tv James Carl Nelson The York Patrol CSPAN April 10, 2021 4:30pm-5:01pm EDT
>> i have five books occupy world war i, after being told when i was trying to publish my first book, book ted the army and world war i don't sell so still to prove peek wrong but my grandfather got me interested. he was a swedish immigrant. went back to france, shot in 1918, laid in the field overnight and lived another 75 years, and so he told the small story about how he had -- that happened to him and in the morning some french colonial stretcher bear bearers would go around and kick guys and pick them up if they were alive. and i got to -- >> he lived to 101 if i recall. >> he was -- 101 and died in
1993. >> well, in developing the story in the book, you do spend a lot of time not only talking about york's background, which i found very interesting, being a son of the south, reading about the rural parts of east tennessee and his very in a lot of ways rudimentary upbringing, very little education, but you also look at the background of the other soldiers involved in the york patrol which i think is the point of the book. just was curious if there was another particular soldier that was compelling soldier stories, that was compelling the -- >> well, as it emerged, otis was also a corporal became a pain in york's heel. and bernard was actually acting
sergeant and led the patrol when it started out, percybertsley from connecticut, from a longtime connecticut family, farming family. those three -- it becomes a matter of what can you find and so i did my best to get something on everybody. some of them it was tough because italian immigrants, and i find out from my first book when their immigrants and you don't know where they're writing letters home to and are they writing back to italy and became the three americans, bernard early was -- but they had written up in newspapers more. i found stuff going back prewar on several of them, and the 16 other memberes were like a cross-section of any dough boy units back in the days
especially draftees, almost half withimmigrants from russia, italy, ireland. none of them had much education. york had between all the schooling he had, he had two years basically of education, the three rs, and he could write, though. the -- i found letters he wrote to his fiancee when he was in france. back in those days life was tough and you went to work early and especially when you came from another country, you have to acclimate and learn the language and it was cross-section, 35% of the americaned and -- bed digs incarcerate force what not from the united states. >> york was woe trade as speaking in a particular i guess you say a mountain accent and i
half expected from the book you would say that runt really true, but i think it must have been, and then the guy that wrote his autobiography or memoirs or helped him write it issue got the impression that eh he overdid it. >> yes, tom scahill. i had to put a note at the beginning of the book saying basically we use the dialect as written. he hammed it up, and even york -- i thought i put in the book if he went to tennessee and drove around and talked to people they wouldn't sound anything like i sound in this book. so if i was york i would have been as miffed about that. made him sound like a dumbhead. >> well, you spend a lot of time and i really found this interesting -- that in the postwar years after york became
the hero of the first world war and in the u.s. at least, that his fame which he never really welcomed that much, didn't want, was not good for him. he wasn't prepared for the financial issues that came along with fame. he didn't really want the attention. would you briefly discuss what happened to york as a result of his fame? >> well, first i want to say that for people who aren't familiar with him, he was credited on october 8, 1918 with the capture of 132 germans and he was characterized at a one-man army and that's where the conflict between him and other members of the patrol. that wasn't true. they were there, six men were killed immediately.
