Sunday, August 30, 2015

Tennessee hillbilly pacifist is big-time WW I hero

Some of you may have heard about Sgt. Alvin York of Fentress County, Tennessee. He was the most decorated American soldier of WW I, awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic action on a battlefield in France.

I recently visited his birthplace (and his gravesite) just outside Pall Mall, Tennessee.

Get a chance, go there. It's well worth it. Here's my story about him--published in today's Charlotte Observer.

And just in case the link does not work, read it below:


Almost 97 years ago, Sgt. Alvin York crawled through the fog from a muddy World War I foxhole in France to take out two enemy machine gunners who threatened to slaughter his fellow American soldiers, and singly killed 25 Germans and helped capture 132 more.

He was America’s most decorated hero of World War I. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the French Legion of Honor and and the French Croix de Guerre with Palm for heroic actions against the German offensive outside the French village of Chatel-Cheheny on Oct. 8, 1918.

When the gangly, humble York returned to America from the “war to end all wars,” he had a chest full of medals. The press couldn’t get enough of him. He was lavished with ticker-tape parades, keys to cities, hugs and pats on the back from generals, governors, senators and even the secretary to President Woodrow Wilson

Here’s the catch: York, a soft-spoken hillbilly sharpshooter from Fentress County, Tenn., tried – for religious reasons – to avoid being drafted into the Army. York was denied his petition to the draft board and, after much prayer, went off to war.

The rest is history, and it lives on at his home just outside of Pall Mall, Tenn., not far from the Kentucky state line and about six hours northwest of Charlotte.

But when he returned to Fentress County, York didn’t much want to talk about killing, fighting or the ravaging war. By the time it ended in late 1918, World War I had claimed almost 10 million lives. Instead, according to his daughter-in-law, Margaret York, he preferred to focus on his family, faith, local community and schools.

Today, Margaret York, wife of the late Thomas Jefferson York, is a hostess, greeter and tour guide at Alvin York’s Pall Mall residence, part of Alvin C. York State Historic Park. The two-story white frame house in the Wolf River Valley is where York (1887-1964) and his beloved wife, Gracie, lived out their final years. Wander through this five-bedroom house, free and open to the public seven days a week, and get a sense of all the love, laughter and music that filled these rooms. See Alvin and Gracie York’s furniture, including a grandfather clock, piano, pictures, dishes, a replica of the 1903 Springfield rifle he used in the war – even the hospital bed Alvin spent so much time in after he suffered a stroke in 1954.

Not far from the house, and also worth visiting, is the Alvin C. York and Sons General Merchandise Store. Refurbished in 2000, the building is a throwback to the grocery store Alvin operated with his sons after he came home from the war.

The building is now leased from the Tennessee state park system. It features a free, 10-minute video documentary on Alvin York narrated by Walter Cronkite and a gift shop full of souvenirs, coffee mugs, pictures, shirts, quilts and other mementos of Fentress County’s most famous war hero. Plus, the store is one of the very few places that sell the 1941 Oscar-winning movie, “Sergeant York,” (starring Gary Cooper), according to the visitor center’s Ginger Pearson.

“A lot here is about Alvin York the man instead of the hero,” Pearson said. She believes fervently that Alvin York, one of 11 children born to Mary and William York, should never be forgotten.

“He’s someone that the kids can admire and aspire to be like,” she said. “He always thought of himself as a rich man, and it wasn’t wealth. It was all his friends and the people he was able to help in this area.

“He’s left a legacy on all of us here and we’re trying to keep it alive for him.”

Indeed, York made a huge impact on his community when he returned from the war in Europe. For example, he served as president of the York Institute, a school he founded in nearby Jamestown, Tenn., and he worked tirelessly to raise money for education through his nonprofit York Foundation. On many occasions he made speeches, for no fee, to benefit worthy civic causes.

After visiting Alvin York’s store and residence, stop by his gristmill. It’s also part of the Alvin C. York State Historic Park and is on the Wolf River. The mill adjoins a tree-shaded, grassy area with picnic tables and playground equipment. A sandy beach is a good launching point for waders or swimmers.

Alvin Cullum York’s final resting place is in the Wolf River Cemetery, just off Rotten Fork Road and near the state park that bears his name. Alvin’s wife, Gracie Loretta Williams York, is buried next to him. (Two of Alvin’s sons, ages 92 and 85, and a daughter, 82, survive him.)

An American flag flaps gently over the couple’s graves, and here, too, is a giant white cross and angel with folded hands. Picture boards document Alvin York’s life and accomplishments. It is a quiet, peaceful, beautiful place, near the shade of a giant tulip poplar tree – aptly placed for one of America’s most famous soldiers.

Larry Timbs, a Vietnam-era veteran, is a retired journalism professor at Winthrop University in Rock Hill.

It’s about a five-hour drive (almost all of it interstate) from Charlotte to Pall Mall, Tenn. At the Alvin C. York State Historic Park ( are Sgt. York’s gristmill, his two-story house and general store and the cemetery where he and some of his family members are buried. Picture boards illustrate key aspects of York’s life (his parents and his birth, his heroism in the war, his business and farming pursuits, his marriage, the civic causes he supported and his death).

