The Amazing Story Of Sergeant Alvin York – With John Perry – Not many know the name and story of Sergeant Alvin York, the most decorated war hero of WWI. Author John Perry joins us today to share the amazing story of this American hero. You do not want to miss this interview!
Air Date: 06/14/2021
Guest: John Perry
On-air Personalities: David Barton, Rick Green, and Tim Barton
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Transcription note: As a courtesy for our listeners’ enjoyment, we are providing a transcription of this podcast. Transcription will be released shortly. However, as this is transcribed from a live talk show, words and sentence structure were not altered to fit grammatical, written norms in order to preserve the integrity of the actual dialogue between the speakers. Additionally, names may be misspelled or we might use an asterisk to indicate a missing word because of the difficulty in understanding the speaker at times. We apologize in advance.
Welcome to the intersection of faith and the culture. This is WallBuilders Live. We’re talking about today’s hot topics on policy, faith, and culture, always from a biblical, historical, and constitutional perspective. And sometimes we just have fun, we get to cover some really cool stories, some of which you may not know much about, sometimes you’re vaguely familiar, but we get to dive into the details of them. And that’s what today’s program is all about.
We’re here with David Barton. He’s America’s premier historian and our founder at WallBuilders, and Tim Barton, national speaker and pastor and president of WallBuilders, and I’m Rick Green, America’s Constitution coach and a former Texas legislator. And guys, now Tim, I know you’re excited about today’s program. I’m excited about today’s program. But I’m thinking David is like, you know, having trouble sitting still here. We’re going to cover Sergeant York today. And this has got to be fun for you.
Yeah, Sergeant York is a great hero. And I am so disappointed that as I talk to younger audiences, they’ve never even heard of him, never seen the movie. So here’s the homework assignment. And I don’t care how old you are, this is your homework assignment. You get the movie Sergeant York and you watch that movie. Now, granted, it is done in 1941, it is black and white there, it doesn’t have all the sound effects, all the music, it is still the most compelling story ever. It’s a great story. So you got it. That’s homework. Everybody has to do that.
Well, in the end, add a little context, right. So this was done by Gary Cooper plays Alvin York in this. And so everybody knows, this is definitely one growing up that we watch Sergeant York. It’s actually one that as I travel a lot, I do have a lot of movies that I’ve downloaded on my phone or on my computer. Sergeant York is one that I have downloaded that I travel with. And if I just need a good background noise scenario, like this is one I go to because the story is so awesome.
So also, looking big picture, know the story is very good. It was nominated when this came out 1941, it was the highest grossing film of 1941. So, very successful. And it was nominated for 11 Academy Awards that it won too. So this was a very well done movie, and it’s a phenomenal story. And a little bit like Hacksaw Ridge, maybe if you know the story of Desmond Doss, where Desmond Doss was a conscious objector and he shows up and God uses Desmond Doss to save so many lives.
And the way that the story was portrayed in Hacksaw Ridge, you feel very realistic battle scenario. It’s very graphic. It’s very intense. And yet, in the midst of there being graphicness of violence and the intensity, there’s still a wholesome story in the midst of this, that is very much the feel of Sergeant York. Except back in 1941, when violence in movies is not anything like we would think about violence and movies, right, it’s totally different. His story is so remarkable though. And it’s a very similar scenario where Alvin York, it grows up as a kind of secular person rejecting faith, rejecting God…
Oh, he’s more than secular. He’s a rowdy. He’s, the word we can’t say is Hellraiser, which is what he was in the community.
What are you saying, can’t say it? You just said it.
Oh, did I say that? That’s who he was. He was a real pagan in every sense of the word. He stayed away from church and away from God people.
Right. And then he has his radical conversion. And after the radical conversion, he becomes a very devout, sincere believer. And part of his Church’s doctrine was they believe that killing was wrong. And they didn’t distinguish between killing and murder. We would recognize biblically, there’s a difference where killing is a shedding of blood, but murder is the shedding of innocent blood. There is a distinction even biblically between shedding blood and shedding innocent blood.
Such as just for the example, right, if one of us was being attacked, and because we all are Second Amendment believers and followers and supporters, and we generally are all carrying one of our firearms with us, if somebody attacked us, and we drew our firearm, and we stopped the attacker, or if somebody was attacking one of our family members, right, our wives, or our children, and we drew our handgun, and we stopped the bad guy who is doing harm to our family, we didn’t murder the bad guy. Now we did kill him. But this is a difference. We shed blood, but we didn’t shed innocent blood. That was the distinguishing factor even in biblical understanding.
