|Birth name||Alvin Cullum York|
December 13, 1887|
Pall Mall, Tennessee
|Died||September 2, 1964
|Place of burial||Wolf River Cemetery Pall Mall|
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Rank||Corporal (at time of Medal of Honor action)
Sergeant (at end of war)
Colonel (Tennessee State Guard WW II rank)
|Commands held||7th Regiment, Tennessee State Guard|
|Awards|| Medal of Honor
Distinguished Service Cross (Initially awarded. Later upgraded to Medal of Honor.)
Legion of Honour
Croix de guerre (Palm)
War Merit Cross
Order of Prince Danilo I
Alvin Cullum York (December 13, 1887 – September 2, 1964), known also by his rank, Sergeant York, was one of the most decorated soldiers of the United States Army in World War I. He received the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine gun nest, taking 35 machine guns, killing at least 28 German soldiers, and capturing 132 others. York's Medal of Honor action occurred during the United States-led portion of the broader Meuse-Argonne Offensive in France, which was intended to breach the Hindenburg line and make the opposing German forces surrender.
York was born in rural Tennessee, and his parents farmed. The family included eleven children, and York's father worked as a blacksmith to earn additional income. The York children had minimal schooling because they were also required to help provide for the family, which included hunting, fishing, and hiring out as laborers when work was available. After the death of York's father, he assisted his mother in caring for his younger siblings, and found work as a logger and construction laborer.
Despite being a regular churchgoer, York also drank heavily in his younger years, and was prone to fistfights and other violent acts. After a 1914 conversion experience, York vowed to change his behavior, and became even more devoted to his faith in the Church of Christ in Christian Union.
York was drafted during World War I; he initially claimed conscientious objector status on the grounds that his religious denomination forbade all forms of violence. Drafted into the 82nd Infantry Division as a private, York debated with his commander whether one could be a good Christian and still serve in the military during a war; finally persuaded that he could, York became an infantryman and went to France with his unit in 1918.
In October 1918 the newly-promoted Corporal York was one of a group of 17 soldiers assigned to infiltrate German lines in his unit's sector and silence a German machine gun position which occupied high ground and was pinning down American soldiers. After the American patrol had captured a large group of German soldiers, German small arms fire killed six Americans and wounded three more. York was the highest in rank of the nine who were alive and able to fight, so he took charge. While his men guarded the prisoners, York attacked the German machine gun position, dispatching several soldiers with his rifle. By the time six Germans charged at York with fixed bayonets he was out of rifle ammunition, so he drew his pistol and shot them all.
The German officer responsible for the machine gun position had emptied his pistol while firing at York, but failed to hit him. The German officer then offered to surrender; York accepted. York and his men then marched back to their unit's command post with more than 130 German prisoners of war.
York was immediately promoted to sergeant, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross; a later investigation led to this award being upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
After the war, York became a national hero in the United States and an international celebrity; he went on to receive awards and decorations from several foreign countries, including France, Italy, and Montenegro.
Local businessmen in Tennessee organized the purchase of a farm for York, his new wife, and their growing family; except for that purchase, he refused other offers to profit from his war time heroism. He later formed a charitable foundation which aimed to improve educational opportunities for children in rural areas of Tennessee. In the 1930s and 1940s, York worked as a project superintendent for the Civilian Conservation Corps and managed the construction of Byrd Lake, a man made reservoir, at Cumberland Mountain State Park, after which he served for several years as superintendent of the park.
York attempted to rejoin the military for World War II, but health problems rendered him unfit for active service; instead he received a commission as a major in the Army, and one as a colonel in the Tennessee State Guard, and took part in public relations campaigns to boost soldier morale, sell war bonds, and similar activities. A 1941 film about his World War I exploits, Sergeant York, was that year's highest-grossing film; Gary Cooper won the Academy Award for best actor for his portrayal of York, and the film was credited with enhancing American morale as the country's mobilization for World War II began in earnest.
