15 November 2010

Real Life Heroes: Sgt. Alvin C. York

By Isabel Roman

Those who take their celebrity status and use it for good always have my admiration. Let's not even go into today's so-called celebrities--it's a joke.

Alvin Cullum York (December 13, 1887–September 2, 1964) was one of the most decorated American soldiers in World War I. He received the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine gun nest, taking out 32 machine guns, killing 28 German soldiers and capturing 132 others. This action occurred during the U.S.-led portion of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in France, which was part of a broader Allied offensive masterminded by Marshal Ferdinand Foch to breach the Hindenburg line and ultimately force the opposing German forces to capitulate.

All that is well and good, but why do I really admire him? In the 1920s, York formed the Alvin C. York Foundation with the mission of increasing education opportunities in his region of Tennessee. Plans called for a non-sectarian institution providing vocational training to be called the York Agricultural Institute. York concentrated on fund-raising, though he disappointed audiences who wanted to hear about the Argonne when he instead explained that "I occupied one space in a fifty mile front. I saw so little it hardly seems worthwhile discussing it. I'm trying to forget the war in the interest of the mountain boys and girls that I grew up among."

It opened in December 1929. As the Great Depression deepened, the state government failed to provide promised funds, and York mortgaged his farm to fund bus transportation for students. Even after he was ousted as President in 1936 by political and bureaucratic rivals, he continued to donate money.

How can you not admire a man who saw what he saw and did what he did and all he cared about was helping his community become more educated?