I first posted this a year ago, on Memorial Day. I think it still stands.
I had to work today, on Memorial Day. The Titanium mines of Titan are a cruel taskmaster indeed. And yet I took a moment to remember those who have given all their tomorrows for my tomorrows and the tomorrows of those who are close to me. Thank you brave men and women. Thank you for caring enough to risk it all. I don’t deserve your deaths, but then none of us do. We don’t believe in human sacrifice, not our country, but in men doing what is necessary and putting themselves at risk in order to do what must be done against those who do believe in human sacrifice, the burning bull of Moloch, the suicide bombers and headchoppers and torture-murderers of the global jihad death-cult.
Read some of the stories of those who have earned the Medal of Honor, both those who died and those who lived. Here is one who has an important lesson for those who feel a conflict between their desire for peace and the realization that war has been declared against our country, and that like it or not our choice is not whether to be at war but whether to fight back against those who would slaughter us.
Alvin York did not want to go to war. He freely admits that and tells why. He says, “There were two reasons why I didn’t want to go to war. My own experience told me it wasn’t right, and the Bible was against it too…..but Uncle Sam said he wanted me, and I had been brought up to believe in my country.”
If there is anything one can say about Alvin York without fear of contradiction, it is that he was patriotic. He loved his country, and what is more, he came from a long line of patriots who had fought for their country all the way from King’s Mountain to New Orleans, Chapultepec and Shiloh. In addition to York’s direct family ancestors who had fought for their country since the Revolution, he also felt a close kinship with such frontier greats as Andrew Jackson, Davy Crockett and Sam Houston. The influence of all these patriotic ancestors, both by blood and by culture, weighed heavily on the mind of Alvin York as the day of his induction into the army moved closer and even after he got to Camp Gordon. He describes his dilemma in these words:
“So you see 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.”
Up to this point in the sheltered life of the isolated valley in which Alvin York had lived, he had never come face to face with and had to choose between two great principles or courses of action. He had always just assumed that being a good Christian and being a good, patriotic American were one and the same thing. At least they were so closely connected that a man dedicated to one would automatically be dedicated to the other. Now he was learning it was not so in the light of what he had always been taught about Christianity and about patriotism. The complexities of theology and its application to living in a world far more complex than he had imagined, drove him to cry out, “I am a soul in doubt.”
The records in the War Department in Washington will always make it appear that Alvin York was a conscientious objector. He was not. He was a “soul in doubt” as he said. He was torn between what he thought was his duty to his country and his God. When this conflict was resolved in his mind, he never again voiced objection to fighting, killing if necessary, for his country. The petitions filed asking exemption from military duty were initiated by Pastor Pile and his mother. “My little old mother and Pastor Pile wanted me to get out,” he wrote in his diary.
“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 to the War Department, and they 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. I knew I had plenty of brothers back there who 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 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. I believed it was right. I have got no hatred toward the Germans and I never had.”
Here we have a direct statement from Alvin York denying categorically that he ever was a conscientious objector. But we have another direct quotation from another book stating that “….so 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.”
Here we have two direct statements which appear to be flatly contradictory: “I never was a conscientious objector,” and “So long as the records remain I will be officially known as a conscientious objector. I was.”
How do we reconcile these statements? Or can we reconcile them? I think we can.
Those who knew Alvin York personally knew how confused he was at that time. In that confused state of mind he interpreted the term “conscientious objector” in two different ways, as it was used by the War Department and as he saw it in the light of his church creed and the Bible. By the former interpretation he was not a conscientious objector; by the latter he was. His lack of education made it impossible for him to comprehend entirely the two horns of the dilemma upon which he was impaled. In his own writing he gives us a basis for this explanation: “Only the boy who is uneducated can understand what an awful thing ignorance is . . . . I know what I want to say, but I don’t always know just how to put it down on paper. I just don’t know how to get it out of me and put it in words.”
The conflict raged on in his mind. He was still the “soul in doubt knowing that he really wanted to follow in the footsteps of his ancestors and fight for his country, but finding no way to reconcile war and killing with his own conscience and the creed of his church.
What did this conscientious objector do to earn himself the Medal of Honor?
“The part which Corporal York individually played in the attack (the capture of the Decauville Railroad) is difficult to estimate. Practically unassisted he 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. The story has been carefully checked in every possible detail from headquarters of this division and is entirely substantiated. Although York’s statement tends to underestimate the desperate odds which he overcame, it has been decided to forward to higher authorities the account given in his own name. The success of this assault had a far-reaching effect in relieving the enemy pressure against American forces in the heart of the Argonne Forest.”
The official history of the 82nd Division states that York’s exploit in the Argonne Forest “will always be retold in the military tradition of our country. It is entitled to a place among the famous deeds in arms in legendary or modern warfare.” Following this exploit which made him famous, York stayed on in the front lines in the Argonne from October 8 until November 1. It was during this time that he had his closest call. “The nearest I came to getting killed in France,” he wrote, “was in an apple orchard in Sommerance in the Argonne.” They were digging in during a German artillery barrage when a big shell hit immediately in front of them. York describes the experience: “I have dug on farms and in gardens and in road work and on the railroad, but it takes big shells dropping close by to make you really dig. And I’m telling you the dirt was flying. And then Bang!….one of the big shells struck the ground right in front of us and we all went up in the air. But we all came down again. Nobody was hurt, but it sure was close.”
After retiring, York became a tireless campaigner for education for mountain children, and eventually was harassed until his death by the IRS. It is one hell of a story. Read the whole thing.
Thank God for men like Sgt. York and all the other brave fighting men and women that have honored America with their service.
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