When you reach Crossville, Tenn., on I-40 just west of Knoxville, you’re 47 miles from the state park. From I-40 at Crossville, take U.S. 127 North to the state park. It’s an easy, scenic drive on the road that, before World War I, was built by a road crew that included Alvin York. Today, the highway is named in his honor.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

About the race at Bristol Motor Speedway last night

Okay, so I'm not a big NASCAR fan.

But when you get a free ticket to something called the "Irwin Tools Night Race" at Bristol Motor Speedway just outside Bristol, Tenn., you go.

The steeply banked track, which seems to have been carved out of a mountain canyon, is called the "fastest half-mile in the world." And signs around it boast that it's "The Last Great Colosseum."

Impressions from last night:

1. Tons of white people

2. Confederate flags everywhere (and, to be fair, a bunch of U.S. flags)

3. Thousands and thousands of pickup trucks, motor homes and travel trailers

4. Shirtlessness in the stands

5. Beer cans in the stands

6. White towel waving in the stands

7. Good helpful crew of golf cart and shuttle bus drivers

8. DEAFENING, ear-splitting roar of engines

9. Rough-looking but polite fans

10. Young drivers

Here's a video that I snapped while the drivers were warming up:

Eucharistic miracle

I recently blogged about my questions concerning the Eucharist (Communion) at my daughter's Catholic church in St. Louis.

I'm becoming more informed about why the Eucharist is such a sacred practice in Catholism. To that end, daughter Dorothy sent me this video about a miracle that happened not long ago in Argentina. Son-in-law Patrick shared with me that the Argentine bishop who commissioned the investigation of the miracle was Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Today he's known worldwide as Pope Francis. Pretty credible source!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Rattlin' good read

This could be a scene right out of the novel "Fish Springs: Beneath the Surface" (by Michael Manuel and Larry C. Timbs Jr. and available on Kindle or Amazon for $6.95). Video used with permission from Mark Garcia. Thanks, Mark!

Hold onto your seat and click below for the riveting video!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Chillin' in the Midwest

I've been in Sunset Hills (a suburb of St. Louis) for the past few days. Here mainly for the baptism of my newest granddaughter. (See photo of my oldest daughter holding the the little one--BORN ON MY BIRTHDAY--accompanying this blog post; see also photo of my new granddaughter under a quilt sewed by my Mom).

Have noticed a few interesting tidbits during my visit.

1. Don't try to take communion if you are not a Catholic. A priest directed me back to my pew (thank you very much) when I sashayed up to the alter and asked to partake during my granddaughter's big day at church. Stupid me (I guess). But I did find the service solemn, moving, uplifting. And I won't forget the sanctuary, framed on the inside with statues of key figures from the Holy Bible and brilliant stained glass windows. The actual baptism took place in the back of the church. A flying saucer shaped vessel--about 3 feet in diameter--held the water. My little cute one was like a perfect angel when the priest christened her. As an aside, son-in-law sent me the following tickler link on something called the Real Presence for my "edification," as he put it, when he read an earlier version of this blog post:

2. If you visit the farmer's market in Kirkwood--near where my daughter lives in Sunset Hills--do not take your dog. That is, do not take him or her if he's breathing. (See curious sign that I noticed this evening at the market.)

3. I don't often read the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (winner of 16 Pulitzer Prizes, according to the newspaper's nameplate/flag), but I think some excellent journalists work for this paper. Consider the following sentences from a profile story in today's edition about an undertaker:

The reporter wrote that the object of his profile calls himself an undertaker. Why? Consider the undertaker's rationale:

"I once told somebody I was a funeral director and he wanted to know what films I had directed."

And then there was this--later in the story (which I'm offering as my quote of the week).

"My grandpa was an embalmer. My Dad was an embalmer. My uncle was an embalmer, and I have been a licensed, practicing embalmer for over 32 years. I'm a damn good embalmer and really good deconstructionist."

4. If you come to St. Louis, eat at the Spaghetti Factory. It's down by the Mississippi River among a bunch of ancient cobblestoned streets. Kind of hard to get to but worth it. Food's delicious. Last time I ate there was about 1980, when I worked as a journalist about 70 miles away in Vandalia, Ill. Never dreamed I'd come back for another meal 35 years later!

5. My daughter and her husband, parents now of three wonderful children, have a sign posted in the living room of their home. (See accompanying picture). Good rules for everyone to live by!
6. Remember Officer Darren Wilson--the cop who last year killed Michael Brown? (See his mugshot with this post). Remember all the fuss and riots and burnings and protests? Officer Wilson lives just a couple of blocks from my daughter. Really and truly. But no one has seen him in months. Is he in the Witness Protection Program? I wonder.
7. Lastly (related to number 6), there was another cop shooting of a black man last night in Ferguson, prompting violence (but not as much as last year, thankfully), and generating a fair amount of racial tension. How will it play out? Only time will tell. Got a chance to chat with a park ranger at the St. Louis Arch. Here's what he told me about the trouble in Ferguson: "We're waiting for it to go away. It's what you make of it. We've got the 80/20 rule here in St. Louis. 80 percent 're good; 20 percent 're knuckleheads." Well put.

Footnote: Get a chance, check out the following blog: It's by a member of my extended family. She's an excellent writer. We need more bloggers and less Facebookers. You go, girl!