Now, with that being said, and Alvin York’s denomination, they just said, nope, all killing is wrong, because all life is precious in God’s sight. And that certainly is a valid argument. I would disagree biblically, but at least we’re recognizing, oh, life is valid, all life is significant, because all of us are made in God’s image. That was his perspective. He gets drafted in the World War 1, and they don’t give him a conscientious objection because he was from such a small church. They didn’t really nationally recognize it. And he’s forced to go into the military.
But from his hell raising days, he was a very good shot, and becomes a remarkable shot and gets credit for his marksmanship, actually, put over helping teach other guys in his unit how to shoot. And as the course of the war goes on, he’s put in a situation which we’re actually, I’m sure in the interview, we’re going to get to some of this. And if not, we’ll certainly give you more details at the end of the interview depending on what else covered in this interview. But how God uses him to save so many lives, so many moments where he should have died, where nearly point blank range, people had their guns trained on him. They were shooting at him and none of the bullets hit him.
It reminds me a little bit, dad, you wrote a book years ago about a store with George Washington, where God supernaturally protected George Washington. It’s called the “Bulletproof George Washington”. It’s something we have as an audio book. I think it’s on CD. It’s an mp3. We have actual physical booklet, it’s really neat story. But a very similar experience from Alvin York, where God protected him, where he easily should have died and he didn’t. And then just so much the story: we don’t want to take away probably from the interview coming up. But there was somebody who did a lot of research, actually, got to know some of the family, some of Alvin York’s actual kids, and got to interview them finding out about the faith, the life, the testimony of Sergeant Alvin York, and we thought it’d be really fun to have interview kind of unfolding some of the story.
And let me add to it that kind of makes us so unique. He is a pacifist that ends up being the most decorated military hero of World War I. I mean, hands down. How are you a pacifist, and end up the most decorated military hero? It’s a huge, huge story. It is so fun to hear. And Tim, as you’re right getting to interview the kids and those that were there, that would be a real thing. But you just can’t discount Sergeant York because we talked about him as a pacifist, he doesn’t like killing, and yet he ends up being the most decorated war hero in the World War I.
Well, we’re going to have the author of the new book, John Perry with us when we return. Stay with us, you’re listening to WallBuilders Live.
Hey, guys, we want to let you know about a new resource we have at WallBuilders called The American Story. For so many years, people have asked us to do a history book to help tell more of the story that’s just not known or not told today.
And we would say very providentially in the midst of all of the new attacks coming out against America, whether it be from things like the 1619 project that say America is evil, and everything in America was built off slavery, which is certainly not true or things, like even the Black Lives Matter movement, the organization itself, not out the statement Black Lives Matter, but the organization that says we’re against everything that America was built on, and this is part of the Marxist ideology. There’s so many things attacking America.
Well, is America worth defending? What is the true story of America? We actually have written and told that story starting with Christopher Columbus, going roughly through Abraham Lincoln, we tell the story of America not as the story of a perfect nation of a perfect people. But the story of how God used these imperfect people and did great things through this nation. It’s a story you want to check out wallbuilders.com, The American Story.
This is Tim Barton from WallBuilders with another moment from American history. In the early 1700s, the Reverend John Wise preached that all men were created equal, that taxation without representation was tyranny, and that God’s preferred form of government was the consent of the governed: all of which is language recognizable on the Declaration of Independence. Why?
Because in 1772, the Sons of Liberty led by founders such as Sam Adams and John Hancock, reprinted and distributed the Reverend Wise’s sermons. So four years later, much of the declaration reflected the language of those sermons by John Wise. In 1926, on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, President Calvin Coolidge affirmed “The thoughts in the declaration can very largely be traced back to what John Wise was saying.”
Few today know that the Declaration was so strongly influenced by the Reverend John Wise. For more information on this and other stories, go to wallbuilders.com.
Welcome back to WallBuilders Live. Thanks for staying with us today. John Perry is with us. He’s got a new book just out about Sergeant York. It’s called “His Life, Legend & Legacy”. John, thanks so much for sharing with us today.
Hi, thanks. It’s great to be on your show.
Well, I know David Barton has been looking forward to this in a big way. Our audience, there’s probably some in our audience that are familiar with Sergeant York story. But I would venture to say most people have no idea. And so I want to start with the question, I mean, we’re going to get into how amazing he was. But let me just start with you. What made you decide to bring this story back to life for folks that weren’t familiar with it?
Some friends of mine were hoping to start the Sergeant York Historical Association. They came to me to write a brochure for them. I’d heard of Sergeant York’s name and a little bit about him, but not a heck of a lot. And so I went to research and found out, first of all, that there was a time at the beginning of the 20th century when he was one of the most famous and most respected public figures in the country in the world, and yet today, he’s very little known. He just about disappeared from the history books. His value Sergeant had gone out of style. And I saw an opportunity to introduce them to a new generation of people and was delighted to take up the task.
