Originally a conscientious objector, Cpl. Alvin York, was drafted to serve with the 82nd Infantry Division in France in 1918. His actions on October 8th would forge a legend that would make him the most famous war hero of the war and spawn a movie in his honor.
York’s unit was working its way through the Decauville Railway when a nearby ridgeline opened-up with fire from more than 30 machine guns. York’s platoon was ordered to flank the Germans and before long they came upon a small German trench just behind the ridgeline. The platoon quickly overtook the trench but was discovered by the remaining Germans. Suddenly, all 30 of the machine guns they had were pointed straight at York and his 16 men.
Within seconds, nine of York’s men were killed in the fight. The remaining men took cover in a trench, except for York – who found himself alone, staring down an entire machine gun company.
He drew his rifle.
Instantly, York opened fire on the Germans while being the sole target of every machine gun, rifle and pistol they had. Later York would comment, “I jes [sic] couldn't miss a German's head or body at that distance. And I didn't. Besides, it weren't no time to miss no how.”
At one point, a squad of German infantrymen popped out of a nearby trench and charged. York had just fired the last round of his clip and didn't have time to reload, so he pulled his Colt M1911 .45-caliber service pistol and opened fire. He killed the charging Germans in order from farthest to nearest so they wouldn’t know their fellow soldiers were down.
“I teched off the sixth man first; then the fifth; then the fourth; then the third; and so on.
That's the way we shoot wild turkeys at home.
You see we don't want the front ones to know that we're getting the back ones,
and then they keep on coming until we get them all.
I knowed, too, that if the front ones wavered, or if I stopped them the rear ones
would drop down and pump a volley into me and get me.”
After taking down the last one, the machine gun fired stopped. A German Major rose from the trenches, hands in the air and pleaded, “If you don’t shoot anymore, I will make them give up.” York, being a pacifist at heart, had no desire to continue killing Germans, so he accepted the surrender and escorted the German commander back to where the rest of the American squad was holed up. When the Major saw the US situation, he incredulously asked, "how many men have you got?!" York said, "I got a-plenty."
When all was said and done, Alvin York had single-handedly killed 28 enemy soldiers and captured 128 enlisted men, 4 officers and 32 machine guns without suffering so much as a scratch on his body. With this regimental-sized enemy machine gun Company out of the way, the American 77th Division was able to capture the railroad that evening,. York was lauded as a hero by the Allied forces - he received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Croix de Guerre, the Legion of Honor, and the Croce di Guerra. As all of the POWs were being marched back to the American HQ, a Brigadier General walked up and said something to the effect of, "I hear that you captured the whole German Army!" York responded, "No sir, just 132 of them."
The Diary of Alvin York