>> he never said anything different. >> he made a point to say i never said i was alone. but what happened was he was the one who sure rein dead these 132 germans -- surrendered the 132 germans and did a lot of great shooting and dropped a lot of germans that caused the surrender. and i give him credit. to she word got around the army about his feat and was award a distinguished service cross and then they looked into it further and he was awarded a metal of honor, and then this magazine writer, george with the saturday evening post, was over the writing about different -- he did stories about bella wood, the first division, really good writer. >> sort of human interest stories. >> right. hearings what the boys are doing -- here's what the boys are doing. he got win of it. had taken a trip home to the u.s. briefly and was here when he war ended and then went right
back in a truck with somebody and the guy mentioned you hear about this guy york? and he got wind of that. hunted them down and the 82nd 82nd division was happy to parade this hero and interviewed work and half a dozen guys in the patrol. wrote the story called the second elder gives battle which you have to say york was also a fundamentalist christian, and very devout. he had conflicts about even serving in the army. wasn't sure if he could kit another man so that it -- kill another man, so he's a second elder, the member of the church, the fundamental church in northeast tennessee and it's a great story because like i said there were 12 other men did feats on october 18, 1918, and didn't come up with nearly the kind of publicity that york got. so kind of singled out and the story ran april 26, 1919 and the saturday evening post and if two
million circulation and he came home in may, york did, and the rest of the men from the 82nd 82nd and he was a hero by the time he landed in hoboken and i think he must have been prepared at built for the reception. he toured new york, went to the stock exchange, then down to d.c. and congress, but it was almost like america was looking for a hero, and they selected alvin york to be that hero. rightly so. pershing had another favorite soldier, sam woodfield and the thought performed a better feat or more dramatic feat but combined with the story of how he had not wanted to be in the army, was -- he was like what is this war all about? i don't get it. why do i have to kill somebody in combined with the actual act, given all that and then kills all the germans a good story, can't deny it. and then in later years, the
rotary club bought him a farm. only bought half so he -- >> amazing story. >> he has half a farm and all of a sudden the mortgage payments are coming due and he was teatserring on bankruptcy by 1921 and he was bailed out by the donations of others. the launched newspaper campaigns, send five dollars, ten dollars, buck, help our hero, alvin york. this was repeated, and also one of he complicating factors he said his uniform was not to sale and didn't want to make any money. movie offers and book deals and toward them down and tom scahill approached women if him with the memoir, and that didn't even really sell that well but some money. $40,000 for that. which typically he wanted to put towards building schools in the county where he was from and
helping children become literate. he had a transformationy france, the saul the way people lived and he met all sorts of different people and said, we really are illiterate where i live. we're from this holier and don't know anything, and so he wanted to help educate people in the technical institute a regular school. so that was something that also he made -- went on tours to speak and to make money that way. then of course in 1941 with the movie "sergeant york" got money for that, and then he decided he was going to pay so many taxes so he is in arrears to the irs and 50 -- whatever 100,000 does and doesn't have any money and he had $25,000 they said okay give us that and we'll wipe the
slate clean and when he died he was being supported by a dupont, a businessman and you're right he was never comfortable but the decision to do this for some good opposed to personal benefit shows who he is but pretty bad with money. >> you mentioned he supported the school, he had run-ins with the other folks like the school board folks and he wanted it in one place, they wanted it on the other side of town, and he eventually won that. i noticed that the school was named the alvin c. york school, the highway was named the alvin c. york highway, i guess, that was paved through the county. i was wondering if he -- did he name things after himself or was that done for him? >> the highway i think was -- he
didn't enemy it, i don't think. he was -- heed a crucial part in getting it built. i don't think -- i don't know if he named it himself. i don't think he would do that. >> doesn't seem like it. >> you can't name a state road after yourself. >> that's true. >> the schools probably -- the school's putting a name on there is part of the publicity. so, got a little bit -- got the notoriety, might as well use it. >> in your research, i think you already mentioned it, you were able to visit the site of the engage. ment in france, and with all of our parks here and as much as we pay attention to civil war and the world war ii battlefields in europe i was interested to notify there's any interpretation there about what took place there and is york considered a hero in france?
>> not really. i had a guide who had been to -- they had actually done a archaeological study of the site. there's actual through two sites. so in my opinion i win to the correct site. think the incorrect site is marked by a york trail, a big poster board with the photographs of a bunch of guys in the patrol but in my humble opinion i think that site is actually a half a kilometer north of the actual site which is -- you wouldn't even know it. there's nothing marking the actual site. >> you're the authority now so you can say that. >> well, this guy wrote a book, probably would disagree with me but my site is the one that as archaeologically commands by guys from mississippi. but if you go to france, i've been there three times.
was amazed, my first trip, i'd -- campaigning at my grandfather they're a statute that the first division human here put up -- museum here put up. and the france and england, america is considered an afterthought. you got here so late and what did you really do? so there's nothing really to comet -- come mel rate. there's one billboard that mentions this. so, at the same time -- my first trip i stumbled across bella wood and that's maintain by their american battle monuments commission because it's a famous american battle. >> so, your work with his great granddaughter, york's, and -- >> ese. >> and some other descendents of the other soldiers. how is york remembered in his home county?
