essays / Sergeant York

Why am I here? Where do I go next? This camp is so alien to me. I don’t want to dishonor my country, my family, and, most importantly, God. I can’t decide what to do next.

The government draft letter, the voices of my family, and of my Father all vividly reverberate in my mind. Who is right? Where do my allegiances lie? Am I to honor my country or hold my peace? It is written, “Thou shalt not kill.” In war, people kill and are killed. If others are killing, should I stop them? Too many people! Too many questions!

I didn’t want to dishonor my country, so I followed my draft and went to Camp Gordon. Such a lonely and desolate place, the camp was flat, sandy, and filled with strangers. This whole new world sickened and exhausted my bones. The dingy halls, thin and lumpy cots, messy mess halls, and nervous men tormented me. I missed the mountains and simple country life, and my family, and my girl.

I wanted to be loyal to the government and my family. My dad and my grandfather both served for the Army. Would I be disappointing and deserting my family by not fighting? As much as I wanted to be honorable, I wanted to see my family and my girl again. I want to live a full life, not lose it in battle. I wish to have a full life and help others through Christ and follow in His footsteps. I’ve wronged too many people with my body and my mind. I don’t want to hurt them again. Yet, I have also wanted to follow the steps of my ancestors and fulfill their expectations.

I’m a man of my word, when I say I’ll do something, I do it. I truly believe in God, and his works. It has been written “Thou shalt not kill.” War is violence and killing. How can I kill a person? I would be violating the rules of God and would fall back into a poor and sinful life. I cannot live with that spiritual debt.

My story should have and would have ended here. I would have left the draft with a conscientious objection. However, yesterday, my skill and potential was realized. I was a great turkey-shot. At the camp, the captain saw me as the great marksman. I’m split among my heart, brain, and spirit. Should I go to war? I have an appointment with the Major tomorrow afternoon. He wants me to go to battle. I’m anxious. I’m confused.

My confidence in the Major has increased. We discussed my dilemma. He imparted to me Bible verses to support his argument to encourage me to fight by demonstrating that war is sometimes necessary. The verses that inspired me was Ezekiel 33:1-3, “When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not take warning and the sword comes and takes his life, his blood will be on his own head.”1 After this I prayed fervently. Then, on one still and silent night, God replied to my prayers, assuring me that I would not get killed in battle and I would see my family and friends again.

On October 8, 1918, I went onto the field under Sergeant Bernary and twelve other privates, infiltrating the German lines in an attempt to disarm their deadly machine guns. This task was a risky and dangerous task. Many men behind us were depending on us to protect them from the machine gun’s unquenchable wrath, of deadly bullets and death. We didn’t know what we were approaching, but “the Germans got us, and they got us right smart… we couldn’t tell for certain where the terrible heavy fire was coming from… boys just went down like the long grass before the mowing machine at home. Our attack just faded out… I didn’t want to kill any more than I had to. But it was they or I.”2 Somehow, those bullets avoided me, coming from all directions. I step through them with an unbreakable, purposeful resolution, across the deadly bullets. I went up behind the awful guns, and shot those Germans machine-gunners sharp behind their back all while yelling ferociously for them to surrender. It was horrible. I “shot them down like turkeys, from the back to the front.”3 I held gunpoint on the Lieutenant of the battalion from the back. After the Lieutenant emptied his revolver, he and all his 132 men surrendered.

I returned home without a scratch, just as God had promised. The result of trusting in God saved the lives of many of my comrades, and even the Germans. I supported and defended my country, my family, and God. I married my love, and had a large and wholesome family. My life was full, and I helped people, in small and big ways, through trusting in God.