In 1917, Alvin received a draft notice. He wrote: "My religion and my experience...told me not to go to war, and the memory of my ancestors...told me to get my gun and go fight. I didn't know what to do. I'm telling you there was a war going on inside me, and I didn't know which side to lean to. I was a heap bothered. It is a most awful thing when the wishes of your God and your country...get mixed up and go against each other. One moment I would make up my mind to follow God, and the next I would hesitate and almost make up my mind to follow Uncle Sam. Then I wouldn't know which to follow or what to do. I wanted to follow both but I couldn't. They were opposite. I wanted to be a good Christian and a good American too."
As "long as the records remain I will be officially known as a conscientious objector. I was. I joined the church. I had taken its creed, and I had taken it without what you might call reservations. I was not a Sunday Christian. I believed in the Bible, and I tried in my own way to live up to it."
"Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God." (1 John 3:21)
He willingly obeyed the draft, for he received assurance from God that he would not get killed, and come back home without a scratch. "I told them [his family] when I left-- I was coming back, and I felt I was going to get back safely, and I never did doubt it in the least, because I had my assurance that I would return home safely."
On November 15, 1917, Alvin York was inducted into the Army. He was plagued by homesickness. "I had never been out of the mountains before," he wrote, "and I'm telling you I missed them right smart. It's pretty flat and sandy country down there in Georgia, and there ain't no strength or seasoning in it. It sure needs hills and mountains most awful bad." Alvin longed for his home. "I used to walk out in the night under the stars and linger on the hillside, and I wanted to put my arms around them-there hills. They were at peace, and so was the world, and so was I."
Alvin went as his government had commanded, even though the question of "Thou shalt not kill," rang in his ears. In faith, he would go, but God would have to take care of him.
"Teach me thy way, O LORD, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies." (Psalm 27:11)
Alvin's officers, Captain Danforth and Major Buxton, were so impressed by the honesty of his moral dilemma, that they would often have talks with him that would last late into the night. On the last night that they spoke with him, Captain Danforth read a passage from the thirty-third chapter of Ezekiel. "Son of man, speak to the children of thy people, and say unto them, When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman: If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people; Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul. But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand." Upon hearing this, Alvin stood up and announced: "All right, I'm satisfied." A great burden had been lifted.
Before going overseas, he was granted a ten-day leave to return home. It was a "...heartbreaking time for me, as I knew I had to go to France. But I went back to my company trusting in God and asking Him to keep me, although I had many trials and much hardship and temptation, but then the Lord would bless me and I almost felt sure of coming back home, for the Lord was with me."
"What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31)
On April 19, 1918, Alvin's camp started the journey that would find them in France. He was a witness to the savagery of war. "God would never be cruel enough to create a cyclone as terrible as that Argonne battle. Only man would ever think of doing an awful thing like that. It looked like 'the abomination of desolation' must look like. And all through the long night those big guns flashed and growled just like the lightning and the thunder when it storms in the mountains at home."
"On the morning of October 8,  Corporal York was one of a body of sixteen men in the battle of the Argonne who were ordered to put certain enemy machine guns out of action. The guns they were after were on the other side of a slope. To gain their objective, the Americans were forced to climb a hill, exposed a part of the time to enemy fire from other positions. They accomplished this without loss and began to descend on the other side, their object being to advance upon the enemy from the rear. Presently they found themselves in a cuplike valley among the hills where they spied two Germans ahead of them. One of these surrendered and the other disappeared. Anticipating battle, the detachment went into skirmish order and continued to push forward. Arriving at a small stream, the Americans discovered on the other side some twenty or thirty Germans, among them several officers who were apparently holding a conference. The Americans fired, with the result that the entire body of Germans surrendered. Just as they were on the point of departure with their prisoners, dozens of enemy machine guns, hidden on the steep slope of the hill facing them not over thirty yards away, [Hill 223] opened up on the American detachment. Captors and captured immediately dropt flat on their stomachs, but not before six Americans had been killed. Three men were wounded, among them the sergeant in command. York and seven privates remained. Of these one had taken refuge behind a tree raked on both sides by enemy fire so he could not get away, and the others were guarding the German prisoners. Hence York was left to fight an entire machine-gun battalion alone." (Excerpt from 'The Literary Digest', June 14, 1919).
"You never heard such a clatter and racket in all your life." "I couldn't see any of our boys. Early and Cutting had run along toward the left in front of me just before the battle started, but I didn't know where they were." "If I'd moved I'd have been killed in a second. The Germans were what saved me. [The prisoners they had captured earlier were lying on the ground in front of Alvin.] I kept up close to them, and so the fellers on the hill had to fire a little high for fear of hitting their own men. The bullets were cracking just over my head and a lot of twigs fell down." "Well, I fired a couple of clips or so — things were moving pretty lively, so I don't know how many I did shoot — and first thing I knew a Boche got up and flung a little bomb at me about the size of a silver dollar. It missed and wounded one of the prisoners on the ground, and I got the Boche—got him square."