In his later years, York was confined to bed by failing eyesight, a stroke, and numerous other health problems. He died in Nashville, Tennessee in 1964, and was buried at Wolf River Cemetery in his hometown of Pall Mall.
York's World War I exploits made him an international celebrity; in addition to a memoir and the film about his military career, his legacy includes: the development of his former home as a historic site; numerous public buildings named in his honor; and a monument at the Tennessee State Capitol.
In the early 2000s, research by Army officer Douglas Mastriano uncovered the precise location of York's Medal of Honor action, which now includes monuments, a historic trail, and guided tours where visitors can learn about the engagement which resulted in York receiving the Medal of Honor.
- 1 Early life and ancestry
- 2 World War I
- 3 Homecoming and fame
- 4 After the war
- 5 Personal life
- 6 Honors and awards
- 7 Honors
- 8 Doubt over official version
- 9 Search for Medal of Honor action site
- 10 See also
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
- 13 Further reading
- 14 External links
Early life and ancestry
Alvin Cullum York was born in a two-room log cabin near Pall Mall, Tennessee. He was the third of eleven children born to William Uriah York (15 May 1863 – 17 November 1911) and Mary Elizabeth (Brooks) York (1866-1943). William Uriah York was born in Jamestown, Tennessee, to Uriah York and Eliza Jane Livingston, both travelers from Buncombe County, North Carolina. Mary Elizabeth York was born in Pall Mall to William Brooks and Nancy Pile, and was the great-granddaughter of Conrad "Coonrod" Pile, an English settler who settled Pall Mall. William York and Mary Brooks married on December 25, 1881, and had eleven children. The York children were, in order: Henry Singleton, Joseph Marion, Alvin Cullum, Samuel John, Albert, Hattie, George Alexander, James Preston, Lillian Mae, Robert Daniel, and Lucy Erma. The York family is mainly of English ancestry, with Scots-Irish ancestry as well. The York family resided in the Indian Creek area of Fentress County. The family was impoverished, with William York working as a blacksmith to supplement the family's income. The men of the York family farmed and harvested their own food, while the mother made all of the family's clothing. The York sons attended school for only nine months and withdrew from education because William York needed his sons to help him work the family farm and hunt and fish to help feed the family.
When William York died in November 1911, his son Alvin helped his mother raise his younger siblings. Alvin was the oldest sibling still residing in the county, since his two older brothers had married and relocated. To supplement the family's income, York first worked in Harriman, Tennessee, first in railroad construction and then as a logger. By all accounts, he was a very skilled worker who was devoted to the welfare of his family. York was also a violent alcoholic prone to fighting in saloons and accumulated several arrests within the area. His mother, a member of a pacifist Protestant denomination, tried to persuade York to change his ways.
Despite his history of drinking and fighting, York attended church regularly and often led the hymn singing. A revival meeting at the end of 1914 led him to a conversion experience on January 1, 1915. His congregation was the Church of Christ in Christian Union, a Protestant denomination that shunned secular politics and disputes between Christian denominations. This church had no specific doctrine of pacifism but it had been formed in reaction to the Methodist Episcopal Church, South's support of slavery, including armed conflict during the American Civil War, and it opposed all forms of violence. In a lecture later in life, he reported his reaction to the outbreak of World War I: "I was worried clean through. I didn't want to go and kill. I believed in my Bible." On June 5, 1917, at the age of 29, Alvin York registered for the draft as all men between 21 and 31 years of age were required to do on that day. When he registered for the draft, he answered the question "Do you claim exemption from draft (specify grounds)?" by writing "Yes. Don't Want To Fight." When his initial claim for conscientious objector status was denied, he appealed.
In World War I, conscientious objector status did not exempt one from military duty. Such individuals could still be drafted and were given assignments that did not conflict with their anti-war principles. In November 1917, while York's application was considered, he was drafted and began his army service at Camp Gordon in Georgia.
