Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN


September 20, 2012

Road Trip: A Hero's Home

Celebrating the life, legacy of Sgt. Alvin C. York

CROSSVILLE — Sgt. Alvin C. York was a farmer. He was a Bible school teacher. He was a husband, father and son. He was a conscientious objector to World War I and the most decorated soldier of that terrible conflict, and his beloved Valley of the Three Forks where he was born, lived and died is just a short drive north on Hwy. 127 to Pall Mall, TN, in Fentress County.

Sgt. York was born in the secluded valley north of Jamestown in 1887. The cabin where he was raised is gone now, with only a portion of the chimney remaining. His father died in 1911, and Alvin, still living at home, took on the responsibility of helping his mother raise his younger siblings.

Accounts show York was a skilled sharp shooter and a hard worker, working the family farm and supplementing income as a logger and railroad construction worker, but also a bit of a wild child, with several arrests for fighting. That changed in 1915 when he converted following a revival held by the Church of Christ in Christian Union. Later in life, York wrote of his reaction when war broke out in Europe, saying, "I was worried clean through. I didn't want to go and kill. I believed in my Bible."

But York was subject to the draft and he registered in 1917 at the age of 29, adding he didn't want to fight based on his religious beliefs. His conscientious objection was denied and he appealed. While that appeal was pending, York began his military career. After talking at length with his company and battalion commanders about the conflict he felt between his religious belief in pacifism and military service, and being granted leave to return home, York returned to the Army ready to serve.

On Oct. 8, 1918, York's platoon suffered heavy casualties and the three other noncommissioned officers serving with then Cpl. York were killed. York assumed command of the remaining seven men and charged a machine gun nest. The nest was taken, along with four German officers and 128 men. For these actions, York was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. After a thorough investigation, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the Croix de Guerre by the French Republic and the Croce di Guerra al Merito by Italy. He eventually received nearly 50 decorations.

York was greeted with a gala celebration upon his arrival in New York City and honored with a standing ovation by the U.S. House of Representatives on a tour stop in Washington, DC. He was discharged at Fort Oglethorpe, GA, and returned home where he married his sweetheart, Garcie Williams. The two began their lives together on a farm purchased by the Nashville Rotary Club.

York's life of service wasn't over, however. He worked with the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, served in the Army Signal Corps during World War II, and worked with Warner Bros. on the Oscar-winning film, Sgt. York, with proceeds benefiting an interdenominational Bible school.

He also worked to found York Agricultural Institute in Jamestown, providing educational opportunities that he had been denied. It was a life-long endeavor for York, who ran into conflicts with the local school board, the state and unkept financial promises, leading him to mortgage his home in order to pay the teachers. The school, still in operation, can be seen on Hwy. 127 in Jamestown, en route to the York historic site.

His homesite has been preserved for visitors to learn about this American hero and his legacy. The Sgt. Alvin C. York Historic Park in Pall Mall includes tours of his home, a picnic and play area at the York Grist Mill across the way, a short nature hike across a swinging bridge to his burial place and the church where he had his religious conversion.

The park is open year round, with summer and fall hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and winter hours from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A tour of sites has been developed, with the first stop being the Alvin C. York and Sons General Merchandise Store. There the interpretive center offers an introductory short film narrated by Walter Cronkite. The store is a reproduction of the store York operated with his sons and offers books and memorabilia of Sgt. York, including an action figure and postcards.

There are several events offered during the year, including the Sgt. York Cultural Arts and Heritage Celebration in May and the annual Sgt. Alvin C. York Memorial Black Powder Shoot in March.

Just down the road is the Forbus General Store, operating since 1892, which offers a selection of foods, delicious homemade fudge and souvenirs. It's also a local gathering spot for folks to sit on the porch trading tales and carving wood. In the back, you can usually find a game of Pig going on. It's a card game developed and played by the people of Fentress and Pickett counties. Its origin is unknown, but those playing recall seeing it played and learning the game themselves as youngsters. Four players in two teams try to reach a score of 52 points, earned by capturing point cards in tricks. It uses a standard deck with one joker. The number five card of each suite is called the "Pig," and the lower ranking cards are the highest of the point cards in value.

A Pig tournament is held each year in late February or early March, with people coming from great distances to compete or just enjoy the competition.

Look for some unique activities along the way, too, with numerous stables offering boarding of horses and organized trail rides; restaurants for a variety of tastebuds; and some unique shopping adventures, including Cumberland Mountain General Store on Hwy. 127 in Clarkrange. The old general store features a 1950s soda fountain and restaurant and a variety of unique antique items.

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