, and I prayed with him; and I told everybody else I discussed it with. But it was very hard on my mother, just like it was on all mothers, and she didn't want to see me go."
"Pastor Pile put in a plea to the government that it was against the religion of our church to fight; and that he wanted to get me out on these grounds. And he sent his papers up the War Department, and then filled them out and sent them to me at the camp and asked me to sign them. They told me all I had to do was to sign them. And I refused to sign them, as I couldn't see it the way Pastor Pile did. My mother, too, put in a plea to get me out as her sole support. My father was dead and I was keeping my mother and brothers and sisters. And the papers were fixed up and sent to Camp Gordon and I was asked to sign them. But I didn't sign them.I knew I had plenty of brothers back there that could look after my mother, that I was not the sole support, and I didn't feel I ought to do it. And so I never asked for exemption from service on any grounds at all. I never was a conscientious objector. I am not today. I didn't want to go and fight and kill. But I had to answer the call of my country, and I did. And I believed it was right. I have got no hatred toward the Germans and I never had."
"And then we went to Boston. Captain Danforth came around and asked every man in the company if he objected to going across to fight, and if he did what his objections were. He came to me, and I told him I didn't object to fighting, but the only thing that bothered me was, were we in the right or wrong? He and I had a short conversation. Then he asked me again if I objected and I told him I did not. He quoted, "Blessed are the peacemakers," and I replied that if a man can make peace by fighting he is a peacemaker. We thought when we got over there, it would not be very long before peace was made, and it was not very long after we got there that there was peace."
It occurs to me that in those words Alvin York, better than any formal theological argument, framed the concept of "just war". In them, I see justification for our soldiers presence in the middle east. And in that, we who believe that there are things in life worth fighting for, and in God's divine blessing in those battles, can take encouragement.
"For Thou, LORD, wilt bless the righteous; with favour wilt Thou compass him as with a shield."
~ Psalm 5:12 ~