Sgt. York's son recalls humble hero of war

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The most famous soldier of World War I, Tennessee born and bred Sgt. Alvin C. York, was a reluctant fighter and a humble hero. Yet most Volunteer State residents might be surprised to know his most personal legacy was a commitment to education.

And while the school he built in Jamestown, Tenn., York Institute, has been saved from demolition, the struggle to preserve and restore the structure remains an uphill battle.

Rev. George Edward York, the 87-year-old son of Sgt. York, will speak at 2 p.m. April 10 to the Mt. Juliet-West Wilson County Historical Society. He will discuss how his father's legacy is being preserved.

"On Oct. 8, 1918, Corporal Alvin Cullum York and 16 other men under the command of Sergeants Harry Parsons and Bernard Early were dispatched to capture the Decauville railroad near Chatel-Chehery in the Meuse-Argonne. After a brief firefight (nine Americans died in the melee) the confused Germans surrendered to what they believed to be a superior force," said Michael E. Birdwell, an associate professor of history at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville and the archivist of Alvin C. York's papers.

"In all 132 Germans were captured and delivered to U.S. Army headquarters by the seven survivors led by Corporal York. The army singled out York as the hero of World War I and presented him with the Congressional Medal of Honor. Upon his return to the United States, York found himself being wooed by Hollywood, Broadway and various sponsors who clamored for his endorsement. York turned his back on quick and certain fortune in 1919 and went home to Tennessee to resume private life and pursue a dream that consumed the rest of his life."

That vision was York Institute, and from 1925 to 1979, the school educated the youth of his home area of the Cumberland Plateau....

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