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Posted on Mar 11, 2009 in War College

Sergeant York Commemoration – Photo Essay

Gerald D. Swick

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Picture 22 of 22

Members of the York family meet with members of the U.S. Army Center of Military History in Washington, D.C.

 Sergeant York 90th anniversary Historical Commemoration Photo Essay

Photos 1 – 12, commemoration event, by Army Sgt. Rodney Rischer. Photos 13 – 18, artifacts retrieved from Sergeant York battle site, courtesy Lt. Col. Douglas Mastriano.

Last October, on the 90th anniversary of Sergeant Alvin C. York’s Medal of Honor action that occurred during World War I’s Meuse-Argonne offensive, hundreds of people came together in Chậtel Chéhéry, France, in what was the largest gathering the town had seen since American Soldiers liberated it in 1918. Local citizens, York family members, over 200 Boy Scouts, and U.S., German, French, and Canadian military personnel were in Chậtel Chéhéry to attend the dedication ceremony for the Sergeant York Battlefield Monument, which has been erected on the exact site of York’s October 8, 1918, heroics. (See Battlefield Detective, “Sergeant York Fought Here!” July 2007 ACG.)

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The inscriptions on the monument read:

“In honor of the heroic actions of Corporal Alvin York and all soldiers who served in the Great War 1914-1918.” “Seventy meters south of this plaque is the location where York fought off a bayonet attack launched from the trench to your left. This action, and the capture of a machine gun, saved his battalion from destruction and resulted in the German retreat from the Argonne.” “So I am a witness to the fact that God did help me out of that hard battle; for the bushes were shot up all around me and I never got a scratch." Alvin York

The York monument is part of the Sergeant York Discovery Trail (SYDT), a 1.5-mile-long interpretive walking trail that runs through a section of the Argonne Forest. The SYDT, which features nine informative stops with signs written in German, French and English, begins at the Weider Family Park, where another monument lists the names and fates of the 17 U.S. Soldiers who fought alongside York that fateful day. (The Weider Family Park and monument were made possible by the generosity of ACG Publisher Eric Weider and his late father, Canadian entrepreneur and founding president of the International Napoleonic Society, Dr. Ben Weider, CM, CQ, SBStJ.)

Following are a series of photos of this ceremony. (See Dispatches, “Sergeant York Monument & Weider Family Park” May 2009 ACG.)

ACG strongly encourages the generous support of this outstanding effort to save our history. For updates and information on how to make a tax-deductible donation, visit The Sergeant York Discovery Expedition Web site.

Sergeant York battlefield artifacts to go on display in the Pentagon and museums across the United States

Update: After celebrating the dedication of the Sergeant York Battlefield Monument, which honors Sergeant Alvin C. York’s Medal of Honor action during World War I’s Meuse-Argonne offensive last October, (See Dispatches, “Sergeant York Monument & Weider Family Park” May 2009 ACG) the artifacts recovered from that site (See Battlefield Detective, “Sergeant York Fought Here!” July 2007 ACG) are now going on display across the country.

In February 2009, the actual artifacts recovered from where Sergeant York earned the Medal of Honor on 8 October 1918, were transferred to the Center of Military History (CMH). This included roughly 1,000 of the most important items, encompassing some 30 different types of American and 70 different types of German items, personal effects, equipment pieces, etc. The items included German and American bullets, cartridges, canteens, pieces of belts, buttons, combs, brushes, mirrors, whistles, bottles, bayonets, watches, first aid kits, entrenching tools, coins, gas masks, horse shoes, harmonicas, mess kits, straps, hooks, etc.

This endeavor goes back to our extensive research in the US and German archives to once and for all resolve the debate on whether there was evidence that York accomplished the incredible feat of capturing 132 German soldiers after eliminating a German machine-gun position and single handedly fighting off a bayonet attack. The artifacts from the fight between York and the German Imperial Army were exactly where they should have been – even after 90 years. After thousands of painstaking hours in the French Argonne Forest, we carefully recovered these valuable pieces of American history.

After the recovery of these items was accomplished and our findings were concluded as accurate, we worked with officials in France, Germany and the USA to construct the Sergeant York Historic Trail on the battlefield and erected two monuments to forever preserve and mark the location where York’s incredible feat occurred. These were dedicated on the 90th anniversary of the event in October 2008. See The Sergeant York Discovery Expedition Web site for details.

Moving the artifacts took coordination with an incredible amount of diverse government officials from Europe and the United States, customs, the US Army and the USAF. The flight was fantastic and, as we flew in an USAF C-17 cargo plane, we sat within eyeshot of the artifacts.

