The nation’s greatest World War I hero came to Chattanooga on May 28, 1919, as an honored guest for a two-day stay at the luxurious Patten Hotel.
The reception that 31-year-old Sergeant Alvin York received when his train pulled into the Terminal Station was much more than he could have ever expected. Hundreds of well-wishers carrying flowers clogged the train station as the hero from Pall Mall, Tennessee in Fentress County arrived.
The Congressional Medal of Honor winner as well as numerous awards from the Allied Nations that fought against Germany was given accommodation in two of the nicest rooms at the hotel. A barber and manicurist prepared Sgt. York for his appearance at the weekly Rotary luncheon before a crowd of 300 attendees. After being eulogized by several speakers Sgt. York was made an honorary Rotarian and appointed a delegate to the Rotary International convention in Salt Lake City. York humbly addressed the audience by simply saying, “I am just a soldier boy.”
However his exploits were described by the Allied commander in chief, General Pershing, as the greatest thing accomplished by any private soldier of all the armies of Europe.
He had refused to sell for commercial gain his version of his feat. However, Sgt. York did agree to give his audience an abbreviated version of the heroics that resulted in him becoming the most highly decorated soldier of World War I. Although he had originally sought exemption from serving in active battle on the grounds of being a conscientious objector as a member of the 82nd Infantry Division he had single-handedly crushed a German machine gun battalion. He killed at least 25 enemy soldiers and captured 132 prisoners.
In addition to the Medal of Honor he was awarded the Croix de Guerre, the highest French decoration for bravery in action.
Twenty years later, he agreed to cooperate in the filming of his life story in the 1941 Academy Award winning movie for Best Actor that went to Gary Cooper. A stipulation of the making of the movie was that royalties go to the York Foundation to support an industrial and Bible school near his farm. Both continue today as part of York Institution as a public high school in Jamestown, Tennessee, after being transferred to the State of Tennessee in 1937.
Alvin C. York died on September 2, 1964, in a Nashville Hospital after a 10-year illness.
A new paperback edition of York's 1928 publication ‘Sergeant York: His Own Life Story and War Diary’ is available through Edward R. Hamilton Bookseller Company, P.O. Box 15, Falls Village, CT 06031-0015 for $6.95.