From the day he registered for the draft until he returned from the war on May 29, 1919, York kept a diary of his activities. In his diary, York wrote that he refused to sign documents provided by his pastor seeking a discharge from the Army on religious grounds and he refused to sign similar documents provided by his mother asserting a claim of exemption as the sole support of his mother and siblings. He also disclaimed ever having been a conscientious objector.
World War I
York was drafted into the United States Army and served in Company G, 328th Infantry Regiment, 82nd Infantry Division at Camp Gordon, Georgia. Deeply troubled by the conflict between his pacifism and his training for war, he spoke at length with his company commander, Captain Edward Courtney Bullock Danforth (1894–1974) of Augusta, Georgia and his battalion commander, Major Gonzalo Edward Buxton (1880–1949) of Providence, Rhode Island, a devout Christian himself. Biblical passages about violence ("He that hath no sword, let him sell his cloak and buy one." "Render unto Caesar ..." "... if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight.") cited by Danforth persuaded York to reconsider the morality of his participation in the war. Granted a 10-day leave to visit home, he returned convinced that God meant for him to fight and would keep him safe, as committed to his new mission as he had been to pacifism. He served with his Division in the St Mihiel Offensive.
During an attack (Meuse-Argonne) by his battalion to capture German positions near Hill 223 (Decauville rail-line north of Chatel-Chéhéry, France, on October 8, 1918, York's actions earned him the Medal of Honor. He recalled:) along the
The Germans got us, and they got us right smart. They just stopped us dead in our tracks. Their machine guns were up there on the heights overlooking us and well hidden, and we couldn't tell for certain where the terrible heavy fire was coming from ... And I'm telling you they were shooting straight. Our boys just went down like the long grass before the mowing machine at home. Our attack just faded out ... And there we were, lying down, about halfway across [the valley] and those German machine guns and big shells getting us hard.
Under the command of Sergeant Bernard Early, four non-commissioned officers, including recently promoted Cpl. York, and thirteen privates were ordered to infiltrate the German lines to take out the machine guns. The group worked their way behind the Germans and overran the headquarters of a German unit, capturing a large group of German soldiers who were preparing a counter-attack against the U.S. troops. Early's men were contending with the prisoners when machine gun fire suddenly peppered the area, killing six Americans and wounding three others. The fire came from German machine guns on the ridge. The loss of the nine put Corporal York in charge of the seven remaining U.S. soldiers. As his men remained under cover, guarding the prisoners, York worked his way into position to silence the German machine guns. York recalled:
And those machine guns were spitting fire and cutting down the undergrowth all around me something awful. And the Germans were yelling orders. You never heard such a racket in all of your life. I didn't have time to dodge behind a tree or dive into the brush... As soon as the machine guns opened fire on me, I began to exchange shots with them. There were over thirty of them in continuous action, and all I could do was touch the Germans off just as fast as I could. I was sharp shooting... All the time I kept yelling at them to come down. I didn't want to kill any more than I had to. But it was they or I. And I was giving them the best I had.
During the assault, six German soldiers in a trench near York charged him with fixed bayonets. York had fired all the rounds in his M1917 Enfield rifle, but drew his M1911 automatic pistol and shot all six soldiers before they could reach him.
German First Lieutenant Paul Jürgen Vollmer, commander of the First Battalion, 120th Landwehr Infantry, emptied his pistol trying to kill York while he was contending with the machine guns. Failing to injure York, and seeing his mounting losses, he offered in English to surrender the unit to York, who accepted. By the end of the engagement, York and his seven men marched 132 German prisoners back to the American lines. Upon returning to his unit, York reported to his brigade commander, General Julian R. Lindsey, who remarked "Well York, I hear you have captured the whole damn German army." York replied "No sir. I got only 132." His actions silenced the German machine guns and were responsible for enabling the 328th Infantry to renew its attack to capture the Decauville Railroad.
York was promptly promoted to Sergeant, and received the Distinguished Service Cross. A few months later, an investigation by York's chain of command resulted in an upgrade of his Distinguished Service Cross to the Medal of Honor, which was presented by the commanding general of the American Expeditionary Forces, General John J. Pershing. The French Republic awarded him the Croix de Guerre, the Medaille Militaire and the Legion of Honour.