"Next thing that happened, a lieutenant rose up from near one of them machine guns and he had seven men with him. The whole bunch came charging down the hill at me." "I had my automatic out by then, and let them have it. Got the lieutenant right through the stomach and he drops and screamed a lot... Then I shot the others... At that distance I couldn't miss." "As soon as the Germans saw the lieutenant drop, most of them quit firing their machine guns and the battle quieted down. I kept on shooting, but in a minute here come the major who had surrendered with the first bunch. I reckon he had done some shooting at us himself, because I heard firing from the prisoners and afterward I found out that his pistol was empty." "He put his hand on my shoulder like this and said to me in English. 'Don't shoot any more, and I'll make them surrender.' So I said. 'All right'; and he did so, and they did so."
The German Major of the prisoners had providentially lived in Chicago for a time, and spoke English well. Thus, Alvin was able to give demands that normally would have required a translator. "I called for my men, and one of them answered from behind a big oak tree, and the others were on my right in the brush. So I said, 'Let's get these Germans out of here.' One of my men said, 'it is impossible.' So I said, 'No; let's get them out.' So when my man said that, this German major said, 'How many have you got?' and I said, 'I have got a-plenty,' and pointed my pistol at him all the time."
"And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me." (Judges 7:2)
"And it came to pass the same night, that the LORD said unto him, Arise, get thee down unto the host; for I have delivered it into thine hand." (Judges 7:9)
Over thirty machine guns had been aimed down Hill 223, less than thirty yards away from Corporal Alvin York. Alvin later remarked upon revisiting the site later that day, "I noticed the bushes all around where I stood in my fight with the machine guns were all cut down. The bullets went over my head and on either side. But they never touched me." "So you can see here in this case of mine where God helped me out. I had been living for God and working in the church some time before I come to the army. So I am a witness to the fact that God did help me out of that hard battle; for the bushes were shot up all around me and I never got a scratch. So you can see that God will be with you if you will only trust Him; and I say that He did save me. Now, He will save you if you will only trust Him."
"After the Armistice was signed, I was ordered to go back to the scene of my fight with the machine guns. General Lindsey and some other generals went with me. We went over the ground carefully. The officers spent a right smart amount of time examining the hill and the trenches where the machine guns were, and measuring and discussing everything. 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 manpower 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. Men were killed on both sides of me; and I was the biggest and the most exposed of all [Alvin was six foot tall]. Over thirty machine guns were maintaining rapid fire at me, point-blank from a range of about twenty-five yards."
"No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of Me, saith the LORD." (Isaiah 54:17)
The next day found twenty-eight Germans dead; just as many shots Alvin said he had fired. Every bullet he fired had found its target. "Practically unassisted, he [Alvin] captured 132 Germans (three of whom were officers), took about thirty-five machine guns, and killed no less than twenty-five of the enemy, later found by others on the scene of York's extraordinary exploit." (Excerpt from 'the official report made by officers of the Eighty-Second Division to General Headquarters').
On November 1, "I was made a sergeant just as quick as I got back out of the lines."
On April 24, at St. Silva, Marshal Foch pinned the French Croix de Guerre on him, and called his exploit "the greatest thing accomplished by any private soldier of all the armies of Europe." Upon talking with Alvin, Brigadier General Lindsey said, "Well, York, I hear you have captured the whole German army." Alvin replied modestly, "No, I only have 132."
"A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee." (Psalm 91:7)
Alvin was still homesick. "I wanted all the time to get back to the mountains where I belonged. I wanted to live the quiet life again and escape from the mad rush of the world. We had done the job we set out to do, and now, like all the other American soldiers, I wanted to get back home." "The little old mother and the little mountain girl ... were waiting."
By May of 1919, Sgt. York was back home. On the seventh of June, he and Gracie, ("the little mountain girl"), were married. However, his quiet life was interrupted by offers for thousands of dollars to commercialize his fame. "I knew if I hadn't been to war and hadn't been a doughboy they never would have offered me anything. I also knew I didn't go to war to make a heap or to go on the stage or in the movies. I went over there to help make peace. And there was peace now, so I didn't take their thirty pieces of silver and betray that there old uniform of mine." "I just wanted to be left alone to go back to my beginnings. The war was over. I had done my job and I had done it the best I could. So I figured I ought to be left alone and allowed to go back to the mountains where I belonged."
But things would never be the same again. "I knew that I had changed." "I knew I wasn't like I used to be. The big outside world I had been in and the things I had fought through had touched me up inside a powerful lot ... I was sort of restless and full of dreams and wanted to be doing something and I didn't understand. So I sat out on the hillside trying to puzzle it out. Before the war I felt the mountains isolated us and kept us together as a God-fearing, God-loving people. They did that, too, but they did more than that. They kept out many of the good and worthwhile things like good roads, schools, libraries, up-to-date homes and modern farming methods."
