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Posted on Sep 12, 2011 in Stuff We Like

Volunteers Improve Sgt. York Historic Trail

By Doug Mastriano and Josiah Mastriano

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Volunteers gather in France’s Argonne Forest to make considerable improvements to the Sergeant York Historic Trail ("Circuit du Sergeant York" in French).

During the weekend of May 20, 2011, some thirty volunteers gathered on the actual battlefield near Chatel-Chéhéry, France, where World War I U. S. Army Sergeant Alvin C. York knocked out a German machine gun and captured 132 German soldiers October 8, 1918. The purpose of the gathering was to complete a project to preserve this important piece of America’s military history. The endeavor was led by Josiah Mastriano, whose Eagle Scout Service Project brought us together in France’s Argonne Forest to make considerable improvements to the Sergeant York Historic Trail ("Circuit du Sergeant York" in French).

Josiah’s project was a significant undertaking and included an ambitious endeavor designed to make substantial improvements to the Sergeant York Historic Trail/Circuit du Sergeant York. His work was extensive and included fixing a drainage problem at an artesian well that was making the trail muddy, replacing old trail logs, cleaning up, weeding and treating erosion at the SGT York Memorial Park, and replacing old town signs related to Sergeant York. However, the most challenging aspect of Josiah’s project was moving some 37 tons of gravel to significantly improve over one-kilometer of the trail. Josiah was able to purchase the gravel thanks to several generous financial donations. This enabled him to go beyond what he had originally planned and to lay gravel on more than one kilometer of the trail. This became the single most difficult aspect of the work – loading shovelfuls of gravel into a wheel barrow and then moving it across bumpy ground to the furthest point from the gravel pile – one kilometer away!

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Several in Josiah’s work group expressed doubts that it would even be possible to complete such a Herculean task, concluding that there were just not enough people and time to do it. Yet, with the help of several local French farmers who pitched in – staying until 9 pm to move the remaining 7-10 tons of gravel to the trail’s monument park and then spreading it for us – the work was completed. A total of 300 hours of back-breaking work went into the trail during this one weekend and the result was superb – one local French official commented that the improvements have made the trail one of the best of its kind in all of France.

Work to construct the Sergeant York Historic Trail began in 2007 after French officials and historians reviewed the results of recent field work in the Argonne Forest that accurately pinpointed the location of where then-Corporal Alvin York performed his incredible feats of heroism in 1918. The Sergeant York Historic Trail was inaugurated in 2008 on the 90th anniversary of York’s exploits. The trail was built under the supervision and approval of local, regional and federal French authorities and is designed to allow visitors to walk where York walked. Nine interpretative trail signs are located along the three kilometer circuit to allow any visitor to the Argonne Forest to understand the battle without a guide. Various portions of the trail have been worked on and expanded by five American Boy Scout Eagle Scout Service Projects over the past four years, and a scout troop in Germany is planning to adopt the trail for annual upkeep.

In early 1919, three months after York’s famous October 1918 battle, an investigative team led by the Brigade Commander Brigadier General Julian R. Lindsey and Alvin York returned to the battlefield to determine if York’s actions merited award of the Medal of Honor. General Lindsey was convinced that York did deserve the Medal of Honor, and York received America’s highest valor medal in 1919. However, as years passed, the location of this fantastic feat was forgotten even though a considerable amount of documentation is available in the United States. Of these, most are unit reports, with several eye-witness papers. However, the key to verification turned out to be in the German archives, an essential source not used by previous Sergeant York researchers. These archives provided the missing pieces of the puzzle. In total, over two-hundred primary source German archival documents and books combined with another one-hundred or more diverse United States accounts led the Sergeant York Discovery Expedition to the actual spot. (See “Battlefield Detective: Sergeant York Fought Here!” July 2007 Armchair General magazine.) Visit sgtyorkdiscovery.com to read the detailed report of how the team located the actual site of York’s October 8, 1918 Medal of Honor combat action.

The extensive work of Josiah, the other Scouts and the volunteers to create, improve and maintain the Sergeant York Historic Trail/Circuit du Sergeant York is a fitting tribute to the courage and sacrifice of Alvin York and the sixteen other U. S. Soldiers in his unit that won that desperate battle in the Argonne Forest in 1918. Such feats of bravery punctuated the American World War I experience – therefore, it is imperative that these historic sites be maintained to honor these heroes and to provide the American people with evidence of the high price of maintaining our freedom.

To make a much-welcomed, tax-deductible donation, visit sgtyorkdiscovery.com.

2 Comments

  1. KUDOS on your continued hard work to honor this great American hero. The Kiwanians of the CAL-NEV-HA District of Kiwanis International are PROUD to have supported you in this endeavor!
    The Navy says…”BRAVO ZULU”!!!
    Ken Delfino
    Colfax, CA

  2. A thorough accounting of Sgt. York history is truly amazing. The facts more than substantiate his story. A true hero in our American cultural. Congratulations to the Eagle Scouts who adopted this project to earn their award.

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