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Author Topic: Revisiting Sgt. York and a Time When Heroes Stood Tall
snopes
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On Oct. 8, 1918, Cpl. Alvin Cullum York and 16 other American doughboys stumbled upon more than a dozen German soldiers having breakfast in a boggy hollow here.

The ensuing firefight ended with the surrender of 132 Germans and won Corporal York a promotion to sergeant, the Medal of Honor and a place in America's pantheon of war heroes.

Now another battle is unfolding as rival researchers use global positioning systems and computer programs, old maps and military reports to try to establish the exact site of the fighting on that day 88 years ago. Their heated examinations do not challenge the essential heroism of Sergeant York, yet such scrutiny helps explain why it is hard to be a hero these days.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/18/world/europe/18hero.html?ex=1308283200&en=3a22ddf752ca4a47&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

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hardhead
I Saw Three Shipments


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In a previous thread it was stated that both of Sgt. York's weapons were currently in a Tennessee museum (his 45 pistol and his Enfield model 17 rifle) Beats me who is right, not having been to the museum.

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Malruhn
The "Was on Sale" Song


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Cool article, though they almost lost me in the section that snopes quoted, "and won Corporal York a promotion to sergeant, the Medal of Honor and a place in America's pantheon of war heroes." DAMMIT, but it bugs me when someone says a soldier/sailor/Marine "WINS" a personal award. Sorry, but that's for Rantidote...

My respect for the article went way up with the correction at the end... not much difference between an Enfield Model 1917 and a Lee-Enfield Model 17, but I'm glad they added it.

But I really do wonder... it seems like they really are looking for holes in the account, and that they are trying to take away from the "mistique".

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CannonFodder Global Trotter
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Anyone else ever read 'Harrison Bergeron' by Kurt Vonnegut? Why the need to denigrate those we once acknowledged as heroes? Does that somehow elevate the rest of us?

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"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die."

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Mistletoey Chloe
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Isn't that an odd thng to say on a messageboard concerned with distinguishing between truth and pleasant (or not so pleasant) fictions?

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CannonFodder Global Trotter
Little Sales Drummer Boy


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*sigh* Ya' got me Chloe, and I should know better. The truth IS the most important thing. Is it important to understand someone's motivation in seeking out the truth, or merely be glad they are doing so? Perhaps evidence will uncover that Sergeant York is almost exactly the man we believe him to be, perhaps not. But knowledge is always the key, and truth is the foundation of knowledge.

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"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die."

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Mistletoey Chloe
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Spoken like a snopester! [Smile]

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Bad Ronald
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I always found it suspicious that Sgt. York looked so much like Lou Gehrig.

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Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of the time he will pick himself up and continue on.
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Malruhn
The "Was on Sale" Song


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I have been mulling this over since my last post...

I am beginning to believe that in the recent history (1960's forward), that an adage I learned when I was doing the AMWAY thing is apropos: "American's want each other to get ahead... just not ahead of them!"

In the "olde dayes", we were happy to hear about Corporal Skippy that overcame unbelievable odds to win the day... and didn't care that the odds were 'unbelievable'.

Now, we hear about someone that does something "impressive" and we have to tear them down - bringing them back to "regularly achievable standards" (Jessica Lynch). I recall when the Rangers were awarded the Medals of Honor for their actions in Somalia, there was a large undercurrent of griping that argued that they just did their job - and poorly at that - since they all died.

Maybe it is just my skewed view, but it really seems like we don't WANT to have heroes any more.

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Opinions aren't excuses to remain ignorant about subjects, nor are they excuses to never examine one's beliefs & prejudices...

Babies are like tattoos. You see other peoples' & they're cool, but yours is never as good & you can't get rid of it.

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The Goof
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quote:
I always found it suspicious that Sgt. York looked so much like Lou Gehrig.


