Here in Pall Mall, Tenn., you can walk up on the front porch of the Forbus General Store, est. 1892, and still hear Alvin C. York’s rich Tennessee accent.
Every day, the older neighbors gather on the store’s front porch.
“My grandfather used to cut Sgt. Alvin York’s hair,” Richard West recalls. “He would pay a quarter. He was a big man, redheaded.”
York was a Medal of Honor winner. One of the most decorated American heroes of World War I.
At the end of the war, when he returned to his home here in the mountains of north Tennessee, all he wanted was to build a school. A school that would help his neighbors’ kids get the education he had missed.
York had only finished the third grade in a one-room school. His family needed him on the farm. But he liked to read, kept a diary, and because of the war had seen a world beyond the ridgeline: London, Paris, New York.
Pete Smith, whittling red cedar on the porch, remembers the day of Alvin York’s funeral in 1964. Important people were coming from all over the United States to pay tribute. “I was out digging potatoes and I hadn’t never seen as many helicopters, about as high as the light wires and they was 12 or 15 of them. They like to jarred me out of the tobacco patch.”
Richard West likes to tell how friendly the York family always was. “When they’d have a dinner up there, they’d be 25, 30 people show up and eat. All the neighbors would stop by and the grocery trucks would stop and deliver so they’d have plenty of food.”
Clip from the battle scene where Sgt. York kills 25 men and forces the Germans to surrender.
The 1941 Hollywood movie Sergeant York made the Tennessee farmer even more famous. Gary Cooper won an Oscar for the title role. The movie shows York coming of age in his home valley, then going off to fight the Germans in France.
On Oct. 18, 1918, advancing alone after his unit came under fire, York attacked a machine gun nest. He killed a group of German soldiers who were shooting at him and then captured 132 more.