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See the extensive bibliography (divided into print, video/audio, and online resources) below the historical context essay.

[1] Situated in the Valley of Three Forks, Tennessee, lies the small, country town of Pall Mall. Although characterized as a stereotypical, country-bumpkin Americana town, Pall Mall would one day be the famed hometown of the most decorated American World War I veteran, Sergeant York C. York.

[2] William York and Mary Brooks York welcomed their third child, a son, on December 18, 1887, naming him Alvin Cullum York. York was only the third of William and Mary’s eleven children, including seven sons and four daughters. The young York’s childhood was spent hunting alongside his father and helping his father in William’s blacksmith shop. William supported his family with his blacksmith shop, farming the seventy-five acres, and hunting. However, York’s father passed when York was only twenty-four, leaving him the primary caretaker of his mother and his eight younger siblings, the youngest not yet two. York supported the household by taking over his father’s blacksmith shop and hunting, while he made his younger brothers responsible for the family farm. Sources close to York believe that his newfound responsibilities of caring for his family lead him into a downward spiral of gambling, drinking, and a fair share of bar-fighting.

[3] York’s reckless reputation began when the citizens of Pall Mall began to claim him “a real hell-raiser when he’d been in the corn.” His drinking and sharp-shooting skills lead him to a life of crime by killing his neighbors’ farm animals while in drunken states. By the young age of twenty-seven, York’s reputation was nothing more than that of a wild-spirited, rude, belligerent good-for-nothing with no future prospects of a wife or financial security. Mother Mary continuously tried to steer her wild son toward religion and the Good Shepherd, even begging him to come to church when York would begin to walk toward a speakeasy. Mary attended a small Methodist Church located along the Wolf River, and the church would have weekly revival sessions as well as weekly meetings on Sundays. Mary tried continuously to keep her son at bay. Even when York shot up a tree outside of the church, disturbing the services, she still tried to convert her son and change him from his drinking and gambling ways. It was three years after York’s continuous drinking and gambling and begging from his mother to stop and become a man like his father and Grandfather that he came to terms with the fact that his life was heading down the wrong road. “My little old mother had been praying for me for so long, and I guess the Lord finally decided to answer her,” he said. It was in a moment of confrontation with his mother on New Years Day, 1915, that York claims he “found religion.” A time when WWI was brewing in Europe and little was known about the Great War in the small town of Pall Mall, Tennessee.

[4] York’s newfound religion lead him to attending weekly church services as well as local revivals, which later on would bring him the position of second elder in the Wolf River church. York finding religion was also an intricate part of finding his first love as well as his future wife, Miss Gracie Williams. Gracie was a blue-eyed, fifteen-year-old blonde and the daughter of Asbury and Nancy Williams. Gracie’s parents continuously showed their dissatisfaction for their daughters love for York, who was twelve years Gracie’s senior. But for Gracie, she did not see the old, rebellious York but loved the new, religious man that York was. So York continued his courting of Miss Gracie Williams against her parents’ better wishes until the fateful day of April 6, 1917.

[5] York received his draft registration card shortly after the United States declared war on Germany in early April 1917, and “It was the tinder that sparked a firestorm in the heart and spirit of a man determined to do what was right, if only he could figure out what was right.” Within this moment of York’s life, York emerged as a conscious objector. Strict to follow the Bible’s word after his religious conversion, York could not find the justification in killing a perfect stranger. He attempted with the help of his Pastor, Pastor Pile, to appeal his draft notice, but because there was no approved sanction for York’s church, York’s appeal was denied. It was in training at Camp Gordon that York struggled with his “musings over a Christian soldier’s position as both a defender of the faith and killer of his fellowman.” York’s fellow soldiers reported that he always carried the New Testament with him and would even read passages from the Bible in the trenches of the frontline. York shipped off to war on May 1, 1918, with the men of Company G, 2nd Battalion, and 328th Infantry.

[6] York fought through France against German lines with his company; however it wouldn’t be until October 8, 1918, that York became the most decorated WWI soldier. The Battle of Argonne began September 16, 1918, and within a time period of only three hours and fifteen minutes would York end the battle on October 8, by capturing 132 German Soldiers, including German Lieutenants and Majors. York and his platoon had set out to cross the Argonne forest only to be cornered and pinned down by German machine gunners. York’s squad and two others were ordered to encroach the hill and go around to take out the German machine-gun nests. York and his squad came upon twenty to thirty German soldiers resting by a stream, and, caught by the Americans coming from behind their lines, the German squad automatically surrendered. However, the American squad was not aware that no further than thirty feet away on a steep slope were machine gun after machine gun, placed in foxholes. The German machine guns opened fire on the American squad, and every German Heine prisoner dropped in anticipation of the German fire. Six American soldiers were immediately killed and three wounded including the Sergeant in Command. “Nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine men out of a million would have considered the situation hopeless,” said George Pattullo, “The millionth man was Corp. Alvin C. York.”

