Keesler Airman descendant of famous war hero

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kyle Longaker
  • 336th Training Squadron
Many of us have relatives from generations past that have served with honor in the military, but not many can say that they are related to the one of our country's most decorated war veterans. However, Airman Tyler York can.

Airman York, a cyber systems operations tech school student here at Keesler, comes from a proud military family having relatives serving as far back as the American Revolution and continuing to serve even today.

One of Airman York's most distinguished relatives is Sergeant Alvin York, who was the most decorated veteran of World War I. Airman York, who is a fifth cousin to Sergeant York, said that it's "one of the coolest feelings" to know what his cousin did in the military.

Sergeant York came from humble beginnings in Tennessee where he was the third of 11 children. In his youth, Sergeant York overcame many obstacles eventually finding peace in his religion and ultimately enlisting into military service.

Ironically, Sergeant York actually claimed to be a conscientious objector. He wanted nothing to do with the Army, World War I or killing. However, one day, a sympathetic commanding officer lectured Sergeant York about history -- in particular, how fighting and service in the military actually saves lives.

This commander gave Sergeant York leave to go home, to reflect on these words and to read the history book from which the commander officer spoke. After reading that history book and the Bible -- and after lots of self reflection -- Sergeant York decided that he could serve his country and the greater cause, and he reported back to his base.

Though Sergeant York still had some reservations, he put his faith in God and was sent to the European theater for combat duty.

While serving in the Argonne Forest of France, Sergeant York was at the tip of the spear during an offensive maneuver. As he watched, the men of his unit were pinned down by German fire and were being cut down around him.

Though he had doubts about what to do initially, his doubt disappeared when he realized that he was the last remaining noncommissioned officer and was now in charge of the remaining men of his unit.

Under great pressure, Sergeant York devised a daring plan and worked his way to a hill near the German lines. With deadly accuracy, Sergeant York engaged the Germans -- forcing them to surrender. With only seven men, Sergeant York captured 132 prisoners and disabled 36 machine gun emplacements.

In the face of adversity, Sergeant York not only showed true leadership but also showed the difference one good leader can make. He not only saved the lives of the men in his unit but, in effect, he saved countless more as well.

Additionally, Sergeant York even saved the lives of the German prisoners. Many may not see that as a good thing, but it takes an exceptional leader to convince 132 enemy soldiers to surrender to only seven men.

When World War I ended, Sergeant York returned home to Tennessee and married his childhood sweetheart, Grace Williams. He started the Alvin C. York Agricultural Institute in his home town. This institute was a vocational school dedicated to education of his community. He resented any implication that people where he was from were backwards or ignorant. He often said, "... mountaineers are the secret of America's greatness."

When World War II started, Sergeant York was called back to service once again as an honorary colonel in the Army Signal Corps. Though he attempted to reenlist, the honorary colonel was turned down due to his age and health.

Instead, he worked with recruiting and war bond drives. He also inspected tours of American soldiers in training. Further, Colonel York praised the accomplishments of women during the war, saying "they deserved a permanent place in public life."

He also advocated the use of African-American soldiers in the war effort, stating "failure to allow them to serve in all roles was agreeing with Hitler's assertion that African-Americans were inferior troops."

Service and bravery in the face of adversity is how York became one of our nation's most decorated war veterans. He received our nation's highest military honor, the Medal of Honor, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, the French Legion of Honor, the French Croix-de-Guerre with Palm, the Italian Croce di Guerra and the Montenegran War Medal.

As a leader and NCO, Sergeant York had great confidence and faith in his men. This, combined with his definitive actions in the face of overwhelming adversity, made Sergeant York a living definition of what an exceptional leader is all about.

Leadership is often defined as guiding or influencing people. A true leader is someone who can guide and influence people in adverse situations.

Sergeant York effectively guided the seven remaining men in his unit at that time through what was probably the hardest thing any of them had ever attempted to do. Because York did not give up no matter how bleak the situation was, he was able to successfully lead his men in overcoming monumental obstacles.

What can we take from Alvin C. York's life experiences as Airmen in today's Air Force? Alvin York lived our core values in everything he did.

Integrity First. York recognized in the Argonne Forest that he could have turned and retreated in the face of overwhelming odds, but he did not. Rather, he took the seven remaining men in his unit and captured 132 enemy prisoners.

Also, York recognized the accomplishments and service of African-Americans and women during World War II. This was not a popular opinion at that time, but that didn't matter to him. He showed that the popular opinion is not always the right one.

Service Before Self. York exemplified this by his life and the things he did. During World War II, York didn't want to take it easy. In fact, he wanted to go back into the Army at the age of 54.
Despite his advanced age, health problems, previous service in World War I, York lead by example -- insisting that he be allowed to return to the Army and to continue fighting for liberty and freedom. When the Army would not allow this, York did everything he could to assist the war effort and serve his country in any way he could.

When York returned home from World War I, he opened his agricultural institute to educate and serve the community. When he faced the dilemma of his religious beliefs, he chose his country and the men he served -- believing that his faith would see him through anything...and it did.

Excellence In All We Do. York did everything to the best of his ability. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for the demonstrations of his remarkable abilities. He did not let the past influence anything he attempted. He discovered that he was a born leader -- taking himself and the men with whom he served to their very best in the most extreme situations.