Of the 4.7 million soldiers to fight in World War I, few may be more famous than Alvin C. York and George S. Patton Jr. Although they came from different backgrounds, jobs, and ranks they came together on the same battlefield. York was born in Pall Mall, Tennessee to a family of blacksmiths and farmers with limited education. York initially opposed his draft into the United States Army, stating his faith prohibited violence. Patton, on the other hand, was born in San Gabriel, California to a family with an extensive military background. He followed their footsteps and attended the Virginia Military Institute and the U.S Military Academy at West Point. Despite the difference in backgrounds, York and Patton became two of the most decorated soldiers in World War I, eventually sharing battle space during one of the largest and bloodiest offensives in American history, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
General George S. Patton (left) and Major Alvin C. York (right)
On September 26, 1918, Patton led a troop of tanks in an attack on German machine guns. During combat he was severely injured but still commanded the battle before being evacuated, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions. He later received the Purple Heart for his wounds upon the creation of the award in 1932.
During the second phase of the Offensive, York and thirteen privates were ordered to invade German lines and silence a machine gun position. Six were killed and three were wounded leaving York the highest ranking soldier. Courageously, he exchanged shots with 30 machine guns and six German soldiers charging him with bayonets. Once German First Lieutenant Paul Vollmer realized the number of men he was losing, he surrendered his unit. York captured 132 German soldiers that day which enabled the U.S to capture Decauville Railroad. He was later awarded with the Medal of Honor for his bravery.
Returning home from the war, York was an international celebrity for his distinguished service, but did not want to profit from his actions. Instead, he wanted to improve educational opportunities for children in rural Tennessee. He started the Alvin C. York Foundation as well as an interdenominational Bible School. Patton’s legacy on the other hand, had just begun to develop as he eventually became a top general and key leader in World War II.
On December 21, 1945, at age 60 Patton passed away due to injuries from a car accident. He was buried abroad at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg as a request to be buried with his men. On September 2, 1964, York passed away at the Veterans Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee at age 76, and was buried in Wolf River Cemetery in Pall Mall. Patton and York’s actions have impacted American history and will always be remembered.
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