American Portraits

Sergeant Alvin C. York’s Responsibility

In this lesson, students will learn about Alvin C. York and the responsibility he showed toward his men during his attack on Hill 223. They will explore how responsibility can help advance freedom and work on discovering how responsibilities affect their own lives.

Founding Principles

Inalienable / Natural Rights image

Inalienable / Natural Rights

Freedoms which belong to us by nature and can only be justly taken away through due process.

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Liberty image

Liberty

Except where authorized by citizens through the Constitution, the government does not have the authority to limit freedom.

Private Virtue image

Private Virtue

The idea that only a knowledgeable and virtuous citizenry can sustain liberty.

Narrative

Life in rural Tennessee in the early twentieth century was far from easy. To survive, you had to work hard. Alvin C. York was born into this world in December 1887. The third or eleven children, Alvin knew hard work from an early age that was driven by a deep sense of responsibility for his family and his community….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can Sergeant York’s actions on Hill 223 inspire us to be more responsible?

Virtue Defined

Responsibility is accountability to myself and others.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn about Alvin C. York and the responsibility he showed toward his men during his attack on Hill 223. They will explore how responsibility can help advance freedom and work on discovering how responsibilities affect their own lives.

Objectives

  • Students will analyze Alvin C. York’s performance during the attack on Hill 223.
  • Students will understand how responsibility played a role in his performance.
  • Students will apply this knowledge to better understand responsibility in their own lives.

Background

The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration given to United States military personnel for going above and beyond the call of duty. The stories of the men and women who win this award are inspiring and always reveal something of their character. For Sergeant Alvin York, the responsibility he had for his family, friends, and fellow soldiers is evidenced by his actions.

York received his award while fighting in France in 1918 during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The United States had entered the First World War in April of 1917 after the sinking of the passenger liner RMS Lusitania and the interception of the Zimmerman Telegram. The United States’ small peacetime army had to be quickly enlarged to meet the needs of modern warfare. To accomplish this the government instituted a draft, requiring all men between the ages of 21 and 31 years of age to register. One of those who registered was Alvin C. York of Tennessee, who was drafted into service at the age of 29.

Vocabulary

  • Medal of Honor
  • Sergeant
  • Meuse-Argonne Offensive
  • RMS Lusitania
  • Zimmerman Telegram
  • Draft
  • Rural
  • Blacksmith
  • First World War
  • Western Front
  • Pacifism
  • Trenches
  • Stalemate
  • Outflank
  • Suppressed

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

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Questions

Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • What was Alvin C. York’s role in the attack on Hill 223?
  • Why was taking this hill critical to the Allied effort?
  • What do Alvin C. York’s actions say about his identity?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

  • Alvin C. York and Tom Skeyhill (editor). Sergeant York: His Own Life Story And War Diary. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1930.
  • “Medal of Honor Recipients – World War I.” Medal of Honor Recipients – World War I.
  • Sergeant York. Warner Bros. Pictures, 1941. Film.

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