Well, and one of the things that that least previous generations knew is he was definitely a famous soldier. What even those generations may not have known was his behind the scenes values. And so you bring that to life as well. So you get both. You get the story of the heroism, and the incredible story that most people might have learned about in the history books, but then you dig deeper, and say, I want people to really know what drove this guy.
Yeah, York’s values are what made his heroic battlefield work possible. Without his values, he would never have been able to do what he did on the battlefield. Those values made his battlefield heroism and his battlefield abilities possible.
Alright, so let’s try to do a summary here in our 10 minutes together, but I encourage people to go get the book to really dive in and get all the details and it’s available everywhere, “Sgt. York: His Life, Legend & Legacy”. And this is actually, I believe it was published by Colonel Oliver North’s Publishing company, is that correct?
That’s right, Oliver North and Gary Terashita Publishing, I think been tremendous publishing partners and a huge, a huge help. I mean, they’re a great partnership and I’ve been delighted to work with them.
I’m thrilled that you’re doing that with them. We had Colonel North on a few months ago, just talking about what he was doing and just thrilled to see it. But give me a quick summary. First, the military exploits and just what made Sergeant York so famous?
Sergeant York was an American force that was pushing the Germans back. The Germans were in full retreat in the last weeks of World War I. The afresh American forces were pressing them, the Germans stopped to defend their gaze railway that was in a valley. This is an important railway for carrying iron ore back and forth, for carrying fish troops back and forth. There was a machine gun nest across the valley and machine guns all around. So this was a very heavily fortified area. York was with a group of people that were sent around to try to flank the machine gun nest and take them out so the Americans can take the railroad.
They stumbled upon reserves coming up from the rear, they were in a rush eating their breakfast. So they were in the middle of these Germans before they even noticed it. It was a big battle: half the Americans were killed. The ranking person left with Corporal Alvin York. He gathered his forces together, and ended up this through sheer marksmanship and bravery and leadership, capturing 132 Germans.
And they were outnumbered, so how many did he have still with his?
There was him and seven others.
Just eight of them?
Eight of them, who could still fight. But he killed probably between 20 and 25 German soldiers by himself, and captured 132. And he said it was only through God’s help that this was possible. It wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
Wow. And this was towards the end of World War I?
Right. This is October the 8th and of course, the war was ended on November the 11th with the armistice, it was only about or six weeks before the end of the war, right.
And when did he become a sergeant?
He became a sergeant right after that, as you will imagine. As soon as the knowledge of his battlefield bravery and leadership got to the commanders, they promoted him to sergeant.
Got you. Okay. And then how did his story become so well known?
This, to me is fascinating. He never wrote about it. And if you were to take 10 people out of line at the post office and asked him to name any Medal of Honor winner, they probably couldn’t do it. But what happened was, it was a writer for the Saturday Evening Post who was in France after the war looking for stories, people were dying for news and information about the war, so they were still over there doing search.
He had to be riding in a truck with a portrait painter named Edward Cummings Chase, who had painted the portrait of York’s commanding officer. While they were talking, while he was painting him, and the commanding officer started telling this painter about York and what he had done. The painter actually painted York’s portrait on that same trip, and he was shooting the breeze with this rider for the post in the back of the truck. The post writer said I’ve got a follow up on this.
So he actually went to the city, interviewed York, interviewed his buddies interviewed his commanders, and wrote a big story that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post. And that was really what made your famous.
Wow. And then it became a movie right?
Later on, York really, I think you could say was one of the very first national media celebrities. This suggests when the national media, the weekly magazines, we were on the cusp of network radio. But just when the national media were coming into their own, and York actually was approached that year that he came back, 1919, was approached by Hollywood to make a movie of his life and he said, “Uncle Sam’s uniform ain’t for sale”. He was not interested in any of it. And it took about 20 years for Hollywood to finally penetrate.
And it was only after World War II began and the isolationist in America started getting the upper hand, York thought we should intervene and help the English and help the French. And Hollywood convinced him that a movie about his life which support the interventionist course, and that’s when he finally agreed that the movie. So this wasn’t until the spring and summer of 1941, so long after he came back from the war.
