One of my personal heroes is Sergeant Alvin York. He fought bravely in World War I, and was the most highly decorated Soldier of that war. He also hated war and fighting, and was very much a pacifist who only took up the cause of war and fighting to protect his country and other countries from tyranny. His whole viewpoint on such matters came from his deep, yet very simple, faith in Jesus Christ.There is much that I find myself admiring about Sergeant York, yet his story is much more detailed and complex than the happy Hollywood ending shown in the Warner Brothers film named after him. The greater knowledge of his mistakes and his strengths somehow both lessens and deepens my admiration for the man. My sense of him is no longer as a near-mythic hero, but of a man I admire even more than before. I gained this deeper understand of the man by reading the book Sergeant York, part of Thomas Nelson's Christian Reflections series on various notable people of faith in history.In the book, John Perry, who has written books about General Lee and other figures, tells the story about York's coming to faith in Christ, and – after the US entered the Great War – his subsequent internal struggles to reconcile the killing his country called him to do with the Biblical injunction “thou shalt not kill.” Perry goes on to relate the famous scenes that many know of from the film, about York's heroics, and his refusal to become wealthy off of his exploits. But he goes beyond that, to the rest of York's life, where Alvin displayed a deep and abiding faith and charitable spirit. Perry relates many of the details of York's post-war life, including his refusal to profit from his service, his problems starting up charitable ventures to help poor children in Tennessee, his efforts to spread the word of God, his constant battles with government bureaucracy, and his support for World War II and stance against Soviet Communism. All of these and more were facets to the character of the man that was Sergeant York, and all of them were connected by two unifying threads. Those threads were the love of the Bible, and the belief in the greatness of America as she submits to and follows God's Word.For such a small biography (all of the entries in the Christian Reflections series of books are very short, as they are very much focused on the history of the faith of the subject), Perry does an excellent job in relating the actual essence of just who this amazing man was. He also deals with the issue of some of the jealousy over York's notoriety (on the part of other World War I vets, including in his unit at the time) with sensitivity. I appreciate this. I can understand, how the folks may feel, and (even though they were very much wrong to lie about York) I do have sympathy for them. I hope they all found peace in Christ.There are two main themes that I took from this book. The first was the need for our country to turn back to God, as York prayed it would do. For all of the better circumstances and strides forward that we rightfully can claim to have made in certain areas, we have taken significant steps backwards in many others, most of all in our lack of faith and slow descent into aimless existence with no real purpose. We have lost the principles, ideals, and faith that gave us a shared sense of purpose. Without these elements we are adrift and slipping as a nation. York warned us that we would “fall from within” if we ever fell, and we are seeing that now. Let us reverse this, if we can.The second theme is that we must try to show humanity towards our veterans. Yes, York was foolish when he didn't take advantage of early offers of financial assistance. Yes, he should have kept better financial records. I KNOW all of this. What I also know is that he was a very sick man in the last decade of his life, one who had given so much for others. He gave away most any money he ever received to help start schools and help friends, family, even complete strangers. Yet, the government constantly hounded him for taxes and refused aid to him and his family. Or else, they took aid away the first chance they got. I'm not saying the government should not have been frugal and wise in it's spending, or should not have had rules and standards for how things are done. I am simply saying that sometimes the government seems to rely too much (as it still does today) on formulas and less on the “on the ground” facts. We seem to act like computers and not people. Let us all, government and private, endeavor to show mercy and love towards our vets.One of the last things York ever said before he fell into a coma and died, showed his deep sense of pacifism. Despite his support for a strong US militarily, he was NOT some “warmonger”. He believed that all lives were sacred, and that in our fallen world, sometimes you have to take a life to preserve your own life and freedom, or the lives and freedoms of others. This is a solemn responsibility, he believed, and not to be taken lightly, or to be celebrated or enjoyed. This was reflected in his whole life after World War I, leading up to some of his last words ever. He asked his son, a Nazarene minister, if he thought that “God has forgiven me for killing all those Germans?” He knew he was saved and going to Heaven, but was still guilt-ridden over the lives he had had to take in defense of others. He took no joy in it, and thought it was “what he had to do”, not some special act. He refused to profit from it, except for when he was convinced it would help the nation, his charitable works, or (to a smaller degree) his poor family.Alvin York has become a deeper hero to me. He is a hero in life and faith, and this biography has left me very much reflective of how I live my life, and of whether I sacrifice enough for others. As John Perry closes the book in tribute to York: That (York's) legacy has dimmed over time. When Sergeant Alvin York came home to a hero's welcome in 1919, his was the biggest ticker-tape parade in New York history up to that time. Day after day his name appeared in the New York Times. He was an international celebrity. Today most Americans younger than fifty have never heard of him. Yet the example he set is a powerful and compelling one. York's faith transformed his life, and that transformation in turn had a ripple effect that eventually touched millions. York often talked about how poorly educated he was. Certainly he was no intellectual or theologian. His Christian faith was uncomplicated, almost childlike, and yet it was complete and all-sufficient. The spiritual journey of this humble backwoods farmer took him into the presence of prime ministers and presidents. It made him a household name for two generations. And his life is still a reminder that the power of faith can equip even the meekest and most modest of us for a great work that we scarcely can dare to dream of.This lack of remembrance is one to which I can attest. When I served as an Army Medic in the 82nd Airborne Division (the successor to the division that York was in), there was much mention of Audie Murphy and other heroes, but little of Alvin York. It is a tragedy that so few folks remember him today. Yet it was really what he wanted. He did all that he did to serve Christ. Not for public acclaim, but for the God Who said the words I believe York no doubt heard on the morning of November 2, 1964, as His Savior and Lord Jesus embraced him and said to him, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.... Enter into the joy of Your Lord.”May all who claim the name of Christ follow that selfless example until we, too, hear those words. I can not say enough praise for this book. Pick it up and read it.Highly Recommended.
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