[7] A German detachment including a German Lieutenant came running down the hill in hopes of killing off what was left of the American squad. York’s sharp-shooting skills took out the German Lieutenant. “As soon as the Germans saw the lieutenant drop,” said York, “ most of them quit firing their machine guns. . . .I kept on shooting, but in a minute here come the major who had surrendered with the first bunch. . . . He put his hand on my shoulder like this and said to me in English: ‘Don’t shoot any more, and I’ll make them surrender.’” With a total of 90 German prisoners to count, York and the seven American soldiers left were still being shot at by German machine gunners from surrounding hills. Taking command, York led the prisoners with the German Major in front toward possibly and hopefully American lines, but shortly York and his prisoners came upon another German boche: “York thrust the major in front of him, covered the crew with his pistol and ordered them to surrender. They abandoned their weapons and equipment and joined the prisoners.” While on their march back towards American lines, York and his accompanying prisoners and American squad ran into several more nests that they flushed with only one German soldier dying, totaling another 44 prisoners. “The German major was about the gloomiest officer on the continent of Europe. . . . here he had surrendered to a handful of the enemy; the rest of his command had been put out of action by one lone redhead!” For his heroic deed, York received the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, World War I Victory Medal, Legion D’Honneur, Croix De Guerre, Croce di Guerra al Merito, and the Montenegrin War Medal.

[8] York returned to America with his medals in April 1919 to a huge crowd waiting to cheer the American hero in a parade along the streets of New York City. Reporters, fans, and Government officials flooded York with gracious thank you’s and demands to retell his courageous story. All through his new-claimed fame, York only wanted to return home to his Mother, family, and Miss Gracie. York returned back to Pall Mall, Tennessee, in June and a week later married Gracie Williams on June 7, 1919, in a ceremony performed by Tennessee Governor Albert H. Roberts in front of 3,000 guests. Although York received offers to portray his story on the silver screen or report his stories in books, York turned down all offers in order to live out a simple life with Gracie in their home and 400 acres of river bottom farmland graciously given to them by the Nashville Rotary Club. Gracie and York had eight children during their life together, six sons and two daughters.

[9] York continued his legacy of an American war hero and but spent majority of his life on his Tennessee farmland and working on his cattle company, although, when needed, York would travel the country on speaking tours with Gracie talking about his service and selling war bonds, especially during WWII. York later did produce Sergeant York, His Own Life Story and War Diary to raise money for a school to benefit mountain children, and he even agreed to sell his story rights to Warner Brother to produce a film about his life. Through all his fame, York still preferred to stay on his farmland. In 1952, York began to experience several small strokes that lead him to stop his traveling permanently and stay at home with Gracie and their grandchildren. York had a cerebral hemorrhage in 1954 and spent the rest of his life paralyzed from the waist down. After suffering from numerous hemorrhages, York fell into a coma in Veterans Hospital, Nashville, Tennessee, and passed on September 2, 1964. Crowds gathered to see York buried in Pall Mall. In order to continue his memory, Gracie York and sculptor Felix de Weldon commissioned a sculpture to be built of York as a soldier and placed on the Tennessee Capitol grounds in Nashville. The sculpture was revealed on December 13, 1968 -- it would have been York’s 81st birthday.