When decorating York with the Croix de Guerre, Marshal Ferdinand Foch told York "What you did was the greatest thing ever accomplished by any soldier by any of the armies of Europe."
In addition to his French medals, Italy awarded York the Croce al Merito di Guerra and Montenegro decorated him with its War Medal. He eventually received nearly 50 decorations. York's Medal of Honor citation reads:
After his platoon suffered heavy casualties and 3 other noncommissioned officers had become casualties, Cpl. York assumed command. Fearlessly leading seven men, he charged with great daring a machine gun nest which was pouring deadly and incessant fire upon his platoon. In this heroic feat the machine gun nest was taken, together with 4 officers and 128 men and several guns.
In attempting to explain his actions during the 1919 investigation that resulted in the Medal of Honor, York told General Lindsey "A higher power than man guided and watched over me and told me what to do." Lindsey replied "York, you are right."
Homecoming and fame
York's heroism went unnoticed in the United States press, even in Tennessee, until the publication of the April 26, 1919 issue of the Saturday Evening Post, which had a circulation in excess of 2 million. In an article titled "The Second Elder Gives Battle", journalist George Patullo, who had learned of York's story while touring battlefields earlier in the year, laid out the themes that have dominated York's story ever since: the mountaineer, his religious faith and skill with firearms, patriotic, plainspoken and unsophisticated, an uneducated man who "seems to do everything correctly by intuition." In response, the Tennessee Society, a group of Tennesseans living in New York City, arranged celebrations to greet York upon his return to the United States, including a 5-day furlough to allow for visits to New York City and Washington, D.C. York arrived in Hoboken, N.J. on May 22, stayed at the Waldorf Astoria, and attended a formal banquet in his honor. He toured the subway system in a special car before continuing to Washington, where the House of Representatives gave him a standing ovation and he met Secretary of War Newton D. Baker and the President's secretary Joe Tumulty, as President Wilson was still in Paris.
York proceeded to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, where he was discharged from the service, and then to Tennessee for more celebrations. He had been home for barely a week when, on June 7, 1919, York and Gracie Loretta Williams (February 7, 1900 – September 27, 1984) were married by Tennessee Governor Albert H. Roberts in Pall Mall. More celebrations followed the wedding, including a week-long trip to Nashville where York accepted a special medal awarded by the state.
York refused many offers to profit from his fame, including thousands of dollars offered for appearances, product endorsements, newspaper articles, and movie rights to his life story. Instead, he lent his name to various charitable and civic causes. To support economic development, he campaigned for the Tennessee government to build a road to service his native region, succeeding when a highway through the mountains was completed in the mid-1920s and named Alvin C. York Highway. The Nashville Rotary organized the purchase, by public subscription, of a 400-acre (1.6 km2) farm, the one gift that York accepted. However, it was not the fully equipped farm he was promised, requiring York to borrow money to stock it. He subsequently lost money in the farming depression that followed the war. Then the Rotary was unable to continue the installment payments on the property, leaving York to pay them himself. In 1921, he had no option but to seek public help, resulting in an extended discussion of his finances in the press, some of it sharply critical. Debt in itself was a trial: "I could get used to most any kind of hardship, but I'm not fitted for the hardship of owing money." Only an appeal to Rotary Clubs nationwide and an account of York's plight in the New York World brought in the required contributions by Christmas 1921.
After the war
In the 1920s, York formed the Alvin C. York Foundation with the mission of increasing educational opportunities in his region of Tennessee. Board members included the area's congressman, Cordell Hull, who later became Secretary of State under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Secretary of the Treasury William G. McAdoo, and Tennessee Governor Albert Roberts. Plans called for a non-sectarian institution providing vocational training to be called the York Agricultural Institute. York concentrated on fund-raising, though he disappointed audiences who wanted to hear about the Argonne when he instead explained that "I occupied one space in a fifty mile front. I saw so little it hardly seems worthwhile discussing it. I'm trying to forget the war in the interest of the mountain boys and girls that I grew up among." He fought first to win financial support from the state and county, then battled local leaders about the school's location. Refusing to compromise, he resigned and developed plans for a rival York Industrial School. After a series of lawsuits he gained control of the original institution and was its president when it opened in December 1929. As the Great Depression deepened, the state government failed to provide promised funds, and York mortgaged his farm to fund bus transportation for students. Even after he was ousted as president in 1936 by political and bureaucratic rivals, he continued to donate money.
