Updated: Jun 20
We are all faced with decisions at many times in our life, some small and others that are major turning points that change our life path and test our integrity. If you are anything like me, you’ll feel that if the major decisions you have had to make were right, this sense of courageous faith internally, washes over you where you feel strength like no other. However, if it wasn’t the right decision, it feels like you grated your fingers against the tender soul, and you “know” you’ve made a huge mistake.
So, what do we do in those times when major life decisions confront us? How do we make sure we make them courageously and take the right path?
In reflecting on this over the past few days and in honour of my service in the Australian Army for well over 10 years, with Anzac Day coming up, I realised that one of my heroes of the past may provide us with some answers. Although he is not an ANZAC, still in my books, gives us an incredible glimpse into someone who took a courageous path, with some major decision making done in a courageous way.
Alvin York was born in Pall Mall Tennessee and was one of 11 children. As a young lad in such a large family, when his father died, he became responsible for running the farm and their Blacksmith store.
With the pressures and the need for a very young lad to escape these heavy responsibilities, when bootleggers introduced illegal and unregulated selling of moonshine into the area, it led young Alvin into many a brutal bar fight, lots of drunken weekends and cavorting with many ladies.
On one of those weekends out, he met a young lady called Gracie Williams who was raised in Christian values. At that moment, Alvin realised he had to start to change his ways. It wasn’t easy for him, and he eventually got to a point where his addictions started to lift from him. He says this:
“Sometimes Everett or Marion or some of the other boys would drop around and tell me they were putting on another party and invite me to join them. Then it was that time I was most sorely tempted. I prayed most awful hard and got a good hold on myself and didn’t go. Each time I refused it was so much easier next time; and every day it became easier. In a few months I got them there bad things out of my mind. As I resist the temptation to cuss, chase women and drink, I in turn build up moral character, making me brave and heroic in my heart and in my soul”.
However, this newly found way of life was about to come to an end for Alvin, as men from around the country were being conscripted for World War 1. Although declining through contentious objection to be drafted due to his Christian beliefs of “thought shall not kill”, he was still told he had to go to war.
During this time, his soul was tormented so much he states “I prayed and prayed that God would show me His blessed will”. Not long after this internal seeking, he was eventually led to Major Buxton who showed him a passage in the bible Ezekiel 33 that changed his mind.
Now, persuaded that his religion was not incompatible with military service, York joined the 82nd Division as an infantry private and went to France in 1918.
At the age of 20, under the command of Sergeant Bernard Early, four non-commissioned officers, including recently promoted Corporal York, and thirteen privates were ordered to infiltrate the German lines to take out the machine guns.
His battalion attempted to capture German positions north of Chatel-Chehery, France on October 8th, 1918. The attack faltered, and many of his fellow American men were killed by German machine gun nests. The Americans infiltrated German lines and managed to take over a German base where an attack was being planned.
The squad was trying to figure out what to do with all the prisoners when they were attacked by machine guns, killing nine men in the squad including his superior. York, then left the rest of the squad, which was guarding the prisoners, and flanked the machine gun nest which was shooting at his squad members. He then started to fire at it and was in a minority due to his mostly destroyed battalion. The commander of one of the German battalions told his Army to fire solely at York but they all failed to hit him. Whilst he was fighting machine gunners in front of him, he heard someone behind him firing a weapon in amongst the German prisoners being held by those in his team, in that moment, he “knew” to turn around and right behind him was a German Major with a pistol pointing to his head. In an instant he threw his gun around with the bayonet at the end, towards the German’s face and the Major instantly dropped his gun and surrendered there on the spot. Seeing the losses that York alone was inflicting on his men and seemingly being undefeatable, the German battalion decided to surrender.
At the end of the day, although he tried to kill as few people as possible, it was said that Alvin York was responsible for killing around 30 Germans, putting several machine gun nests out of commission, and his remaining seven men marched 132 German prisoners back to American lines. He saved the lives of his final seven mates, and by the end of the war, this victory was hailed as one of the key decisive moments in the defeat of the Germans in World War 1.
When you read this detailed history and biography of this man, it is remarkable; so much more than what I have summarised here, but what is phenomenal is that just like us now, where we feel others are making decisions on our lives that impact our paths or futures, he too had the same but at a much greater level.
