Sgt. Alvin C. York State Park and Historic Site
One of 11 siblings born to poor backwoods parents involved in blacksmithing and timber, Alvin C. York would leave his home of Pall Mall, TN after American entered WW1. Trying to get out as a conscientious objector, York finally decided to go and fight. On October 8, 1916, he would find himself in France, in the Meuse-Argonne forest, there, he and 7 others would capture Hill 223. York, by himself, killed killed 6 Germans and captured 132 after destroying a machine gun nest. His actions earned him the Medal of Honor and a heroes welcome at home in Pall Mall and America. Returning home, he married, and spent the rest of his life advancing the causes of education, modernization and religion to the people of Pall Mall and the nation. The park contains his store, his Bible School, his home given as a gift by the nation, his grave site and many others to show how Pall Mall was changed by one man's actions at home and abroad.
Backstory and Context
York then found himself in France. Here he experienced urban electricity (there was no electricity in Pall Mall), three hot meals a day (he was lucky to have two in Pall Mall), all sorts of clothing (his mother made his, a few it was he owned when she made them) and quite simply modernization. In October of 1918, he was in the reserves in the Meuse-Argonne forest, as American forces planned an offensive to drive the Germans out of the area and of France. His unit was called up as previous units failed to capture Hill 223, a vital German position in terms of high ground, transportation and supplies. When his regiment was pinned down, he and others went to flank a machine gun nest. In what was a 15 minute firefight, York came back unscathed, along with 6 confirmed kills from his pistol, a machine gun nest taken out, and 132 prisoners...all done by himself. His actions opened Hill 223 to American occupation and the Germans to retreat out of the area. To this day, the French village of Chatel-Chéhéry remembers York as a hero and erected a statue in his honor. He is the only American solider to have a statue in his honor in France.
WW1 ended the next month and York returned to America. He was the nation's, and Pall Mall's, hero. He was awarded the Medal of Honor, and France's, Croix de Guerre, along with medals from all over Europe. When he returned to Pall Mall, he married his sweetheart, Gracie. For the next few years as he eked out a living in Pall Mall, he was offered many financial awards and deals, ranging into the millions of dollars in today's money. He refused them all, feeling that accepting them would have sullied his duty as a soldier. In the end, the people of Tennessee and donors from all over the world pitched in to have a house constructed for York and his growing family. In his house, he never turned away visitors, friends, travelers and VIPs and always offered them meals and a place to sleep. Even when he and Gracie would have 10 kids, the York's always had people stay in their homes; even helping people out with temporary jobs.
From 1919 to the 1940s, York fought tirelessly to modernize his town. He was able to have electricity and modern roads come and connect the town with the rest of the world. He advanced educational opportunities for his people and others in the Appalachia's. When it was decided in 1941, after years of resistance from York, to make a film about his life and actions in WW1; mostly as a propaganda effort for war against Germany. The film, Sergeant. York, starred Gary Cooper and would receive 11 Academy Award nominations, winning two: Best Actor for Gary Cooper and Best Film Editing. It was 1941's highest grossing film. York would receive $150k in royalties, and more later on. He used it all to construct a Bible School for Pall Mall and begin an Agricultural Institute to help better the lives of the people of Pall Mall and the surrounding towns. However, not knowing he was to pay taxes on his royalties and the house, that was a gift, he had problems with the IRS. He had to mortgage his house to pay fines and the Bible School would close when American entered the war. Later, the school district fought him over his institute, and he was forced to mortgage again in order to pay teachers and help provide transportation to students. About to become homeless, friends and fans gathered money from people worldwide to help him get out of debt. During this time the family ran a post office and grocery store. They never begged for help.
As WW2 was breaking, York was too old join the fighting, so was given the rank of Colonel and placed in the Signal Corps, mostly doing War Bond Drives and speaking at events and at bases. After, he kept at his work to modernize and better the lives of his community. York would suffer a series of strokes and died at home, on September 2, 1964 of a cerebral hemorrhage. Wanting to be buried at home, thousands came to Pall Mall for the funeral, others gave money and other items to his family.
The Alvin C. York State Park was established in the 1970s and later a National Historic Landmark in the 1980s. Preserved and located in the park is the York family home, the gristmill his family worked at, the remains of the Bible School, the York Grocery Store (that serves as the park's visitor center), the Pall Mall cemetery, where he and his family his buried, locations to the log cabin he grew up in, the church he attended when he straightened out, and currently they are rebuilding his father's blacksmith's shop. Also located, but soon to be removed, is the Alvin C. York M247 self-propelled antiaircraft battery designed in the 1970s. Only 50 were created and the Tennessee National Guard will soon take ownership of it.
Created by York, and a major force in helping preserve the Alvin C. York Park and advance education opportunities for this region of Tennessee, is the Alvin C. York Foundation.