In 1935 York, sensing the end of his time with the institute, began to work as a project superintendent with the Civilian Conservation Corps overseeing the creation of Cumberland Mountain State Park's Byrd Lake, one of the largest masonry projects the program ever undertook. York served as the park's superintendent until 1940.
During World War II, York attempted to re-enlist in the Army, however at fifty-four years of age, overweight, near-diabetic, and with evidence of arthritis, he was denied enlistment as a combat soldier. Instead, he was commissioned as a major in the Army Signal Corps and he toured training camps and participated in bond drives in support of the war effort, usually paying his own travel expenses. Gen. Matthew Ridgway later recalled that York "created in the minds of farm boys and clerks...the conviction that an aggressive soldier, well-trained and well-armed, can fight his way out of any situation." He also raised funds for war-related charities, including the Red Cross. He served on his county draft board, and when literacy requirements forced the rejection of large numbers of Fentress County men, he offered to lead a battalion of illiterates himself, saying they were "crack shots." Although York served during the war with the honorary rank of Colonel in the Army Signal Corps and as a Colonel with the Seventh Infantry of the Tennessee State Guard, newspapers continued to refer to him as "Sgt. York."
Legacy and film story
York cooperated with journalists in telling his life story twice in the 1920s. York allowed Nashville-born freelance journalist Sam Cowan to see his diary and submitted to interviews. The resulting 1922 biography focused on York's Appalachian background, describing his upbringing among the "purest Anglo-Saxons to be found today", emphasizing popular stereotypes without bringing the man to life. A few years later, York contacted a publisher about an edition of his war diary, but the publisher wanted additional material to flesh out the story. Then Tom Skeyhill, an Australian-born veteran of the Gallipoli campaign, visited York in Tennessee and the two became friends. On York's behalf, Skeyhill wrote an "autobiography" in the first person and was credited as the editor of Sergeant York: His Own Life Story and War Diary. With a preface by Newton D. Baker, Secretary of War in World War I, it presented a one-dimensional York supplemented with tales of life in the Tennessee mountains. Reviews noted that York only promoted his life story in the interest of funding educational programs: "Perhaps York's bearing after his famous exploit in the Argonne best reveals his native greatness....He will not exploit himself except for his own people. All of which gives his book an appeal beyond its contents."
- We, the descendants of the pioneer long hunters of the mountains, have been called Scotch-Irish and pure Anglo-Saxon, and that is complimentary, I reckon. But we want the world to know that we are Americans. The spiritual environment and our religious life in the mountains have made our spirit wholly American, and that true pioneer American spirit still exists in the Tennessee mountains.
- Even today, I want you all to know, with all the clamor of the world and its evil attractions, you still find in the little humble log cabins in the Tennessee mountains that old-fashioned family altar of prayer–the same that they used to have in grandma's and grandpa's day–which is the true spirit of the long hunters.
- We in the Tennessee mountains are not transplanted Europeans; every fiber in our body and every emotion in our hearts is American.
For many years, York employed a secretary, Arthur S. Bushing, who wrote the lectures and speeches York delivered. Bushing prepared York's correspondence as well. Like the works of Cowan and Skeyhill, words commonly ascribed to York, though doubtless representing his thinking, were often composed by professional writers.