is he remembered still? >> oh, yeah, there's the highway and the york institute which debra york runs. she supplied some photos to me. i think locally -- and i think all the way to knoxville, in eastern tennessee, everybody knows the name york and what he did. so, there's some contention among the descendents of the men who survived that day, like otis and bernard about the -- they're ancestors didn't get enough credit which is true. hardly knew who they were. and so it's a delicate deal to deal with some of this. >> if you had to ask me before i read this book what i knew about sergeant york other than the turkey call in the movie which -- >> which was not true.
>> -- wasn't true, the other thing would be he was conscientious objector, and that is not true either exactly. >> it's not really true. he joined his church, born again, a wild hell raiser as a young man, drinking and all, and he finally came to jesus, and he came under the wing of the this guy pike who is head of the church, local guy, and pike wrote the washington sign to get york conscientious objector status. york says that was never -- trying to do that himself and kept saying i just want someone to explain to me what this war is about. he was not interested in killing anybody because that -- you -- this church he belonged to, this faith, interprets the bible literally and that's the fir commandment? thou shalt not and i would had
to be convinced it was okay to wear a ken and that added a lot of luster to the back story. >> absolutely. well, as i said, i'm -- have not read much on world war i but i'm beginning to. i find it fascinating but it is in men cases a -- many cases a forgotten war, and it's been much overshadowed by historians and civil war, world war ii, and i think i know why but would you speak to why you think that the first world war has been a casualty among historians? >> ey. i'll say this. it's forgotten here march if you go to france, it's not forgotten. every village has a list of men it gave to the war that died. so very much alive there. so it's been overshadowed here because we or only there for a
to -- we fought -- [loss of audio] -- 1918, and was over i think when the war was over people just wanted to sweep it under the rug. remember i lead this in colliers magazine that says we're not going run anymore stores but the war. its done. so got neglected. one of the main reasons. there was no battles fought here, so there's no physical evidence of it. and i think it got overshadowed by world war ii. also, there was no real ending to world war i. it was inconclusive. germany signed an armistice but that just informed the passions -- inflammed the passions and brought hitler about and it was round one of world war ii. so it's overshadowed for that reason, too, and the sheer numbers, the atrocities and the
holocaust and when you think of world war i you think of trenches and bloody battlefields and men charging into machine guns, very little air war, there's some but world war ii is -- a world war, the pacific, europe, and it was pretty natural. i was told nobody wants to read book but the army in world war i, and that was the attitude. i think it's getting better. a lot of interests by people like me whose great performed or uncles who fought over there. >> do you have any more first world war related books in your insure the pipeline at this point? >> i have a proposal out, and -- it would be a world war i become, too. i came to do but we'll see how that pans out.
>> i want you to know that i purchased your polar bear book. and looking forward to reading it. >> that's an interesting story. thanks. >> this is a speculative question, and i know we all hate those, but i'm going to ask you anyway, you mentioned otis merethew and others who i don't if they cast doubt necessarily on york's role -- well, merethew did but at the least wanted recognition for what they did. wanted to be recognized. that's human nature, and i think they deserved it. here's the speculative question. do you think they would be pleased with what you have done and did you give them the due
they deserved, thought they deserve end at least? >> you know, at the end of the book i note that otis, after years of trying, finally -- lyndon johnson said, okay, give this -- give him a silver star for what he did and then at the ceremony when he was getting the star, he is talking about draft dodgers and flag burner and he said we didn't have that in my world. he wad one guy, named alvin york, who was a hero. i think they wanted recognition. he would talk about otis -- he wrote this pick affidavit and didn't even mention york, like york one even there she was being a little untruth. but i don't think they got the credit they see served, including the wounds that died there. one last thing if i have time. the import of what york and this patrol did goes way past just
those -- they took the right of the german line in that area. that allowed companies e and g, the 32 independent infantry to advance west to he railway line which was supplying that whole portion of the german army. happen octoberle. october 9th the germans started with drawing from the aragon forest and the war was over. >> that's a great point and that's something i failed to mention. i certainly didn't know how it fit into the big are story. -- bigger story, at i read more and more about the first world war i hope to put that together. it is such a big war with such big numbers, it's hard to make those connections, but -- >> writing these books i have to learn assault -- learn it all
and then regurgitate it. >> i we have time gary cooper was a big movie star and i found it really interesting sideline story about his relationship with alvin york. would you talk about that? i thought that was really interesting. >> gary cooper was from montana and had grown up like alvin york, an outdoorsman and loved guns and they hit it off. they were both very quiet so took a little prodding to get them to talk. once they did they hit it off well and gary cooper won an academy award for best actor for the movie and he was like the screen icon, male screen icon and the movie did very well. but they found a quick rapport.