Upon arriving in Washington, D.C., we documented each item with professional artifact technicians from the Center of Military History, who now have responsibility for the items. They plan to first display these items in the Pentagon and then in museums around the nation (CMH has oversight of some 53 museums around the world).

During the handover of the precious artifacts, CMH conducted a ceremony that included members of the York family and the CMH leadership. The purpose of this event was to celebrate the preservation of the physical evidence related to one of the most amazing feats of heroism in American history.

As for our efforts in the Sergeant York Discovery Expedition, we thank all of the people in France, Germany and the United States who have helped make this happen. Our work is not done. We intend to continue to improve the SGT York Historic Trail in the Argonne Forest of France and to do our part to honor the legacy and heroism of Alvin York for the next generation.

6 Comments

  1. My question to Mr. Mastriano is why he does not even mention the letters and maps provided to the Army War College by York’s former commanders, Major Buxton and Captain Danforth, that give exact details and location of where this fight took place.

    My first guess is that he will not mention this because Mr. Matriano’s location is wrong.

    If his research in the German archives was so detailed why was he not able to find the file of Lt. Thoma which contains a handrwitten statement by Thoma taken in 1919 describing the circumstances of his capture.

    And, as much as Mr. Mastriano talks about the German soldiers, particularly Lt. Endris, why did he not take the time to locate his grave? It is only a few km from Chatel Chehery.

    Speaking of graves. Why did he not even mention the American Graves Registration forms that give accurate coordinates to the burials? True, the initial records taken in October 1918 are inaccurate, but this was corrected by the G.R.S. when the bodies were exhumed and relocated to the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery.

    And, the photographs taken in 1919 of the graves. What does the terrain at Mr. Mastriano’s site not even come close to the terrain seen in the 1919 photos?

    It is quiet clear from statements made by York himself, Major Buxton and a soldier captured by York that this event took place in a “Ravine” and not on an open slope where the Mastriano site is. This open slope also just happened to be the center of the main attack of 328ht Infantry which makes it impossible for the York fight to have occurred there. Look at the History of the Three Hundred and Twenty Eighth Regiment of Infantry at the map detailing the attack. ALL of the US accounts agree that the 328th attack was directed slightly to the northwest directly at Mr. Mastriano’s location. ALL of the US accounts agree that the fight took place on the hill located DIRECTLY southwest of Hill 223. Mr. Mastriano for some reason fails to address any of these very important documents and simply says the others are wrong.

    Ask him to provide original and translated copies of the German archival material that he claims give the secret information that support his claim. I do not think he can provide that. It certainly will not look like the official translated copies I have read that were translated by an official German court appointed translator.

    Why is this important? Because it looks like an intentional distortion of history has occurred here and that needs to be corrected.

    If you really read Mr. Mastriano’s report there is nothing in there detailing anything found in the archives that really shed any light on what he claims. His maps are confusing and hard to understand since this was written for a military audience and not the public, who he has so easily deceived.

    And what of the other sixteen members of the patrol? It is sad that Mr. Mastriano does not even mention them. History, this is not history. It is one man making a name for himself by exploiting SGT York and the other members of the patrol by making up the story to fit the location of the reported 21 shell casings he found. I do not call these casings “hard evidence” but it is the only thing he has going for his side.

    Look at the 82nd Division History and the 328th History, these two books alone make it clear where this fight took place.

  2. Has anyone seen the last issue of the Dutch magazine “Wereld In Oorlog, Nr. 11, 2009” (The World at War, issue number 11, 2009)? There is a very interesting article about this very debate found starting on page 7.

    Through a Dutch friend of mine I was able to understand the following key points from this article;

    1.) From the author’s interviews with Dr. Clarke, the Director of the U.S. Army Center of Military History (CMH), Dr. Clarke stated that he issued the famed “SYDE – CMH endorsement letter” not as support for the findings of Mr. Mastriano’s, but rather to say that the CMH was a supporter of his research – not the results. This letter was written at the request of Mr. Mastriano who thought he could obtain French sponsorship with this letter for what he planned to do.

    2.) French Sponsorship; well it looks like from this article that the French regional archaeologist for the Champagne-Ardennes Region did not issue a permit for or otherwise authorize Mr. Mastriano’s relic hunting activities and therefore it appears that Mr. Mastriano’s relic hunting could be considered an illegally activity flagrantly violating French cultural and archaeological law. I am sure the same applies for the French cultural artifacts, which were presumably illegally exported at US tax payer’s expense to the CMH aboard a US Air force C-17. I am sure there is a lot more to follow of this aspect of the story. Mainly concerning why the artifacts will be displayed in the Pentagon when in reality these “artifacts” were more than likely illegally excavated, illegally exported from France and worst of all, are artifacts that have nothing whatsoever to do with the specific engagement of SGT. York, the patrol or the German units involved that resulted in the capture of 132 German prisoners of war.