York had refused several times to authorize a film version of his life story. Finally, in 1940, as York was looking to finance an interdenominational Bible school, he yielded to a persistent Hollywood producer and negotiated the contract himself. In 1941, the movie Sergeant York directed by Howard Hawks with Gary Cooper in the title role told about his life and Medal of Honor action. The screenplay included much fictitious material though it was based on York's Diary. The marketing of the film included a visit by York to the White House where FDR praised the film. Some of the response to the film divided along political lines, with advocates of preparedness and aid to Great Britain enthusiastic ("Hollywood's first solid contribution to the national defense", said Time) and isolationists calling it "propaganda" for the administration. It received 11 Oscar nominations and won two, including the Academy Award for Best Actor for Cooper. It was the highest-grossing picture of 1941. York's earnings from the film, about $150,000 in the first two years as well as later royalties, resulted in a decade-long battle with the Internal Revenue Service. York eventually built part of his planned Bible school, which hosted 100 students until the late 1950s.
York originally believed in the morality of America's intervention in World War I. By the mid-1930s, he looked back more critically: "I can't see that we did any good. There's as much trouble now as there was when we were over there. I think the slogan 'A war to end war.' is all wrong." He fully endorsed American preparedness, but showed sympathy for isolationism by saying that he would fight only if war came to America.
A consistent Democrat – "I'm a Democrat first, last, and all the time", he said – in January 1941 he praised FDR's support for Great Britain and in an address at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Memorial Day of that year he attacked isolationists and said that veterans understood that "liberty and freedom are so very precious that you do not fight and win them once and stop." They are "prizes awarded only to those peoples who fight to win them and then keep fighting eternally to hold them!" At times he was blunt: "I think any man who talks against the interests of his own country ought to be arrested and put in jail, not excepting senators and colonels." Everyone knew that the colonel in question was Charles Lindbergh.
In the late 1940s he called for toughness in dealing with the Soviet Union and did not hesitate to recommend using the atomic bomb in a first strike: "If they can't find anyone else to push the button, I will." He questioned the failure of United Nations forces to use the atomic bomb in Korea. In the 1960s he criticized Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's plans to reduce the ranks of the National Guard and reserves: "Nothing would please Khrushchev better."
York suffered from health problems throughout his life. He had gallbladder surgery in the 1920s and suffered from pneumonia in 1942. Described in 1919 as a "red-haired giant with the ruddy complexion of the outdoors" and "standing more than 6 feet... and tipping the beam at more than 200 pounds", by 1945 he weighed 250 pounds and in 1948 he had a stroke. More strokes and another case of pneumonia followed, and he was confined to bed from 1954, further handicapped by failing eyesight. He was hospitalized several times during his last two years. York died at the Veterans Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, on September 2, 1964, of a cerebral hemorrhage. After a funeral service in his Jamestown church, with Gen. Matthew Ridgway representing President Lyndon Johnson, York was buried at the Wolf River Cemetery in Pall Mall. His funeral sermon was delivered by Richard G. Humble, General Superintendent of the Churches of Christ in Christian Union. Humble also preached Mrs. York's funeral in 1984.
York and his wife Grace had eight children, six sons and two daughters, most named after American historical figures: Alvin Cullum, Jr. (1921–83), George Edward Buxton (1923– ), Woodrow Wilson (1925–1998), Sam Houston (1928–1929), Andrew Jackson (1930—), Betsy Ross (1933– ), Mary Alice (1935–1994), Thomas Jefferson (1938–72). Thomas Jefferson York was killed in the line of duty on May 7, 1972, while serving as a constable in Tennessee.
After York's death, his wife sold most of the York farm to the State of Tennessee. The farm is now open to visitors as the Sgt. Alvin C. York State Historic Park.
Honors and awards
|Medal of Honor|
|Distinguished Service Cross (Initially awarded. Later upgraded to Medal of Honor.)|
|World War I Victory Medal|
|American Campaign Medal|
|World War II Victory Medal|
|Légion d'Honneur (France)|
|Croix de Guerre with Palm (France)|
|Croce di Guerra al Merito (Italy)|
|Montenegrin War Medal (Montenegro)|
Seven public buildings have been named for Alvin York, including the Alvin C. York Veterans Hospital located in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The Alvin C. York Institute was founded in 1926 as a private agricultural high school by Alvin York and residents of Fentress County. Due to the depression in 1937 the school became public and continues to serve as Jamestown's high school.