"I kind of figured my trials and tribulations in the war had been to prepare me for doing just this work in the mountains. All of my suffering in having to go and kill were to teach me the value of human lives. All the temptations I went through were to strengthen my character."
"Though He [Jesus] were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered" (Hebrews 5:8)
In 1927, Alvin felt led of God to help his people out by building schools. So he told everyone that any future donations or gifts that would have gone to him, would now go to the building of schools. He helped finance this work by going on lectures. However, debt piled up, and when his health began to fail, it added more to it. He had raised about $10,000 in the school fund. Alvin originally wanted to create several small schools strategically placed in the mountains, but found the goal to be unrealistic. It was decided that instead of several small schools, one school should be created, (an institution known as the York Industrial Institute). In 1937, (in light of Alvin's failing health), he could not undertake so great a responsibility. So it was suggested that the school be no longer private, but state run. Alvin liked the idea, and it was carried through.
Alvin later tried to create a Bible school, but a lack of funds and poor health hindered it. A building was raised for this purpose, and has now been abandoned for many years.
Alvin York had seven children with Gracie: Alvin C. Junior, Edward Buxton, Woodrow Wilson, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, Betsy Ross and Mary Alice. World War II loomed ahead. In New York on July 31, 1941, he said, "It may sound strange for a man who fought in one dreadful war to talk like I'm talking tonight. They told us back in 1917-18 that we were fighting to save the world for democracy, and they had to argue me into it. Well, we did fight for democracy, and we saved it for ourselves for 23 years. Maybe now we've got to do it again." He gave this speech four months before Pearl Harbor. To this act of war, he replied, "Our hands are on the plow and we dare not, cannot turn back from our determination to rid the world of the Hitler menace. Life, not death; liberty, not enslavement; the pursuit of happiness, not the pursuit of sorrow and misery, will keep democracy fighting until victory is assured."
He went on the radio to encourage America to buy war bonds. "This war is everybody's war. The sooner everybody is wholeheartedly behind it, the sooner it will be over. It will never be finished quick as long as we put more store by our private, personal, and selfish wants than our national liberty and democracy. And the way I see it, liberty and democracy are prizes that come only to people who fight to win them and then keep on fighting eternally to hold them. Though all of us may not be front line fighters, all of us can still help with the fight. We can buy war bonds to the limit just as those American fighting men keep fighting to the limit. Men couldn't win with their bare hands in 1918. Men can't win with their bare hands today."
"Put them in fear, O LORD: that the nations may know themselves to be but men. Selah." (Psalm 9:20)
More than twenty years after he returned home from France, Alvin signed with Warner Bros. to tell his life's story. He acted as advisor. Gary Cooper was to play Sgt. Alvin York, for which performance he won an Academy Award. The movie was released in 1941.
"We will not hide them from their children, showing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and His strength, and His wonderful works that He hath done." (Psalm 78:4)
Alvin was paid $169,449.84, and paid off most of his debts. A lot of the money went towards the bible school at Pall Mall.
In 1954, after troubles with the IRS, (not dishonest trouble), he suffered from the last of three cerebral hemorrhages. Alvin spent the next ten years as a complete invalid. He would pass his time in bed or in a wheelchair. He kept an interest in the world around him. For more than ten years he had been wracked with pain and was virtually blind. The doctors agreed that the complications, which Alvin suffered, would have killed a man of lesser fortitude long before they killed him. He was hospitalized ten times, the last two years of his life. The poison gas he endured in World War I, might be an attributing factor to his failing health. "We had a lot of big stuff from the artillery coming over, and now and then a gas shell. We used to do a powerful lot of ducking. But soon we realized it was no use. You never hear the one that gets you." "The Germans threw a lot of gas shells into Norway and we had to wear our gas masks for several hours. Many of the boys were gassed or killed." "The Germans sent over a heavy barrage and also gas, and we put on our gas masks and just pressed right on thought those shells..."
God always allows suffering for our good.
"It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes." (Psalm 119:71)
Alvin Cullum York died on September 2, 1964 at the Veteran's Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. He was buried a short distance from the church where he was first saved. Before dying, Alvin asked his son, Edward Buxton York, if what he had done on October the eighth in the Argonne Forest was right. Edward replied that the scriptures say when you have hate in your heart, then you are a murderer. He reminded his father that there had not been any hatred for the German soldiers in his heart. His father only did what had to be done. Satisfied, Sgt. Alvin Cullum York passed away a few hours later. In Alvin's Diary, under November 17, 1917, is proof of Edward Buxton York's words: "I have got no hatred toward the Germans and I never had."
"Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." (1 John 3:15-16)
"Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints." (Psalm 116:15)