Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
York was born in poverty in Pall Mall, Tennessee. His family owned a meager farm and often supplemented their diet via hunting. As a result, young Alvin became an expert marksman in the area woods. York was something of a "nuisance" as a youth, frequently getting into drunken brawls. In 1914 his best friend was killed in a bar fight, prompting York to change his ways. He became a devout Christian after that incident, which supposedly led him to file as a conscientious objector at the start of WWI (though there are disputes as to his exact technical status).
York eventually was drafted into the 82nd Infantry Division in 1917. As a corporal in its 328th Infantry, in the Battle of Meuse River-Argonne Forest on 1918 October 8, he assumed command of his platoon after three other NCOs fell. While he is sometimes described as acting single-handedly, his official citation says he led seven others in a charge on an active machine-gun nest. They killed 25 German soldiers and captured 132, including four officers. (He is said to have explained this feat by saying they had surrounded the enemy.) His chain of command honored this accomplishment by awarding him the Distinguished Service Cross and the Medal of Honor. France, whose forces he was directly aiding and whose territory was involved, added its Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honor. Italy and Montenegro, also allies, awarded him their Croce di Guerra and War Medal , respectively. At the time of his heroics, he was in fact only a corporal; his promotion to sergeant was part of the honor that he received for his valor but resulted in his becoming known to the US (and much of the world) as "Sergeant York".
Returning home as a war hero, he founded a private agricultural institute in Jamestown, Tennessee, near his home town of Pall Mall. York Insitute never thrived under his management and was eventually turned over to the State of Tennessee. It still serves as the public high school for northern part of Fentress County, Tennessee despite being operated by the State Department of Education; theoretically any qualified high school student from any part of Tennessee can attend school there in order to study agriculture, but in practice almost all of the students are from the immediate area. York later operated a mill in Pall Mall on the Wolf River which is today part of a state park. The state of Tennessee provided him with a large (by the standards of the area, at least) white frame home near the mill on U.S. Highway 127, which still stands. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1964 and is buried in Pall Mall.
The United States Army named its "DIVAD" anti-aircraft weapon the "Sergeant York" to honor him in the 1980s; however this project was cancelled due to technical problems, so that any "honor" derived from the naming was rather minimal.
- Medal of Honor Recipients – World War I – includes his full citation
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