York Avenue on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York City was named for the Sergeant in 1928. In the 1980s, the United States Army named its DIVAD weapon system "Sergeant York"; the project was canceled because of technical problems and massive cost overruns. Laura Cantrell's song "Old Downtown" talks about York in depth. The riderless horse in the funeral procession of President Ronald Reagan was named Sergeant York. The 82nd Airborne Division's movie theater at Fort Bragg, North Carolina is named York Theater. The traveling American football trophy between UT Martin, Austin Peay, Tennessee State, and Tennessee Tech is called the Alvin C. York trophy. A monumental statue of York by sculptor Felix de Weldon was placed on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol in 1968. The U.S. Army ROTC's Sergeant York Award is presented to cadets who excel in the program and devote additional time and effort to maintaining and expanding it. A memorial to graduates of the East Tennessee State University ROTC program who have given their lives for their country carries a quotation from York. The Third Regiment of the Tennessee State Guard is named for York.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Penn Warren used York as the model for characters in two of his novels, both explorations of the burden of fame faced by battlefield heroes in peacetime. In At Heaven's Gate (1943), a Tennessee mountaineer who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War I returns from combat, becomes a state legislator, and then a bank president. Others exploit his decency and fame for their own selfish ends as the novel explores the real-life experience of an old-fashioned hero in a cynical world. In The Cave (1959), a similar hero from a comparable background has aged and become an invalid. He struggles to maintain his identity as his real self diverges from the robust legend of his youth.
Doubt over official version
For years beginning soon after York's return to the United States at the end of the war, doubt and controversy periodically surfaced, questioning whether the events detailed in his Medal of Honor documents had taken place as officially described, and whether other soldiers in York's unit should also have been recognized for their heroism. Corporal William Cutting, who was present with York during his Medal of Honor action, and Bernard Early, the noncommissioned officer under whom York was serving during the events which led to his receiving of the Medal of Honor, were among those who argued against the official version. Of the 17 American soldiers who were involved in York's Medal of Honor action, six were killed. York received the Medal of Honor, and over the years, eight of the others who lived through that day's fighting also received valor awards, including the Distinguished Service Cross for Early in 1929, and the Silver Star for Cutting (aka Otis B. Merrithew) in 1965.
Search for Medal of Honor action site
In October 2006, US Army Colonel Douglas Mastriano, head of the Sergeant York Discovery Expedition (SYDE), conducted research to locate the York battle site. After forensic ballistic analysis verified that the rifle and pistol cartridges that his team recovered matched York's weapons, French and American government officials determined that Mastriano had pinpointed the location of York's exploits, and the finds largely corroborated the official version and dispelled the controversy surrounding York's Medal of Honor action. Dr. Tom Nolan, head of the Sergeant York Project and a geographer at the R.O. Fullerton Laboratory for Spatial Technology at Middle Tennessee State University, had earlier placed the site 500 meters south of the location identified by Mastriano.
Among the Mastriano expedition's finds were 46 American rifle rounds at or around the position York claimed to have fired from, and 23 .45 ACP rounds fired from a Colt 1911 handgun, which were located where York claimed to have repelled a German bayonet charge of six soldiers with his pistol. The rounds were all linked to York's firearms. In addition, pieces of German ammunition and weaponry, including items which could be linked by name to individuals involved in the fighting against York's unit, were found where the men York captured laid down their arms.
With the support and endorsement of the French government, two monuments and a historic trail were built on the site identified by Mastriano. There are battlefield guides available at the Sergeant York Historic Trail.
- Desmond Doss
- List of Medal of Honor recipients for World War I
- List of people on stamps of the United States
- List of people from Tennessee
- Ron Owens, Medal of Honor: Historical Facts and Figures (Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing, 2004), 97–8, available online, accessed September 21, 2010. Five Marines earned the Medal of Honor twice for World War I service, while Lt. Samuel Parker is generally recognized as the most decorated serviceman of that conflict.