Print Resources

Andrews, Peter. Sergeant York: Reluctant Hero. New York: Putnam, 1969.
Andrews lays the out the story of York's life in simple terms for children, beginning with the story of York's father and the birth of York and ending with York becoming a war hero. The book stays true to Alvin York's life story, never straying to overdramatize the WWI hero's life. This book is important for its focus on York as conscious objector towards war and killing. It appeals to children in the sense of not wanting to act unless one can find reasons with the guidance of the Bible and the Lord's Word, which is what York did and why he reported back to duty to serve his country. Surprisingly staying true to details of York's life, this non-fiction tale of York's life directed towards children immortalizes the WWI hero.
Boswell, George W. "Major Lamar Fontaine: Mississippi's Answer to Tom Paine. Sergeant York, and Davy Crockett." Mississippi Folklore Register 10 (1976): 29-36.
Legendary marksman said to have killed sixty men with sixty shots during sixty minutes during the Civil War.
Bowers, John. "The Mythical Morning of Sergeant York." MHQ: The Quarterly of Military History 8:2 (Winter 1996): 38–47.
Written from the perspective of a fellow Tennessean, Bowers tells the story of York's success at the Battle of Argonne. Bowers immortalizes York's heroic bravery by describing York's drive to never stop fighting. However, unlike York's other biographers, Bowers does not focus so much on York's early life but, instead, goes right for the story of York's heroism. Bowers also addresses the question of how York became a hero, noting York's handy backwoods experiences and smart marksmanship as some of the ways that lead him to his destiny as WWI hero.
Cowan, Sam K. Sergeant York and His People. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1922.
Cowan opens his biography stating, "This is not a war story, but the tale of the making of a man." Cowan provides a more detailed description of the Battle of Argonne than Skeyhill. Comparatively, Cowan strives to give detailed straight facts of York's life, anywhere from the detailed description of York's childhood home to that of York's winning marksmanship, where Skeyhill immortalizes York's life in stories and interactions with York. To Cowan, his biography lays out "a story of the strength and simplicity of a man --a young man-- whom the nation was honored for what he has done, with something in it of those who went before and left him as a legacy the qualities of mind and heart that enabled him to fight his fight in the Forest of Argonne."
Lee, David. D. Sergeant York: An American Hero. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1985.
Lee examines all outside elements that shaped the York's life into his adolescence and later adulthood. He also addresses the collection of sources and first-hand experiences of people who interacted with York's life, even to the extent of discussing the extensive research of Americans and Germans issuing statements about what occurred at Argonne. Lee also addresses the legitimacy of the film Sergeant York, especially concerning events in York's life with Miss Gracie and York's religious awakening.
Pattullo, George. "The Second Elder Gives Battle." Saturday Evening Post 26 April 1919: 3–4, 71–74.
The early piece in a magazine with a circulation in excess of two million that made York a "star." Allowing the common American reader to live vicariously through York's heroic gestures, Pattullo engages his readers into York's life post-heroism at the Battle of Argonne. Providing a scene-by-scene description of York's takeover of the battle, Pattullo also intertwines details of York's own personal description of what took place at the battle. Pattullo concludes by swaying his readers in to believing that intervention means patriotism through York's own story and struggle of bearing arms.
Perry, John. Sergeant York: His Life, Legend & Legacy: The Remarkable Untold Story of Sergeant Alvin C. York. Nashville: Broadmen & Holman, 1997.
Thirty-three years after York's death Perry describes York's life in detail from birth to death in 1964 and even follows his wife Gracie's lfe thereafter. Perry includes dialogue that he defends as verbatim and takes note of the film Sergeant York and all the attention and praise it received. Perry concludes his biography by stating that York's service in WWI was not what made him a hero but rather just a patriotic figure; to Perry York "is a hero because he had the moral foundation to be a hero."
Skeyhill, Thomas John. Sergeant York: Last of the Long Hunters. Philadelphia: J.C. Winston, 1930.
Opening with a thrilling narrative of Sergeant Alvin C. York's infamous capture of 132 German soldiers and officers, Skeyhill pulls his reader into the brilliance and bravery of Alvin C. York immediately, but then he opens his biographical epoch of York's life explaining that "Sergeant York's life story is one of the greatest stories in the world. It is stranger than fiction, stranger than life itself, and just as intangible." Skeyhill uses the majority of the first half of the book explaining historical events that lead to the settlement of York's hometown of Pall Mall, Tennessee, as well as explaining such historical references pertinent to York's life as Daniel Boone. What is specific about this book is that Skeyhill mentions interactions with York anywhere from York's hunting ideologies to York becoming a "Heaven-raiser." A clear-cut biography, Skeyhill's work opens the door for readers into the fine-detailed life of Alvin C. York.
Steele, Richard. "The Great Debate: Roosevelt, the Media, and the Coming of the War, 1940-1941." Journal of American History 71.1 (1984): 69-92.
Major film, radio, and newspaper companies began to sway their audiences toward the opinion of possible intervention and preparedness for intervention. Roosevelt used the media to send out the message of the necessity of being prepared for war and also the need to trust the administration with any path that they chose to follow. It was Roosevelt's intention to use media as a style of representing Americanism as well as developing public awareness of the world crisis and confidence in the government's ability to meet it. The consent of film, newspaper, and radio during 1940-941 because of Roosevelt's need for support, as well as silencing any of those who undermined the administration produced a period of propaganda.
Varat, Daniel. "'Loyal to the Core': Western North Carolina in the Great War." North Carolina Historical Review 78.3 (2001): 345-77.
York conforms to the negative stereotype of the bumpkin originally unconnected to American patriotism, yet the article chronicles the significant contribution in actually that Appalachia made to the war effort.
York, Alvin Cullum. Sergeant York, His Own Life Story and War Diary. Garden State: Doubleday, Doran and Company, Inc., 1931.
Written, edited, and published with the assistance of Tom Skeyhill a year after Skeyhill published his own biography of York's life comes to audiences York's own life story in the words of York himself. The whole book is a succession of stories told by York including his early days as a boy when he lost his father and turned to gambling and drinking and to that day that he "went religious." The most powerful part of the book comes when York describes his own personal struggle of approaching war, stating that he "worried a-plenty as to whether it were right or wrong." With comedic moments and heroic comments, the life story told through York's own words brings readers closer to WWI's number-one hero. See a website with selections below.