>> that movie came in an opportune moment, at least right before pearl harbor, i believe. by a few months. >> that was part and the newspapers said we need to reignite patriotism. and there were stories about young men would go see this movie, sergeant york, and leave the athleteter and go and enlist in the army. so quite an effect. who doesn't want to be a hero. >> that's right. what was york's -- i think you discussed this somewhat the book. -- york's view of what was going on -- he almost enlisted again, didn't he. >> we wanted to enlist during the battan fight around the time of the battan death march and wanted to go over there and bring mountain buddies and start
picking off japanese soldiers. >> but he was 51. >> too hold for that. unlike his questions in world war i, what's that's all about i don't want to be part of this, he was all behind the war in world war ii and got in a big spat with the charles lindbergh. they got in a big sniping and he wanted to stay out and york was all for it and they withboth of equal fame at that time. >> he died in relative poverty. >> uh-huh. >> where is he buried in? oh how is it marked. >> near his home in -- a local cemetery there and i haven't been there but i think it's
well-documented. actually at his funeral, i think it was the 82nd airborne -- the 82nd division airborne -- trying to remember his name -- presided at it so they made a -- the 82nd airborne made a big deal but his passing when he died in 1964. >> well, any other things you'd like to say about your book just in a general way that you'd like to share with the folks online? >> i think if you don't know alvin york is, you might find it of interest. if you don't know about him today at one time he was the number one celebrity, not just in the u.s. but in the world. a huge celebrity and i asked my guide in france, is there any french equivalent to york? and he said no. and couldn't even really think
of a british equivalent, somebody who was made a fuss over like this. there were plenty of people on feats just as much or significant but york just was captured the imagination all over the world and a celebrity maintained really -- started to fade a little in this later years but people knew who he was. >> i can't think of another equivalent in american history if you -- no even audi -- oddie murphy, it's not as compelling. didn't have that back story, and they tried to make pat tillman a hero. he was a hero but tried to build him up and then found out he was killed by friendly fire tragically, and jessica -- i can't remember her name but in iraq, first woman soldier captured and they shade she'd
gone down blazing and that was not true. we like our heroes. >> oh, yeah. i heard murmuring on there from -- >> sorry about that. we are having a little by of internet issues but thank you for coming. and we have signed copies of the york patrol available at the store, stop in and grab a copy and thanks again for joining us. it was great. thanks again. >> thank you, thanks, gem. >> thank you, enjoy. >> type of, financial analyst
carry and lynn killinger argue the u.s. some implement policies that would preevent a repeat of the 2008 recession. law professor jamal greene looks a america's approach to individual rights and how to build a better system of justice. philosophy professor talks bow free speech and the free exchange of ideas. democratic senator tammy duckworth of illinois reflects on her life and career in the military and the u.s. senate. that all starts at 7:00 p.m. eastern tonight, find more schedule information at booktv.org, or consult your program guide. >> i'm patty james of the commonwealth club's health and medicine for you. it's my flour extend a special welcome to any new club members here for this digital program. the commonwealth club continues to be an all-digital program and we'll be for the coming months. i encourage viewers