• Brad Parker

Lessons from Sgt. Alvin York


U.S. troops firing machine gun in World War 1
U.S. troops fighting in the Meuse–Argonne offensive in which Sgt. York earned the Medal of Honor.

What started as a research project regarding shotguns ended up with this video that includes the remarkable story of Sergeant Alvin York and his Medal of Honor feat in World War I.


Photo of Sergeant Alvin C. York
Sergeant Alvin C. York

Sergeant York was one of the most decorated United States Army soldiers of World War I. Take a look at his actions that earned him the Medal of Honor:


  • Led an attack on a German machine gun position which was destroying U.S. troops.

  • Captured 35 machine guns.

  • Killed at least 25 enemy soldiers

  • Captured 132 enemy soldiers.


I stumbled on the video below from the Captain's Journal for information on the formidable trench shotgun, a modified Winchester Model 1897, known officially as the Model 1917 Trench Shotgun.


Yet, one of the most interesting parts of the video is the re-creation of York's heroic efforts from his diary entry.


At about 8:55 into the video, York writes about two tactical procedures he used which were directly attributable to his upbringing shooting and hunting in the Tennessee countryside.


"Every time I would see a German I just checked him off. I was shooting from the prone position just like we would often shoot at the targets in the shooting matches in the mountains of Tennessee and it was just about the same distance, but the targets were bigger."


He then describes when a group of Germans break out to assault his position.


"In the middle of the fight, a German officer and five men done jumped out of a trench and charged me with fixed bayonets. They had about 25 yards to come and they were coming right smart. I only had about half a clip left in my rifle, but I had my pistol ready. I checked off the sixth man first, then the fifth, then the fourth, and so on. That's the way we shoot wild turkeys at home. You see, we don't want front ones to know that we are getting the back ones and then they keep on coming till we get them all. Of course, I hadn't time to think of that. I guess I just naturally did it. I know too if the front ones wavered or if stop them, the rear ones would dun drop and pump a volley into to me. Then I returned to the rifle and kept right on after those machine guns."



Here's what's interesting about the parts of his diary captured above:


"I was shooting from the prone position just like we would often shoot at the targets in the shooting matches in the mountains of Tennessee and it was just about the same distance, but the targets were bigger."

  • Practical experience shooting from realistic positions.

  • Practical experience shooting at realistic distances.

  • Training on smaller (therefore more difficult) targets than might be encountered.

  • Rewards for accuracy.

  • Practical experience under stress of competition.


"I checked off the sixth man first, then the fifth, then the fourth, and so on. That's the way we shoot wild turkeys at home. You see, we don't want front ones to know that we are getting the back ones and then they keep on coming till we get them all."


  • Six shots, six hits. From a 1911 .45 ACP. At charging soldiers. There is a balance of speed and accuracy here when his life was at stake.

  • Tactical approach to engaging multiple targets.

  • Practical experience with multiple moving targets.

  • Practical experience from hunting to make every shot count.

Another thing that's interesting is York's entirely humble description of his shooting ability with a rifle. He says, "Every time I would see a German I just checked him off." In other words, if he could see you he could hit you.


Remarkable.


Let's remember to see the important lessons through the experience and actions of others.


Then, train like your life depends on it.

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