Thunder in the Argonne! : Alvin York, the reluctant hero : the story behind the man, the myths and the events of 8 October 1918

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University of New Brunswick


Sergeant Alvin C. York is America's most highly decorated 'Doughboy' of the First World War. His awards included; the Medal of Honor, the French Croix de Guerre, the Italian Croce de Guerra, and the American Distinguished Service Cross. York’s iconic image is honored today in America's collective memory and he is hailed as the idyllic citizen-solider that we should emulate. The current US Army Leadership Field Manual retells the story of York's journey to prominence. But the passage of Sergeant York's image from conscientious objector, to reluctant hero, was not without controversy. York struggled with the fame and opportunity that this brought him, and he discovered the truth of the British adage that it is easier to win the Victorian Cross than to wear it. In the years following his gallant action on 8 October 1918, York was dogged by fame, detractors sniped at the description of events in his citation, the Germans refuted his story the location of York's exploit was lost to history, while many objected to the use of his story to foster support for America's entry into another, even bloodier World War. This dissertation takes a hard look at the York story to delineate fact from fiction, to discern the role that both the US Army and the US government played in the elevation of York to hero status, and strives – in the end to uncover the truth behind the legend.