Medal of Honor recipient’s legacy off the battlefield

Sgt. Alvin C. York wanted to be remembered for bringing education to Fentress County.
Sgt. Alvin C. York wanted to be remembered for bringing education to Fentress County, not the Medal of Honor.
Published: Aug. 25, 2022 at 8:19 AM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Alvin C. York is a name you see everywhere in East Tennessee. There’s a highway, a school and a state park named after the war hero. The Fentress County native is one of the most decorated soldiers of World War I and a Medal of Honor recipient.

It was 1918 in Chatel-Chenery France when Sgt. York guided seven men against more than 100 German soldiers against machine guns blasting in their direction. Sgt. York sniped about 17 German soldiers before they surrendered. But according to his family, York never wanted to go to war; he just did what he had to do.

“He said he didn’t want to fight because he said, the Bible says ‘do not kill.’ My grandfather was a Christian,” said Col. Gerald York, Alvin’s grandson. “People would ask him, you know, how did you do that? He said, ‘I just did my job. I just did what I had to do.’”

“I remember him as being just a super guy. Very friendly. A great sense of humor. Always had time for the grandchildren,” said Gerald.

He started a bible trade school in 1926. He built the school with money he made off a movie of his life. A movie he only did so he could fund the school. “People would ask him, what is the most important thing in your life that you have accomplished? And he said, ‘bringing education to the valley, bringing education back to the mountain people.’”

He eventually opened the York Institute in 1929. It was abandoned in 1979 for a newer structure, which is still operated as a state-owned high school in Jamestown. The original building is still standing but sits vacant. His family hopes it can be used for education in some capacity.

York died at the Veterans Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, on Sept. 2, 1964, of a cerebral hemorrhage at age 76. While Sgt. York dedicated his life to teaching the people of Fentress County. He was also teaching his grandson the importance of serving others and his country.

Gerald York was approached about joining the military at his grandfather’s funeral. A few years later he enlisted. He wishes he had his grandfather to talk to when he came home from Vietnam. “It would have been nice to go over experiences because you can only do that with someone that’s been through that. It’s something you don’t talk about. Unless somebody has been there. They understand,” he said.

Gerald is now the Chairman of the Sergeant York Patriotic Foundation. He shares the history of what is now the Alvin C. York Historical State Park and continues to educate others about his family’s history.