    3.) The famed French Military letter of endorsement appears to be nothing more than an internal memo discussing the creation of the “York Trail” and has absolutely nothing to with endorsing anything Mr. Mastriano claims.
    Also, from the way I read this article, a least one member of Mr. Mastriano’s team, who was assisting Mastriano in digging artifacts after his final report had been issued, disagrees with Mr. Mastriano’s methods and findings. I have a question; why did the SYDE continue to relic hunt for artifacts after their 100% certainty repot had been issued? I wonder; are all of the artifacts shown in the photos above really from the SYDE “York Spot”, or are they from anywhere in that region? I do not see any method of marking or identifying any of the individual artifacts shown in these photos as I would expect and have seen in other archaeological reports. Does that mean that there is no “real” provenance for these artifacts? Does that mean that they were found only where Mr. Matriano says they were found?

    At any rate, I cannot wait to see how this turns out, but from the way this latest article reads, it looks like some of Mr. Mastriano’s core supporters are starting to run for cover or back step on previous “endorsements”.

    I again encourage everyone to examine the documents I have so often mentioned in great detail and in previous entries in this blog that Mr. Mastriano and his followers refuse to acknowledge.
    This debate is far from over, only warming up…… so to speak.

  3. There has been another “discovery” that needs to be discussed here.

    Please take a look at this article:
    http://rss.ireport.com/docs/DOC-258231

    Initially I thought this must be some kind of a joke, but after a little more searching I found the original army press release:
    http://www.1ad.army.mil/Story/may09/german_soldier.htm

    A short time later I received this email written by this man and here are a few excerpts:

    “From: Douglas Mastriano
    Sent: Friday, May 29, 2009 6:39 AM
    Subject: Important SGT York discoveries from October 1918″

    “Two amazing discoveries to support the York Spot:”

    “We are pleased to announce the recovery of a significant discovery of artifacts related to where Sergeant York accomplished his amazing feat.
    So what?”

    “1. The discoveries confirm our conclusions as to where York fought on 8 OCT 1918
    2. York did what he was awarded the Medal of Honor for (silencing the detractors)
    3. One God-fearing man made the difference – an example of us today
    4. This important piece of American History is preserved for the next generation”

    “While working on the Sergeant York Historic Trail, we uncovered the personal effects and the complete identification tag of a German soldier involved in the fight against York’s battalion on 8 October 1918. The soldier of whom we speak is Gunner Wilhelm Härer.”

    “On 8 October 1918, Wilhelm Härer was assigned to German Lieutenant Paul Lipp’s portion of Humserberg. Lipp commanded the machine gun which Alvin York assaulted and destroyed. Lipp himself was captured by York. As a result of York’s actions, Wilhelm Härer’s gun crew fell back under heavy US pressure. As they withdrew, Wilhelm Härer fell in battle. He was declared missing in action.”

    “The discovery is the strongest undisputable piece evidence directly linking a specific soldier with the York spot. This is significant in that the detractors can explain away buttons, and collar disks – which hundreds of soldiers carried. However, the recovery of Wilhelm’s ID tag is harder to ignore and adds further confirmation of our work and conclusions as to where York earned the Medal of Honor. This discovery was followed by the recovery of two badly damaged US military tunics of soldiers from York’s BN – again, complimenting our earlier findings regarding the York spot.”

    After reading the article and this email I was not only disturbed, but equally surprised and amused by what this man now claims. Here are my thoughts on this “discovery”:

    1.)Since when do Boy Scouts do archaeology? Especially on a World War One battlefield? It is documented that not only high explosive was used in the valley west of Chatel Chehery on this day, but Phosgene gas as well. Being that approximately 20% or more of first world war artillery shells did not explode I am not sure if this is appropriate “work” for Boy Scouts tromping around the woods with metal detectors and shovels.

    2.)Would the French regional director of archaeology issue a permit to Boy Scouts to conduct surface metal detector archaeology? I doubt it and I bet his remarks about this discovery will be VERY exciting. Does the Center of Military History and other supporters of this man know that not only were these artifacts illegally excavated and exported from France, but the archaeology was done by Boy Scouts? They can answer for themselves when the time comes.