See Also

Capozzola, Christopher. Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen. New York: Oxford UP, 2008.

Kelly, Jack. "How Sergeant York Became America's Hero." American Heritage 9 October 2007.

"Sergt. York Visits with the President." New York Times 31 July 1941: XX.

Wheeler, Richard, ed. Sergeant York and the Great War. Bulverde, Texas: Mantle Ministries, 1998.

Video/Audio Resources

"C-SPAN Video Library. Created by Cable. Offered as a Public Service." C-SPAN Video Library. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2012. .
"The National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial honored the passing of the Great War generation with a special ceremony noting the passing of the last WWI veteran, Frank Buckles, who died February 27, 2011, at the age of 110. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard B. Myers, USAF Ret., talked about the importance of the approximately 4.8 million Americans who served in World War I, and what the Great War meant for our country and the world. Other speakers included the son of Sergeant Alvin C. York, the most decorated soldier of World War I. The ceremony held March 12, 2011, at the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Miss., included a presentation of Colors by an American Doughboy Color Guard dressed in historical uniforms, singing of the national anthem, invocation, readings from the poems "I Have a Rendezvous with Death" by Alan Seeger, "In Memoriam (Easter 1915)" by Edward Thomas, and "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae, laying of a commemorative wreath, benediction, a 17-gun salute, and Taps."
The Great War: 1918: The American Experience. David G McCullough. PBS Video.
"Chronicles the story of United States soldiers in the closing battles of World War I as it was told through the letters and diaries of fighting men including General John J. (Blackjack) Pershing, Sergeant Alvin York, and Sergeant Harry S. Truman. The program also features French and American veterans and nurses who remember these battles."
Medal of Honor: Produced and Directed by Roger Sherman. PBS, 2008.
"Powerful stories of those who have received our nation's highest military honor beg fundamental questions about the nature of the human spirit and what it means to have the courage of a hero. What makes a person face almost certain death in order to save the lives of others? What gives a person the strength to endure unspeakable acts of torture under the hands of an enemy without losing the will to carry on? And is every person, if put into the same situation, capable of such virtues? Can we all be heroes? Medal of Honor recipients profiled in the film include Sgt. Alvin York (portrayed by Gary Cooper in the 1941 film Sergeant York), who was conflicted between his religious beliefs against killing and his duty to serve his country in war."
"Sgt. York Passes On -- Doughboy Hero Of World War I."
Video obituary. Newsreel marks York's death. Shows visits to the White House, clip of his remarks after receiving an award, and so forth.

