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Sergeant York

Sergeant York: An American Hero

David D. Lee
Copyright Date: 1985
Pages: 184
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vkk6p
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    Sergeant York
    Book Description:

    Alvin C. York went out on a routine patrol an ordinary, unknown American doughboy of the First World War. He came back from no-man's-land a hero. In a brief encounter on October 8, 1918, during the Argonne offensive, York had killed 25 German soldiers and, almost singlehandedly, effected the capture of 132 others. Returning to the United States the following spring, he received a tumultuous public welcome and a flood of offers from businessmen eager to capitalize on his acclaimed feat. But York, true to his character, went quietly back to his home in the Tennessee mountains, where he spent the remainder of his life working to bring schools and other services to those remote valleys where his neighbors lived.

    In this definitive biography, David D. Lee has firmly established the simple facts of Alvin York's life, distinguishing them from the myths which have grown up around the man. He has reexamined the sometimes conflicting accounts of the famous exploit, finding in his research a hitherto unknown report of the skirmish from German military archives. Lee goes beyond that single wartime episode, however, to consider its consequences on York's later life -- his efforts, not always successful, to better his mountain community; his involvement in making a motion picture of his life; his difficulties with money and taxes. But Sergeant York is better known as a symbol than as an individual, and in this study Lee connects the man and his life to an American heroic ideal. With his rural background, his refusal to take commercial advantage of his fame, and his simple piety, Alvin York exemplified the traditional values of an agrarian America that was in his own day already receding into the past. He claimed a special place in the hearts of his countrymen, Lee concludes, because his life seemed to show that the virtues of the common man continued to be a vital part of American society.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4587-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1. In the Wolf River Valley
    (pp. 1-13)

    Home for Alvin York was the Valley of the Three Forks of the Wolf River nestled in the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee just a few miles from the Kentucky border. Here in Fentress County he lived virtually all his seventy-six years (1887-1964), in a stem and demanding land that his forebears had inhabited since the 1790s when his great-great-grandfather Conrad (Coonrod) Pile wandered into the valley and decided to stay. One of the “Long Hunters” who traipsed the mountains pioneering white settlement, Pile looms large in the folklore of the region. According to oral tradition, Pile built a cabin in...

  5. 2. In the Service of the Lord
    (pp. 14-26)

    In the summer of 1914, about the time Alvin York was beginning to reassess his life, Europe exploded in conflict, but for York, as for most Americans, the collapse of the peace meant very little. Europe still seemed to be a distant place prone to petty squabbling over obscure bits of territory bearing unpronounceable names. Americans were confident that neither the struggle nor its outcome would affect them and generally applauded President Woodrow Wilson’s proclamation of strict neutrality. Furthermore, the war seemed only to be the latest evidence of the foolishness of European politics and the wisdom of America’s traditional...

  6. 3. The Shadow of Death
    (pp. 27-48)

    A bloody morning’s work in October 1918 lifted Alvin York from the obscurity of an infantry rifleman and recast him as an American legend. The story of those violent and chaotic hours has become the core of the York myth and has appeared in numerous books and articles since it first took published form in 1919. Unfortunately, most of these accounts simply borrow from each other without attempting any real scrutiny of the standard version of events, which York and the army provided in the months after the Armistice. In 1929, however, the German government finally reacted to publicity about...

  7. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  8. 4. An American Hero
    (pp. 49-68)

    “Hero-worship,” Dixon Wecter has written, “answers an urgent American need.” Through its heroes, this sprawling, heterogeneous nation tries to express its identity and come to terms with its most powerful experiences. As Robert Penn Warren put it, “to create a hero is to create a self.” In 1919, the United States was desperately in need of a hero. For half a century, the nation had grappled with the Industrial Revolution, a far-reaching social and economic force that had relentlessly fashioned an urban, industrial society from what had been a land of farms and small towns. This economic upsurge had lured...

  9. 5. The Hero at Home
    (pp. 69-91)

    Even more than most returning doughboys, Alvin York faced a difficult readjustment to home life. A reluctant draftee from a poor family in 1917, he returned to Pall Mall barely eighteen months later as an internationally famous war hero with dozens of lucrative opportunities spread before him. His position in the community was completely changed; the obscure day laborer was now the most prominent man in Fentress County. Convinced God had chosen him for a special work, York was determined to use his fame to benefit his native region. Ironically, however, the virtues the public thought it saw in Alvin...

  10. 6. The Legend Makers
    (pp. 92-115)

    Despite Alvin York’s relative obscurity during the 1920s and 1930s, he still held a place in the popular imagination. Under contract to a New York booking agency, he did well on the lecture circuit talking about mountain life and promoting the school. Writers who advocated patriotic, religious, or educational causes did occasional newspaper and magazine pieces about him that brought readers up to date on his activities. In addition, books about York’s life published by major presses appeared in 1922, 1928, and 1930. Most important in establishing York as a permanent part of American lore, however, was the highly successful...

  11. 7. Last Years
    (pp. 116-136)

    The making ofSergeant Yorkreconfirmed Alvin York’s status as an American hero and restored him to public prominence, but in many ways his life remained unchanged. Just as he had done for twenty years, York continued to turn his fame toward the service of the causes he most cherished, patriotism, religious education, and regional development. Although the neglect of his personal needs eventually brought him again to the brink of financial ruin, his popularity never faltered. Until his death in 1964, Americans continued to see him as a man who represented the finest elements of the national character. Interestingly...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 137-152)
  13. A Note on Sources
    (pp. 153-156)
  14. Index
    (pp. 157-163)