Tuesday, October 8, 2013



Cornay, France (JFK+50) Corporal Alvin C. York* of Pall Mall, Tennessee led 16 American doughboys  in an attack on a German held position in the Argonne Forest near Cornay 95 years ago today, October 8, 1918.

Leaving his men to guard captured Germans, York miraculously single-handedly killed 25 enemy soldiers with his rifle and pistol before forcing 132 more to surrender.

*Alvin Cullum York (1887-1964) was born near Pall Mall, TN.  He attended school only 9 months quitting to work on the family farm.  He later worked on the railroad and as a logger in Harriman, TN.

As a youth, he overcame alcoholism and joined the Church of Christ in Christian Union which opposed all forms of violence.

After WWI, York refused to take advantage of many opportunities to profit from his war experiences and instead established a foundation to increase educational opportunities for the youth of Tennessee.  

ACY died of a cerebral hemorrhage on Sept. 2, 1964 and is buried in the Wolf River Cemetery in Pall Mall.

                Sergeant Alvin C. York

Ironically, Corporal York, a pacifist and lay deacon of his church, had been denied exemption from service on religious grounds.

York was drafted into the 328th Regiment, 82nd Infantry.

Alvin C. York  was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and the French Croix de Guerre.  

When he arrived in New York City, York was given the key to the city and a ticker-tape parade.  The people of Tennessee presented him with a farm in honor of his accomplishments.

Shortly after his heroics, Alvin was asked by a general how he possibly could have done what he did.  York responded....

"Sir, it was not man power.  It was divine power that saved me.  Before I went to war I prayed to God, and He gave me my assurance that so long as I believed in Him, not one hair of my head would be harmed.  Even in front of them machine guns, He (knew) I believed in Him."

                Alvin C. York Home
              Pall Mall, Tennessee
Photo by Brian Stansberry (2009)

John Perry's biography of York tells of the efforts of America's war hero to help educate the young people of his home county.

Perry writes...

"Alvin York began to shape the vision of a free, year-round school for children of the valleys and mountains of Tennessee.  Its buildings would be sturdy and warm, so that if a (child) didn't have a coat or shoes, they could still come to class. 

 It would have books, facilities and money to attract good teachers.  Most important of all, it would be built where the children...could get to it, or (get) free transportation.  Students could even board there during the week."

In his final chapter, 'A Hero's Legacy,' John Perry writes...

"Most important, Sergeant York is a hero because not only his school, but his inspiring example, transcend time and place.  His story still moves us.  His life is still an encouragement to all who feel the tug of their own blessing and burden for building a better world.

One look at this backwoods Tennessee farmer with a 3rd grade education, and we find ourselves persuaded that, if he can leave such a legacy, so might some who follow."

Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Supreme Allied Commander in WWI, said upon awarding Sgt. York with the Croix de Guerre...

"What you did was the greatest thing accomplished by any private soldier of all the armies of Europe."

The 1940 film, "Sergeant York" won an Academy Award for Best Actor which went to Gary Cooper.

Alvin York died on September 2, 1964 in Nashville.  His funeral service was held in Jamestown where General Matthew Ridgway represented President Lyndon B. Johnson.


"SGT. YORK, His Life, Legend and Legacy," by John Perry, Broadman and Holman Publishers, Nashville, TN, 1997."


During our 1st visit to Fentress County back in the 1980s, we saw Alvin's younger brother, George, who is represented in the movie, sitting out on the porch of the York Grist Mill. 

York Grist Mill
George York in Chair
Pall Mall, Tennessee
Photo by John White (1980s)

When we went inside the small museum, there was an elderly lady who welcomed us and we learned later that she was a neighbor of the Yorks who lived with Alvin's wife, Gracie, after her husband died.

Alvin and Gracie's Neighbor
York Grist Mill Museum
Photo by John White (1980s)

*JFK+50 Note:  The images above were taken from prints made from original 35mm slides thus diminishing the quality.

Sergeant Alvin C. York Statue
  State Capitol Grounds
  Nashville, Tennessee
 Photo by John White (2011)