    3.)Now to the disturbing part; if what this man is saying is true then they found the grave of a German soldier who is still listed as missing since October 1918. I can see that a small case of artifacts were “repatriated” to the town where this soldier came from, but no mention of his remains. Instead of doing the correct thing; which would be immediately cease all excavation as soon as a suspected burial is located, notifying the local mayor’s office, the Gendarmamarie and the regional archaeologists’ office the Boy Scouts continued to “loot” as many artifacts as they could find. (The thought of Boy Scouts conducting serious archaeology paints a very comical and humorous picture in my mind, but one cannot overlook the very serious cultural, ethical and morale violations that have apparently occurred as a result of this “discovery”.)

    In my opinion, if the truth were known, they probably only found the dog tag and the other items were found on the same hill so they simply grouped them together to make the story more “sensational”. But, we must give them the benefit of doubt since they presented a case of artifacts that seem to contain the dog tag, a gas mask, what looks like a soldiers boot heel with the leather still on it, buttons and other artifacts. Again I would ask; where are the remains of this soldier? Even if they “thought” or “felt like” he might have been removed and transferred to a military cemetery after the war they are nevertheless obligated to turn the excavation work over to professional archaeologists. If even a finger bone had been found that would be enough to say this soldier has been “found”, but what apparently has happened is the artifacts were “looted” and this soldier still remains in a “missing” status. I do not think that the findings, opinions or conclusion of Boy Scout archaeology can be taken very seriously and they are not qualified for excavating a missing soldier’s presumed final or temporary resting place. But, without having the proper authorization to begin with it would be self incriminating to inform the same agencies that would have arrested them had the known what they were doing in the first place. Better to get out of France with the “loot” as quickly as possible and make the announcement on a local level, become a hero for a small German town and continue to dazzle an evidently very naïve Center of Military History.)

    4.)Ok, so we have a dog tag from a soldier that belonged to the 125th Landwehr Infantry, what does that have to do with confirming the “York Spot”. This tag was found exactly where it should be, on the hill the 125th occupied during the battle.

    This man says: “The discovery is the strongest undisputable piece evidence directly linking a specific soldier with the York spot.”

    I thought they said earlier that the 21 pistol cartridges were the most undisputable evidence linking a specific soldier to the York Spot, and in this case SGT York himself, at least according to this man’s claims.

    5.)Again we see that this man says that the 125th Landwehr was on the Humserberg and York defeated the machine guns on the Humserberg. If you look at the 1918 German 1;25,000 map sheet or the official German report about the incident you will clearly see that the Humserberg is actually located just southwest of the town of Cornay an nowhere near this hill. In the German records there are only one or two accounts that mention this hill specifically and in both cases they refer to it by using the elevation reference “153”, the map grid square number the hill is located in “1429” or simply refer to it as the hill west of the “Schlossberg” (Hill 223). The Americans called this hill “Hill 167” for the elevation reference found on the 1918 French 1;20,000 map sheet. Strange that in the American documentation and Signal Corps photographs there are many references to Hill 167 and that it was taken by the main attack of 2nd Battalion, 328th Infantry and not the SGT Early/York patrol. All American accounts show that the “York fight” took place on the western facing slope of the hill located directly southwest of Hill 223, or “Hill 2” as the Germans called it and not where this man claims to have located the exact spot with “100% certainty”.

    6.)“100% certainty”, “conclusive, the search is over” and “undisputable piece of evidence”, these are terms not often used in the archeological, historical or scientific communities, yet they are found throughout this man’s writings and articles written on his behalf. What is he afraid of? Someone else may come along and prove him wrong in the near future? Sure seem so.

  4. Sgt Hulka,
    I am not sure what your interest in SGT York is, but I find your characterization of Col Mastriano quite bothersome. I am neither a historian, nor an expert on the subject of Alvin York. I am, however, a former soldier of Col Mastriano’s. I found this article and your comments while trying to find Col Mastriano. He is quite simply, one of, if not the, most honorable, best men that I have met in my forty-one years. I can not vouch for the accuracy of his findings, but woleheartedly do so for both his character and motives. He is inspired by Sgt York for not only his courage and bravery, but for the inspiration in his testimony. His faith guides him and gives him strength. I am not a Christian, but I agree with with the Colonel that York is the embodiment of what the ideal American soldier, if not American citizen should be. I can attest that, although he would not acknowledge it, Col Mastriano, through his actions and his motives, is similarly an example to inspire pride in our soldiers and our nation.

  5. Is it true that the rifle used by Cpl. Alvin York was a Model 1917 ? I have read that this rifle is located in the museum of Middle Tennessee State University but there are conflicting postings on the internet. If someone could clarify the issue I would appreciate it.

    Thanks
    Tom

  6. Sgt Hulka is obviously a Nom d’Plume for someone from the University expedition. Very emotional. Bitter, in fact.

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