Interesting. Interesting. And then you got to spend a lot of time interviewing his 90 year old son, Andrew Jackson York. And so you really got…
Yeah, the two sources of information that really helped me the most, one was, of course, York’s family. They were so gracious and so helpful. York still has two children living, is Andrew Jackson York, and Betsy Ross York Lowery. Two of his children are still living. And when I started writing on the book, they were four, they’re actually four still living. But those four, wonderful folks are so proud of your father, and so eager to have their story told accurately and correctly in the right context, meaning that God and Christ were behind everything he did. They were so helpful, and they were very gracious with their time.
You also address the fact that his values began to be challenged as the world began to change. How did he deal with that?
Well, the question is much, by the time he passed away in 1964, I think a lot of the things he stood for, patriotism, the Christian faith, self-sufficiency, hard work, those values were still recognized by a lot of people in America at the time as values. But I think that what’s happened since then, is that so many of those who have been turned on their head now, I mean, we’re hiding the Ten Commandments, we’re rewriting the Pledge of Allegiance. I think, you know, if York was with us today, he would be the “king of deplorables”. He has remained resolute in his values and our culture has kind of shifted around him.
He would probably fit right among us gun-toting Bible-clinging deplorables.
Oh, yeah, God, guns and grandma. He’d be right there.
Amen. Amen. Well, I really look forward to people reading this, because I think that’s the way to bring those values back is to tell the stories of the people that champion them best. And Sergeant York is such a great example of that. I got to ask you an unfair question. I mean, you’ve had the chance to do books with Richard Land, Mike Huckabee, John MacArthur, Chuck Colson, I mean, all kinds of incredible books you’ve been a part of over the years. How did this one rank in all of that? It was different from a lot of the work you’ve done in the past.
It was different. And I’m saying, it was the best of all, because as a mentor of mine taught me, history well told is some of the best stories of all. And you take this, you couldn’t make this up, now Sergeant York and his life, Sergeant York and his faith, Sergeant York and all the things he overcame in the course of his life. I would say that in a lot of ways, it was the most interesting, most challenging, and most rewarding project I’ve worked on.
Wow, wow, that’s powerful. That’s saying a lot right there. John, what a pleasure. Man, it’s been really good to have you on. I’m so excited about this book. We’re going to certainly have links today. For folks, when they hit our website at wallbuilderslive.com or you can just go straight to bookstores all over the country, it’s called “Sgt. York: His Life, Legend & Legacy” by John Perry. John, God bless you, brother. Thank you for doing this book. And thanks for coming on and sharing it with us.
My pleasure. Thank you so much.
Stay with us, folks. We’ll be right back with David and Tim Barton.
THE PRECARIOUS MOMENT
Hi, this is David Barton. I want to let you know about a brand new book we have out called “This Precarious Moment: Six Urgent Steps that Will Save You, Your Family, and Our Country”. Jim Garlow and I have coauthored this book. And we take six issues that are hot in the culture right now, issues that we’re dealing with, issues such as immigration, and race relations and our relationship with Israel and the rising generation millennials and the absence of the church and the culture wars, and where American heritage is, our godly heritage.
We look at all six of those issues right now that are under attack and we give you both biblical and historical perspective on those issues that provide solutions on what each of us can do right now to make a difference. These are all problems that are solvable if we’ll get involved. So you can grab the book, “This Precarious Moment” and find out what you can do to make a difference. “This Precarious Moment” is available at wallbuilders.com.
We’re back on WalBuilders Live. Thanks for staying with us. And thanks to John Perry for joining us today on the program as well. Alright, David, and Tim, we got some of Sergeant York story at the beginning, and then got a lot more in the interview. But there’s so much that we didn’t get to cover that’s in the book, folks can go and read it. But you guys know a lot more about the story than I do.
Well, first of all, let’s say that we’re very grateful, John Perry, for coming on. And I am very excited to go back and read his book, because Sergeant York really is someone that that we ought to remember. One of the things we try to do at WallBuilders is help tell the story of forgotten heroes in American history. And Sergeant York is one of those great heroes who did become, as John Perry pointed this out, one of the most recognized American figures of any time. He was so famous. It’s the reason they wanted him to do a movie so desperately and everybody wanted them to advertise.
And one of the things that John Perry didn’t point out in the interview, although I’m pretty sure it’s in his book, again, I haven’t read it, I’m very excited to go read his book, but one of the things that Alvin York finally agreed to do was, he would do advertisements, but only once he recognized that he could take the money, and he used the money to help start Bible schools for kids, help do things to help the poor and the needy to promote Christianity. And so really, there’s so many cool aspects about Sergeant York.
And again, he really is one of those guys, who is worth highlighting in telling his story and an era in America where we are being inundated with so many bad things about America. And one of the reasons that people think America is bad on so many levels is because we don’t hear the rest of the story. We don’t hear the good people, and the people who are doing courageous things and overcoming and how God was using people in these really cool ways. Sergeant Alvin York is definitely one of those guys who certainly should be highlighted as an American hero.