- Legends and Traditions of the Great War: Sergeant Alvin York by Dr. Michael Birdwell, Ph.D.
- "Mary Elizabeth York". Find a Grave. Retrieved September 20, 2010.
- "William Uriah York". Find a Grave. Retrieved September 20, 2010.
- Laughter & Lawter Genealogy: Gladys Williams, "Alvin C. York", accessed September 20, 2010 Archived October 21, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
- Sergeant York and His People By Sam Kinkade Cowan page 85
- York Indian Heritage at ancestry.com
- Lee, 1985, 9–13
- Lee, 1985, 15–6
- Capozzola, 2008, p. 67
- Capozzola, 2008, p. 68, includes a photograph of York's Registration Card from the National Archives
- "Claim of Appeal for Conscientious Objector Status by Alvin Cullum York"
- Capozzola, 2008, pp. 67–9
- Sergeant York Patriotic Foundation: "Sgt. Alvin C. York's Diary: November 17, 1917", accessed September 21, 2010
- Lee, 1985, 18–20
- The events of the day are recounted in brief in Official History of the 82nd Division: American expeditionary Forces, "All American" Division, 1917–1919 (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1919), 60–2; available online, accessed September 20, 2010
- York 1930.
- Lee, 1985, 25–6
- Corp. Murray Savage, and Pvts. Maryan E. Dymowski, Ralph E. Weiler, Fred Waring, William Wine and Walter E. Swanson
- Sgt. Early, Corp. William S. Cutting (aka Otis B. Merrithew), and Pvt. Mario Muzzi
- Pvts. Joseph Kornacki, Percy Beardsley, Feodor Sok, Thomas G. Johnson, Michael A. Saccina, Patrick Donohue, and George W. Wills
- Sergeant York Patriotic Foundation: "Sgt. Alvin C. York's Diary: October 8, 1918", accessed September 21, 2010
- http://www.nramuseum.org/the-museum/the-galleries/america-ascending/case-57-world-war-i-allies-the-world-at-war,-1914-1918/us-winchester-model-1917-bolt-action-rifle.aspx | National Firearms Museum "U.S. Army Sergeant Alvin York carried an Enfield in 1917 when he was awarded the Medal of Honor for capturing nearly the whole German army."
- York, Alvin C. "The Diary of Alvin York". Archived from the original on 2013-09-21. Retrieved August 31, 2010.
- Sergeant York Patriotic Foundation: "Sgt. Alvin C. York's Diary: October 8, 1918", accessed September 25, 2010
- Lee, 1985, 32–6
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Alvin York.|
|Library resources about
- "Alvin York". Find a Grave. Retrieved November 7, 2013.
- "Alvin York". Hall of Valor. Military Times. Retrieved September 3, 2010.
- "Sgt. Alvin C. York State Historic Park in Tennessee". Archived from the original on 11 August 2010. Retrieved August 31, 2010.
- Jack Kelly (2007). "How Sergeant York Became America's Hero". American Heritage. Retrieved September 20, 2010.
- "Mastriano's Sergeant York Discovery Expedition and historic trail". Archived from the original on 11 August 2010. Retrieved August 31, 2010.
- "Sergeant York Patriotic Foundation". Archived from the original on 24 August 2010. Retrieved August 31, 2010.
- "Dr Nolan's Sergeant York Project and battlefield guide". Retrieved August 31, 2010.
- "World War I Selective Service Registration Card: Alvin York". Records of the Selective Service System (World War I). U.S. National Archives. Retrieved August 31, 2010.
- Cowan, Sam K. (1922). "Sergeant York And His People". Funk & Wagnall's Company Project Gutenberg. Retrieved August 31, 2010.
- British Pathé newsreel
- Medal of Honor Recipients on Film
- Alvin C. York Battle Painting by Frank Schoonover in 1919