13And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and of the Herodians; that they should catch him in his words. 14Who coming, say to him: Master, we know that thou art a true speaker, and carest not for any man; for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar; or shall we not give it? 15Who knowing their wiliness, saith to them: Why tempt you me? bring me a penny that I may see it. 16And they brought it him. And he saith to them: Whose is this image and inscription? They say to him, Caesar’s. 17And Jesus answering, said to them: Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him.
Mark 12: 13-17
So you see my religion and my experience…told me not to go to war, and the memory of my ancestors…told me to get my gun and go fight. I didn’t know what to do. I’m telling you there was a war going on inside me, and I didn’t know which side to lean to. I was a heap bothered. It is a most awful thing when the wishes of your God and your country…get mixed up and go against each other. One moment I would make up my mind to follow God, and the next I would hesitate and almost make up my mind to follow Uncle Sam. Then I wouldn’t know which to follow or what to do. I wanted to follow both but I couldn’t. They were opposite. I wanted to be a good Christian and a good American too.
Alvin C. York
Drafted into the Army, serving in the All American division, Alvin C. York had a moral quandary. A crack shot from years of hunting to feed his poverty stricken family in the hills of Tennessee, he was also a fervent Christian. He loved his country but took literally the Commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill”. Requesting a ten day leave to go home, which was granted, he prayed fervently to God for an answer to his dilemma.
“As I prayed there alone, a great peace kind of come into my soul and a great calm come over me, and I received my assurance. He heard my prayer and He come to me on the mountainside. I didn’t see Him, of course, but he was there just the same. I knowed he was there. He understood that I didn’t want to be a fighter or a killing man, that I didn’t want to go to war to hurt nobody nohow. And yet I wanted to do what my country wanted me to do. I wanted to serve God and my country, too. He understood all of this. He seen right inside of me, and He knowed I had been troubled and worried, not because I was afraid, but because I put Him first, even before my country, and I only wanted to do what would please Him.”
So He took pity on me and He gave me the assurance I needed. I didn’t understand everything. I didn’t understand how He could let me go to war and even kill and yet not hold it against me. I didn’t even want to understand. It was His will and that was enough for me. So at last I begun to see the light. I begun to understand that no matter what a man is forced to do, so long as he is right in his own soul he remains a righteous man. I knowed I would go to war. I knowed I would be protected from all harm, and that so long as I believed in Him He would not allow even a hair on my head to be harmed.”
In the fall of 1918, York’s regiment participated in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, the largest American operation of the war. On October 8, 1918, York’s regiment took part in an attack to seize German positions along the Decauville rail-line north of Chatel-Chehery, France. The attack encountered savage German resistance as York noted in his diary:
The Germans got us, and they got us right smart. They just stopped us dead in our tracks. Their machine guns were up there on the heights overlooking us and well hidden, and we couldn’t tell for certain where the terrible heavy fire was coming from… And I’m telling you they were shooting straight. Our boys just went down like the long grass before the mowing machine at home. Our attack just faded out… And there we were, lying down, about halfway across [the valley] and those German machine guns and big shells getting us hard.
Sergeant Bernard Early was ordered to take 16 men including York and work his way around the German position to take out the machine guns. Early and his men overran a German headquarters, when German machine guns opened up killing six of the Americans, and wounding three others, including Sergeant Early. York, the reluctant soldier, now found himself in command of the remaining seven soldiers.
And those machine guns were spitting fire and cutting down the undergrowth all around me something awful. And the Germans were yelling orders. You never heard such a racket in all of your life. I didn’t have time to dodge behind a tree or dive into the brush… As soon as the machine guns opened fire on me, I began to exchange shots with them. There were over thirty of them in continuous action, and all I could do was touch the Germans off just as fast as I could. I was sharp shooting… All the time I kept yelling at them to come down. I didn’t want to kill any more than I had to. But it was they or I. And I was giving them the best I had.
By the end of the engagement York had taken out several machine guns and he and his men returned to the US lines with an incredible 132 German prisoners.
York expressed no pride in what he had done. He viewed it as a necessary task, but wanted no glory from it. He was awarded the Medal of Honor and the Croix de Guerre from France, and promoted to Sergeant.
A national hero, York, a poor man, could have cashed in and made millions from endorsements. He refused all offers.