So you remember, Sergeant York was a pacifist and he has this conflict going on with him when he’s in military in bootcamp, and his officers were even persecuted him for his views about not wanting to kill someone. And…
Well, and let’s also add a little thought, dad, if there’s someone like if you’re the commanding officer, and you’re getting your guys ready to go to battle, and there’s a guy that you’re training, and he says, I’m not going to fire a weapon, you’re thinking, well, then you might cost some of these guys their lives. That’s not a guy that you are grateful to have in your squad as you are training these men. So on some level, it does make sense from the perspective of where they would be coming from that I don’t like this guy. In fact, maybe you need to go home or you need to change your mind, you need to pick up a gun, you need to do what’s right. They have a very strong opinion. And he’s not meeting up with what they needed soldiers to do at that point.
And so one of his senior officers recognize the conflict he was having. And it’s not that, Tim, as you pointed out, I mean, he was a sharpshooter extraordinary. He’s just a great shot in the woods. But he’s having this spiritual conflict about using that ability to take a life. And so the senior officer was a Christian, recognize that conflicts, said hey, take some time, go home, sort it out, think through it, read your Bible. And Alvin York did, and he saw the verse Jesus said about blessed are the peacemakers. And he recognized that you know what, if I can bring peace, I’m blessed. And sometimes you have to use strength and force to get peace. And so if I have to use strength and force to bring peace, I will.
And so when he was in France, he was a corporal at this point in time, the group he was with came under fire, the officers, other were shot, he ends up being the highest ranking one left as a corporal. He looks around at the guys that have been shot and it’s like, I’ve got to stop this. And so he starts taking out Germans at a very high rate to save his guys and save what’s there. He ends up killing somewhere between 20 and 25 Germans by himself. And then the Germans surrender in that group. They end up taking 132 prisoners. There’s only seven guys left his group.
And some of the remarkable parts about this engagement, this battle was at one point, he’s going to take a machine gun nest, and he’s trying to sneak up, he’s fired all the rounds from his rifle, and a group of six Germans get up and charged him with their bayonet. So he drew his pistol and he fired and killed all six of the charging Germans with their bayonets. He then is going up towards this machine gun nest, and there’s an officer in the machine gun with a pistol. This officer starts firing the pistol as York’s coming at him.
And this is where, in my mind, I like this “Bulletproof George Washington” story, and this is how it was recorded and reported in different outlets. But he’s coming toward this officer, officer’s shooting at him. Officer runs out of ammunition, never hits York, and then the officer asks if he can just surrender? And York accept his surrender after this officers just emptied his pistol at York.
But dad, as you mentioned, at this point, York was with a unit of 17 men. They were assigned to go take out this machine gun nest. Of his 17 men, 6 of them had been killed. During this endeavor, the machine gun nests, 3 of them were wounded. So it’s York and 7 other healthy guys who are left. They end up capturing 132 prisoners that they take and turn back in. And as the story unfolds and begins to spread, obviously, it boosts morale. York work becomes very famous, what happened under fire, the fact that he engages so many Germans by himself. He was so successful in what he did that he was never shot. His officers couldn’t believe that he was able to cover so much ground and never have been hit. And of course we look at and go, well, God clearly was protecting this guy. And certainly he was.
And then at the end of the war, we already made mention of the fact that he used his fame and success to help encourage other Americans, to help lead people to Christ. Even what he did, helping as World War II starting to unfold, and he finally decides that they can make a movie about him because he wants to help boost morale in America, just such a neat story.
And it’s cool that Hollywood would even do a movie like that at that point time. But Hollywood was so pro-America, they came out with so many movies to help World War II families at home, to help those who were actually fighting overseas, to help all sorts of areas. And Sergeant York came out in 1941 at the start of World War II reminding Americans of this great Christian military hero and what he did, a strong Christian man, strong man of faith. And so again, your homework assignment is to watch the movie Sergeant York, came out in 1941. It is a phenomenal movie, even given the difference that we have now in the way we make movies and special effects and sound effects, is still a phenomenally good movie.
Alright, we’re going to have a link for the book today. You can get that at wallbuilderslive.com. We’ll have more interviews like this throughout the year, so be sure to go to our website wallbuilderslive.com and look in the archives. We have veterans on all the time. And it’s just a great way to learn that district. Thanks for listening today. You’ve been listening to WallBuilders Live.
I loved the interview. I bought the e-book. 2 days and one-third into reading it. Fantastic story. I’ve watched the film several times and love the story. Thanks!