The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the deadliest campaign for the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, a nightmarish period that began on 26th September and lasted forty-seven days. Corporal Alvin C. York (later Sergeant) was just one of 1.2 million American soldiers involved in the operation, yet he stands out for the bravery exhibited hours after writing the following entry in his diary. After casualties led to him assuming command of the seventeen-person platoon, York and his men killed 20 enemy soldiers, captured 35 machine guns, and took 132 prisoners—heroics that earned York the Medal of Honour and cemented his status as one of the most extraordinary fighters in modern warfare.
The Diary Entry
October 7th 1918
Argonne Forest, France. We layed in some little holes on the roadside all Day that night we went and stayed a little while and come Back to our little holes and the Shells Bursting all around us. I seen men just Blowed up By the Big German Shells Which Were Bursting all a round us. So the order came for us to take hill 223 and 240 the 8th.
It was raining a little bit all day, kinder drizzly and very damp. Lots of big shells bursting all around us. We were not up close enough for the machine guns to reach us, but airplanes were buzzing overhead ’most all the time, jes like a lot of hornets. Lots of men were killed by the artillery fire.
And lots were wounded. We seed quite a lot of our machine-gun battalion across the road from us blowed up by the big shells. The woods were all mussed up and looked as if a terrible cyclone done swept through them. But God would never be cruel enough to create a cyclone as terrible as that Argonne battle. Only man would ever think of doing an awful thing like that. It looked like the “Abomination of Desolation” must have been. And all through the long night those big guns flashed and growled jes like the lightning and the thunder when it storms in the mountains at home. And oh, my! we had to pass the wounded. And some of them were on stretchers going back to the dressing stations and some of them were lying around moaning and twitching. And oh, my! the dead were all along the road and their mouths were open and their eyes, too, but they couldn’t see nothing no more nohow. And it was wet and cold and damp. And it all made me think of the Bible and the story of the anti-Christ and Armageddon. And I’m a-telling you the little log cabin in Wolf Valley in old Tennessee seemed a long, long way off.
Sgt. York’s diary first came into view in 1928 with the publication of His Own Life Story And War Diary, edited by Tom Skeyhill. Now out of copyright, early editions can be read at the Internet Archive. Updated volumes have since followed.
- The website of the Sgt. York Patriotic Foundation
- The Meuse–Argonne offensive at Wikipedia
- It’s worth noting that last year saw publication of Unraveling the Myth of Sgt. Alvin York: The Other Sixteen, in which historian James P. Gregory Jr. tells the story of the platoon’s other sixteen soldiers, some of whom believe York’s heroics have been wildly exaggerated