You might be asking, so how do we in our lives take courageous paths and make courageous decisions under the circumstances we are in? As I also served on the frontline with the UN during the horrific Cambodian Pol Pot rule, and taking immense lessons from Alvin’s story here is what I know that can serve us in how we can live courageously in our decision making:
1. Live by a moral code and compass.
I love working with clients around defining their moral codes. I believe that once you have defined your moral code and compass, you have the execution to the moral high or low ground. Alvin’s moral code for war, was defined when he resisted his temptations to go out and drink, cuss and chase immoral women. What are your moral codes and compass?
2. Outer circumstances do not define your life.
Alvin was “told” he had to serve his country for war. He didn’t have a choice. Much like what we are going through now, but he pivoted his life compass and courageously went into his new life with vigour and faith. A lesson for us all in these times.
3. Dream but detach.
When we walk the path of the hero, we can’t expect to know what will ultimately happen in the end, we can dream but staying detached will keep us from the depths of despair. We can hope and dream, but in the end the journey itself is the hero’s quest. Allow courage to manifest in whichever form it can emerge along the way. That’s what Alvin did. That’s what we can do in these times.
4. Call on courage and resist cowardness.
This becomes defined in your moral code. Alvin’s defining courageous moment in victory was defined when he saw his mates losing their lives and even though he was in a minority against the Germans, he chose courage at whatever the risk to himself was personally over any form of cowardness.
5. Be guided and led by your inner world.
Alvin was guided by his inner world and had total faith in his inner world. He trusted a divine power. Others may not like the courageous decisions you make from your soul, but you have to live your life, they live their life and hopefully both join at some stage. Alvin called that inner world God or Divine Power. Others call it Universe, Buddha, Allah, Spirit, Angel, Guides whatever, it means for you makes it right, just trust the inner world and be guided by faith that whatever happens is right for you.
6. There are no mistakes.
There are only lessons, never mistakes. We are exactly where we are meant to be right now and for us only to know in which course correction or course aversion decisions to make next. Alvin knew his, so what are yours under the circumstances?
7. Know that once you take the courageous path it means making courageous decisions.
It will be scary. I am sure Alvin was scared at certain points. BUT your heart will LOVE that you took the courageous path.
When I look through Alvin’s life, our situations now in Covid-19 it reminds me of this quote from the Army which we were always taught:
“The Oath you took to serve your Country did not include a contract for the luxuries of everyday society. On the contrary it implied hardship, loyalty, sacrifice and devotion to duty, regardless of rank” George Mansford.
So what ended up happening to Alvin?
Alvin York became one of the most decorated heroes of WW1, winning the Congressional Medal of Honour, France's highest medal, and several others, totalling about 50 medals from various countries and was one of the most decorated United States Army Soldiers of WW1.
When asked about his bravery at the end of the war, Alvin York said this:
"A higher power than man power guided and watched over me and told me what to do. It was not man-power but it was divine power that saved me. I told him that before I went to war I prayed to God and He done gave me my assurance that so long as I believed in Him not one hair of my head would be harmed; and even in front of them-there machine guns He knowed I believed in Him.
And that is the greatest victory I ever won. It’s much harder to whip yourself than to whip the other fellow, I’m a-telling you, and I ought to know because I done both. It was much harder for me to win the great victory over myself than to win it over those German machine guns in the Argonne Forest. And I was able to do it because God showed me the light, and I done followed it.” -Alvin York, 1919
After the war, he formed the Alvin C. York Foundation with the mission of increasing educational opportunities in his region of Tennessee. He attempted to re-enlist for WW2 but he was in his early 50’s and overweight so was denied entry. Him and his wife Gracie had eight children, two daughters and six sons. He died on the 2nd September 1964, at age 76.
What I personally love about Alvin York out of one million men, 999 999 thousand would have thought that the situation he faced in both going to war and whilst in battle fighting with minimal men against a huge German battalion was hopeless, but then there he was the courageous, bold, and heroic Alvin York who was the one out of that million who didn’t let that enter his mind. He just let courage rule. What I also love about him, was that by working on his moral character in his early years defined him much later in life. It is never too late for any of us, to define our moral codes or for that matter, to take courageous paths and make courageous decisions.
Now you know the story of Alvin, would you now take make some new courageous decision to take new courageous paths – even under our current day circumstances?
Let me know.
Rachel – www.rachelwotten.com - I help people play life boldly! Bigger than they have ever played before!
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