Adapted from York's diaries, a young man goes from carousing to religion that opposes killing, but he is persuaded to fight and becomes a war hero.
In 1916 Pastor Rosier Pile (Walter Brennan) tries to preach, but drunk hillbillies Alvin York (Gary Cooper) and his friends Ike (Ward Bond) and Buck (Noah Beery Jr.) are shooting rifles. Mother York (Margaret Wycherly) asks Pile to talk to Alvin and sends George York (Dickie Moore) to fetch Alvin from Kentucky, where he can buy liquor. Pile advises Alvin to wrestle the devil with God's help. While hunting, Alvin is distracted by pretty Gracie Williams (Joan Leslie). Alvin argues with Zeb Andrews (Robert Porterfield) and gets rid of him. Alvin tells Gracie he is going to marry her, but she has doubts. Alvin aims to get good bottom land. He sells a mule and skins to Nate Tomkins (Erville Alderson) for $50 but must pay $70 more in sixty days for the land. Alvin gets jobs, and Gracie kisses him. Alvin asks Tomkins for four more days. Alvin enters a shooting contest and wins all the prizes but learns that Zeb bought the land. Alvin gets angry and drinks but is struck by lightning. Hearing singing, he goes to church. Alvin apologizes, buys the mule back, and arranges to work on Zeb's new land. Gracie tells Alvin she wants to marry him.
Alvin is teaching children the Bible when war is declared. The draft starts, but Alvin tells Pile he won't register. Pile says he can be exempted, but the local board denies his claim. Pile says he will appeal. Alvin tells Gracie of their future house. Pile tells Alvin he must go in the army. Alvin says goodbye to his family and Gracie. At an army camp officers watch York, because he is a conscientious objector. New Yorker Pusher Ross (George Tobias) and York are given rifles. York shows his shooting skill. York declines a promotion, because he opposes killing; the Bible is debated, and York is given a history of the United States about its struggles for freedom. York is given ten days to go home. He reads the book and is torn between God and country. York stays in the army and is made a corporal.
Pile reads a letter from Alvin in France to his family. In a trench York sees a man get killed. In the battle on October 8, 1918 the troops advance. Some men are sent around the lines and capture Germans but are mowed down by machine guns. York by himself manages to kill twenty Germans until the rest surrender. Pusher is killed with a grenade. York orders the prisoners and gets more to give up. He and seven others lead in 132. Alvin tells an officer how he did it and says he did so to keep men from being killed by the machine guns. York is given the top medals and returns a war hero. Rep. Cordell Hull (Charles Trowbridge) takes care of York and says he has large offers; but York declines them and goes home. In the final scene Gracie shows Alvin the house and land given him.
This true story shows York's courage and shooting ability.
Ironically his religious belief is turned around to a killer,
and his story became 1941's greatest propaganda for supporting
the war. Yet he fought in self-defense, and of all the U. S. wars
World War II was more for defense than any other; too few people
had the pacifist awareness at the time to make nonviolent methods
effective except in limited ways in occupied Scandinavian countries.