The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the last major battle fought in World War I. In late September of 1918, the Allied forces (primarily British, French, Belgian, and American) began their offensive and, by the end of October, German resistance had pretty much crumbled away.
The success of British on the northern end of the front really made the difference, but the American sector (with 1.2 million green and largely untested soldiers) definitely played its part as well. It was also in the American sector that one of military history’s most famous exploits took place.
On October 8, 1918, Alvin York, a 29-year-old Corporal from Tennessee, was part of a small team attempting to capture several machine gun nests. After taking a number of prisoners behind enemy lines, the group was spotted by machine gunners on a ridge, who promptly turned their guns around and began firing. Most all the officers in York’s team were killed.
With only 7 men left (including himself), York left the other 6 to tend to the prisoners, worked around to the end of the ridge, and began picking off machine gun nests one by one. With men dropping all around, the German officer surrendered his unit. When the action was over, York had killed 25 Germans and he and his company had captured more than 130 German soldiers.
Somewhat ironically, York had originally sought an exemption from the military as a conscientious objector, as his Christian views were pacifist. However, because his church was so small and had no formal doctrine, his exemption was denied. But amidst his discussions about the Bible with his commanding officers, he came to believe that his Christian views and warfare could be rationalized.
When the War ended, York held the rank of Sergeant and had become one of the most decorated soldiers ever, with a Congressional Medal of Honor among the numerous awards given him.
“Sergeant York” (with Gary Cooper playing Alvin) is one of the most popular wartime movies. I watch it anytime I can (it’s on almost every Memorial Day weekend). While it’s true that the movie takes great license with York’s personal life, the military exploits are relatively accurate. Still, it’s better to get the story from a writer than from a movie director.