Heroes: One Day's Work

In the life of Alvin Cullum York lay all of the authentic folk-hero elements that have since become clichés.

As a strapping (6 ft. 2 in., 200 Ibs.), likker-lovin' youth, York was a Saturday night hell-raiser around Tennessee's tiny Cumberland Mountains towns—and a phenomenal shot with his long-barreled rifle. Yet at the mere sight of a church-going girl, Gracie Williams, whom he wanted to marry, he put away his jug, joined the Possum Trot Church choir, turned piously religious. Above all, he took to heart the Sixth Commandment: THOU SHALT NOT KILL.

In 1917,...

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