Appalachia on Film: “The Making of” Sergeant York

  • Author(s): David D. Lee
  • When: 1981-04
  • Where: Southern Quarterly
  • One of the most successful films of 1941 was Sergeant York, the screen biography of a Tennessee farmer who won national acclaim by single-handedly out-shooting an entire German machine gun battalion during the last days of World We I. On October 8, 1818, in the midst of the American drive through the Argonne Forest, Alvin C. York killed twenty-five Germans, captured 132, and silenced thirty-five machine guns while armed only with a rifle and a pistol. Six months later, war correspondent George Pattullo made York into a folk hero with a long piece in the widely circulated Saturday Evening Post. Pattullo explained that York, a product of the Appalachian Mountains, foreswore a rowdy past to become an elder of the staunchly fundamentalist Church of Christ in Christian Union. When the United States entered World Wee I, be requested exemption as a conscientious objector. but his plea was denied and he was drafted Sympathetic army officers who were convinced of his sincerity gradually persuaded him that his nation's cause was just and he could best serve God by taking up arms. As a result, Pattullo concluded, York becamee a veritable soldier of the Lord battling Teutonic evil on the side of American righteousness. York's return to the United States shortly after the article appeared prompted an enormous outpouring of public affection as he toured New York and Washington before he finally returned to the small hamlet of Pall Mall in his native Fentress County.

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