The Greatest American Hero of WWI

ArtistMike Koulermos
WriterInge Pudlowski

Imagine being so beloved that movie studios want to tell your story. Advertisers want you to endorse their products. Politicians want you to run for office. You could be set for life — and an easy life at that. 

Now imagine turning it all down because you want to help your community. 

This is the story of Alvin York, the greatest American hero of World War I. 

Born in 1887 in rural Tennessee, York grew up in a poor, hard-working family. Like others in the region, his parents saw little need for educating their children; everyone needed everyone to contribute to the family’s survival. Alvin became quite the sharpshooter, providing food for the table. Over the course of his childhood, he accumulated the equivalent of a third-grade education. 

As an adult, he was drafted for World War I. He initially resisted, due to religious convictions, but eventually enlisted in the U.S. Army and was shipped out to Western Europe. 

On October 18, 1918, his battalion came under attack in the Argonne Forest of France. He and a small group of fellow soldiers ended up behind enemy lines, where they took out a nest of machine guns and captured more than 120 German soldiers. 120! 

York’s exploits earned him the Medal of Honor, the French Legion of Honour and a slew of other awards, along with the admiration of Hollywood, advertisers and U.S. politicians. Instead of cashing in on his popularity, though, York dedicated his time, money and efforts to education —specifically, helping children from his home county in Tennessee pursue the education he never received. After years of hard work, fund-raising and even mortgaging his own farm, he proudly opened theYork Institute in Jamestown, Tennessee in 1926. 

Eventually, he agreed to sell the rights to his story to a movie studio, and planned to use the proceeds to establish another school. Even after the movie Sergeant York cemented his place in history as atrue American hero, he preferred to be remembered as an advocate for public education. In fact,  one of his proudest accomplishments was ensuring that all eight of his children received their high school diplomas. 

This great American hero truly and humbly served his country — both at home and abroad — and has earned his place in the history books.