As millions of other American men registered for the draft, so did twenty-nine year old Tennessee mountaineer Alvin C. York. On June 5, 1917 he filled out his registration form. He claimed exemption with the simple words: “Yes. Don’t Want to Fight.”
York arrived in this world on December 3, 1887, the third of the eleven children of William and Mary York. He was born into rural poverty. Although both of his parents were quite hard-working, the Yorks lived in a two-room log cabin at a subsistence level. None of the York children received more than nine-months education, as their labor was desperately needed to farm the few hard scrabble acres that the Yorks owned, and to hunt for food to feed the large family.
When his father died in 1911, Alvin took on the responsibility of helping his mother raise his younger siblings, and supporting the family. Alvin early developed the reputation as both a hard-worker during the day and a drunken hell-raiser at night, something that constantly distressed his mother, a Christian and a pacifist.
In 1914 York converted to Christianity. York’s conversion was the result of a number of factors, including the beating to death of a friend of York’s in a bar fight, his mother’s influence and York falling in love with a Christian girl, Gracie Williams, the love of his life who he would marry in 1919, and who he would remain married to until his death in 1964.
York’s conversion was total. He gave up drinking, fighting and swearing. He read the Bible cover to cover and did his very best to live by its precepts. York also came from hard fighting stock who had served in all of America’s wars and who had participated in the feuds and fighting common to the Tennessee mountains. In his mind there was a conflict between duty to his country and his desire to serve Christ. How that conflict played out we will follow in future blog posts.