Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne

By Watson, Kevin Lee | Military Review, September-October 2014 | Go to article overview

Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne


Watson, Kevin Lee, Military Review


ALVIN YORK: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne

Douglas V. Mastriano, The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, 2014, 318 pages, $34.95

Douglas Mastriano's book, Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne takes the reader through the life of Alvin York. The author begins with a brief coverage of York's early development as a simple backwoodsman and then his experiences as a soldier leading up to 8 October 1918. Fittingly, one entire chapter focuses on York's action in the engagement in which he earned the Medal of Honor. Mastriano then provides an overview of York's remaining years and his efforts to help his community prepare to meet the challenges of a new world. Mastriano ends his book with a thorough discussion defending his research.

Alvin York was born into a typical hard-scrabble existence common to many Americans raised in the backwoods areas of the country in the late 1880s. The Cumberland Valley of Tennessee was in many respects a good representation of the predominantly rural America of that time. Families scratched out a living from the land with subsistence farming, augmented by hunting and fishing. There was a strong religious element within rural communities as well as a brawling, moonshine-drinking element that took to the bars on weekends. Alvin York was intimately familiar with both elements before he took his place at the "mourners' bench" on New Year's Day, 1915 when he accepted the Lord as his savior.

Alvin's relatively strict brand of religion led him to request status as a conscientious objector and, despite numerous appeals his request was never accepted. Alvin was lucky that some of early military leaders were also men of strong religious convictions. They had many discussions that eventually enabled Alvin to reconcile fighting for his country with his religious views. Like many new soldiers from rural backgrounds, Alvin had little difficulty with the physical rigors and discomforts of soldier training; in fact, his exposure to men from different parts of the country and recent immigrants was probably the greater challenge.

Many rural soldiers had difficulty with sea sickness while traveling to first England and then on to France. Once in France, his unit had experiences typical of most American expeditionary forces as they moved from the coast of France into training areas where they learned tactics, techniques, and procedures from French and British veterans. Alvin's unit, the 328th Regiment of the 82nd Division, was eased into the lines of a "quiet sector" east of Verdun. …

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