Online Resources

"Alvin C. York Institute." N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2012.
"In 1926, World War I hero Sgt. Alvin C. York established a school in order to provide educational opportunities denied him to the boys and girls of Fentress County, Tennessee. York raised a portion of the needed funds from private sources and solicited the Tennessee State Legislature for the additional funds. Classes began in 1929. From 1926 to 1937, the school was operated privately. In 1937, the Tennessee General Assembly placed Alvin C. York Institute under the control of the State Board of Education and assumed the responsibility for its funding."
Bronte, Judith. "Alvin York: In the Lion's Den."
Biography on a Christian website.
Duffy, Michael. "" N.p., 22 Aug. 2009. Web. 20 Aug. 2012.
"A multimedia website concerning all heroes and aspects of WWI. The website provides a brief biography of York's life from childhood to his fateful day with destiny."
Nye, Gerald. "War Propaganda: Our Madness Increases as Our Emergency Shrinks." Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII: 720-23.
Radio address, delivered in St. Louis, August 1, 1941. Nye, senator from North Dakota, was a leading anti-interventionist voice in Congress, and chair of the senate committee that called Sergeant York on the carpet.
"Photograph of Alvin York and his Selective Service Registration Card". Records of the Selective Service System (World War I). U.S. National Archives. .
Question 12: Do you claim exemption? "Yes, Don't Want to Fight"
Propaganda in Moving Pictures: hearings before a subcommittee of the Committee on interstate commerce, United States senate, 77th congress, 1st session, on S.Res.152, a resolution authorizing an investigation of war propaganda disseminated by the motion picture industry and of any monopoly in the production, distribution or exhibition of motion pictures; Sept.9-26. Washington: GPO, 1942.
Full text of the hearings run by anti-interventionist senator Gerald Nye at which Warner Brothers, among other film companies, were called to answer questions about the political motivation of their films.
"Sergeant Alvin C. York State Historic Park | TN State Parks." N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2012.
"Returning home to national acclaim—parades, honors, ovations—York turned down all opportunities for financial gain from his war exploits, instead spending his life raising money for charity and for educational programs to improve the lives of rural Tennesseans. In 1940, after years of resisting offers to sell his life story to the film industry, he finally relented in order to raise money to start a college. That film became Sergeant York and won an Academy Award for Gary Cooper and cemented York's place in American history as not only a war hero but also a philanthropist with the courage of his convictions. York has been honored with, among other things, a postage stamp, a statue, a veterans' hospital and this State Park. Park visitors may tour York's home place, mill, burial site and general store, watch the film, hike the trail over a swinging bridge or fish the Wolf River. York's son Andy, a park ranger, is frequently on site to tell tales about his father."
"Sergeant York Patriotic Foundation." N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2012.
"With a motto of 'Legacy in Action,' Sgt. York Patriotic Foundation (SYPF) is preserving and promoting the legacy of America's greatest WWI hero, Alvin C. York. SYPF works with York State Park and York family to preserve the York home, farm and artifacts; develops and coordinates educational opportunities for youth and adults; works to increase sustainable York heritage tourism; operates York General Store Visitor Center; and is restoring historic York Institute built by Sgt. York.
"The SGT. York Trail." N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2012.
"Here you will discover where and how the exact spot where Alvin C. York earned the Medal of Honor was located. The idea for the Sergeant York Historic Trail came from a desire to allow visitors to the area a chance to "follow the footsteps" of the brave men who fought for freedom. The actual location where York earned the Medal of Honor had never been accurately documented and, with the passage of time, had been lost. With years of research in the American and German archives complete, The Sergeant York Discovery Expedition was formed to locate and mark the 'York Spot' so that it would never again be lost in time. The trail and monument are designed to preserve the York legacy in the Argonne and honor all those who sacrificed for the cause of freedom in the 'Great War.'"
"Welcome to the Sergeant Alvin C. York Project Website." The Sergeant Alvin C. York Project, Chatel Chehery, WW1 France Battlefield. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2012.
"In November 2006, the Sergeant York Project research team found compelling and indisputable evidence in the Argonne Forest, France, that revealed for the first time the exact circumstances in which Sergeant Alvin York killed 21 German troops and took 132 of the enemy as prisoners. A formidable team of American academics and military historians, British battlefield experts and the French archaeological authorities all worked together on this project and by using the very latest research techniques on site in France, York's WW1 battlefield campaign slowly unfolded stage by stage. The entire campaign has now been skillfully documented in a Dissertation by Thomas J. Nolan, B.S., M.S. called Battlefield Landscapes: Geographical Information Science as a Method of Integrating History and Archaeology for Battlefield Interpretation."
Williams, Gladys. "Sergeant Alvin York." Sergeant Alvin York. Concord Learning Systems, n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2012.
Gladys Williams was a dedicated teacher at York Institute for many years and was very interested in the life of Alvin C. York. She wrote this unpublished biography on his life.
York, Alvin C. The Diary of Alvin York.
Selections on a Christian website.