Manliness Case Study: Alvin York 6

“I didn’t want to kill any more than I had to. But it was they or I. And I was giving them the best I had.”

– Sergeant Alvin York

Quite possibly the best remembered soldier of World War I, Alvin York won his fame by almost single-handedly silencing 32 German machine guns and capturing 132 prisoners in just one day. For this brave action, Sergeant York received a multitude of medals and awards… including a Congressional Medal of Honor.

Born on December 13th, 1887, Alvin C. York did not appear to be destined for greatness. Although Alvin’s parents were Christians, he became an uneducated, rough young man. At the age of twenty, he was an unregenerate alcoholic, smoker, and brawler. In his own words, he was “hog-wild”.

Thankfully, however, God did not allow him to continue his sinful life for long. On January 1, 1915, Alvin York, influenced by his mother, his local pastor, and a circuit-riding preacher, turned to Christ for forgiveness.

Immediately, York’s life changed. His old, riotous ways deserted, York grew active in his local church where he became known as the “Singing Elder” because of his strong tenor voice.

Only two years after his conversion, Alvin York was drafted into the United States Army during World War I. Believing that war was against the Bible, Alvin tried to get an exemption based on his religious convictions. However, his request was denied, and he reported for training at Camp Gordon.

After his training, Alvin received a few days leave to go home and decide whether he could, as a Christian, participate in this war. After praying and studying the Bible, Alvin decided he should fight.

After crossing to France, Alvin entered the trenches and, on October 8, 1918, performed the amazing feat that catapulted him into the international spotlight.

Together with sixteen other American soldiers, York was participating in an expedition against the German trenches when a sudden machine gun attack killed six and wounded three – leaving only eight unwounded.

Leaving the others to guard the prisoners already taken, York set out by himself to silence the attacking machine guns. Using his rifle, York shot down any enemies who showed their heads above the trenches.  Then, when six Germans charged him with fixed bayonets, pulled out his pistol and stopped them.

Finally, the Germans surrendered. York had not only rescued his fellow soldiers, but he had captured 132 enemy soldiers.

After the war ended, Alvin returned to civilian life. Marrying his pre-war fiancé, Grace Williams, Sergeant York led a busy life ministering to his fellow citizens, writing about his experiences, and participating in politics.

On September 2, 1964, this great personification of manliness died at the age of 76.

Dedicated Christian

When Alvin York was saved by the blood of Christ, his life completely changed. Rather than spending his time drinking and rioting, Alvin began devoting most of his spare time to his church.

Becoming an elder, Alvin York soon was leading the singing and teaching a children’s Sunday school class.

Having completely changed his ways,  York later wrote, “I am a great deal like Paul [the apostle], the things I once loved I now hate.”

Alvin York’s dedication to the cause of Christ is an encouraging inspiration to men of all times.

Courageous Soldier

During World War I, Alvin York bravely risked his life to save the lives of his fellow soldiers.

When he suddenly gained command following the incapacitation of his superior officers, Alvin, pinned down with seven soldiers and three wounded men, immediately set about to free them.

Leaving his men in comparative safety, Alvin bravely crawled out of cover to face the enemy alone.

This manly display of valor is worth much more than the resulting victory.

Humble Hero

After World War I, Sergeant York was a hero of the American people. Rather than using that fame for personal gain, Alvin remained a remarkably humble man.

When he first returned to the U.S., York was offered a total of $185,000 dollars through various contracts for endorsement requests, newspaper articles, and movie ideas.  The unsophisticated Alvin York wrote, “They offered so much money that it almost takened my breath away.”

York, disliking the greedy motives behind these requests, refused the seemingly-perfect offers.

Unlike the celebrities of today, Alvin York showed himself to be a true hero by refusing to sacrifice honor for money.


Alvin York stands out as a shining example of a manly Christian: dedicated, courageous, and humble.  We need more men like him today!

6 thoughts on “Manliness Case Study: Alvin York

  1. Reply Geoff Hill Apr 19,2010 7:29 AM

    This is an amazing testimony of the power of the Holy Spirit in truly changing who a person is. Once spiritually dead and spiritually blind, God makes alive according to His own choosing By His grace alone He gives faith to some to come to faith in the work of Christ on the cross in taking on the penalty for our sins in His death, imputing His righteousness to us and placing His life-changing presence in us via the Holy Spirit. We become “made new” in Christ. It is a gift of God. Amazing truth to behold in others and even more so, in oneself.

  2. Reply Nate Desmond Apr 19,2010 8:01 AM

    @ Mr. Hill – Thank you for your comment! It is stunning to see the work of Jesus Christ in my life and the lives of others!

  3. Reply bondChristian Apr 19,2010 10:45 AM

    Sergeant York starring Gary Cooper is a fantastic, manly movie if you’ve not seen it. Or even if you have, check it out again. Even today, it’s probably a top 20 movie for me.

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

  4. Reply Nate Desmond Apr 19,2010 11:00 AM

    @bondChristian – Sergeant York is a terrific movie. Although it does have a few problems (such as the overly-realistic portrayal of his pre-Christian life), it is quite possibly my all-time favorite movie.

  5. Reply Kate Apr 21,2010 11:05 AM

    I think you should rename this blog ‘Christian Manliness’.

    I’ve been discouraged more than once by your overtly Christian slant – as if Muslims, Jews and Buddhists can’t also be practical and good men. I think you should make it clear somewhere on the page that this blog is ‘for Christian men, by Christian men’.

  6. Reply Nate Desmond Apr 21,2010 12:42 PM

    @ Kate – You are correct that Practical Manliness is a Christian blog. Although I am still working at deciding exactly how and where to communicate this fact (it is on the About page), I am intending to emphasis this more clearly in the future.

    Though the articles posted here should be useful to anyone, they are particularly applicable to my target audience: Christian men.

    Thanks for reading, Kate!

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