[lol]

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musicgeek
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The current movement to correct much of popular history (see Lies My Teacher Told Me ) has been criticized as attempts by liberal revisionists to tear down our heroes. My father, a history teacher, has a different take: he feels (and I tend to agree) that by mythologizing our significant historical figures, we remove them from reality, and give children the idea that greatness is born and not made. By portraying these men and women as mere mortals, complete with mortal failings, we encourage the thought that all of us have the potential for greatness if we are willing to work for it. I think that the cynical, pragmatic Lincoln of history is a much more powerful and inspiring figure than the sainted Lincoln of myth. In Pat Tillman's case, his unfortunate death by friendly fire doesn't (for me) diminish his heroism -- although I am personally against the policies that led to our involvement in Iraq, I have nothing but respect for someone who walked away from a potentially lucrative career to serve in a way that he believed was right. The fact that he was killed by so-called friendly fire is tragic, but it doesn't change the nature of his own personal heroism. As the article in the OP points out, learning the truth about the York story shouldn't detract from the heroic (if not superhuman) actions of York and his unit.

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[God said] "I'll just sit back in the shade while everyone gets laid; that's what I call intelligent design." - Chris Smither, "Origin of the Species"

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pinqy
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quote:
Originally posted by Malruhn:
Now, we hear about someone that does something "impressive" and we have to tear them down - bringing them back to "regularly achievable standards" (Jessica Lynch).

But Pfc Lynch didn't do anything impressive. That whole mess was a combination of unconfirmed intel reports and an overenthusiastic senior officer (possibly more than one, but I doubt it) who leaked the story to the Washington Post.

pinqy

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Unusual Elfin Lights
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quote:
Originally posted by musicgeek:
In Pat Tillman's case, his unfortunate death by friendly fire doesn't (for me) diminish his heroism -- although I am personally against the policies that led to our involvement in Iraq, I have nothing but respect for someone who walked away from a potentially lucrative career to serve in a way that he believed was right. The fact that he was killed by so-called friendly fire is tragic, but it doesn't change the nature of his own personal heroism.

Nitpick, Pat Tillman died in Afghanistan.

Some of the stronger heroes of the day are not those that are untouchable, but rather those that have overcome their human failings.

I remember Sgt York's story being more about his overcoming his personal objections to fighting by becoming the best team mate anyone could have had.

I find difficulty with calling everyone who does anything remotely well a "hero". People like Sgt York: sure thing. Audie Murphy: you bet. Any NHL player: none. The police that battle crime in the worst neighbourhoods: yes. Their colleagues that wear the same uniform that are limited to traffic duty: only on the occasion that they distinguish themselves.

Just my view.

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STF
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quote:
Originally posted by Yoo-ee-ell:
I find difficulty with calling everyone who does anything remotely well a "hero". People like Sgt York: sure thing. Audie Murphy: you bet. Any NHL player: none. The police that battle crime in the worst neighbourhoods: yes. Their colleagues that wear the same uniform that are limited to traffic duty: only on the occasion that they distinguish themselves.

Just my view.

Police who are on traffic duty are still in harm's way though. You never know what the driver of the car you just pulled over is going to do. Whether they are ever involved in a life or death struggle is irrelevant to me because the heroism is in doing the job where they realize that any routine traffic stop could mean their life.

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Unusual Elfin Lights
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I believe they are brave, but they are not heroes.

Heroism needs some act, not because of affiliation.

I do not think of myself as a hero despite having deployed to hotspots around the world, unlike some others who took fire, saved civilian lives by blocking shots with their soft skinned vehicles and evacuated wounded when most would have taken cover.

They are heroes, not me in a camp a few kilometres away.

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Hero_Mike
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quote:
Originally posted by Malruhn:
I recall when the Rangers were awarded the Medals of Honor for their actions in Somalia, there was a large undercurrent of griping that argued that they just did their job - and poorly at that - since they all died.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

(It is sweet and appropriate to die for one's country.)

Some will argue that those soldiers did their jobs as well as possible.

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musicgeek
Deck the Malls


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quote:
Originally posted by Yoo-ee-ell:
Nitpick, Pat Tillman died in Afghanistan.

D'oh! Good catch -- that'll teach me to post on a few hours of sleep.

And the last post triggered the latent English Lit geek in me:

Dulce et Decorum Est

Pretty much how I feel. It may be noble, it may be heroic, but it's never sweet.

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[God said] "I'll just sit back in the shade while everyone gets laid; that's what I call intelligent design." - Chris Smither, "Origin of the Species"

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Turbo Snail
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What if during all of these investigations we find out we really lost the war? What do we do then? call a do-over?

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DesertRat
It Came Upon a Midnight Clearance


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Malruhn;

Slight nitpick... the Somalia MOH recipients were a bit more than just Rangers. And I'm shocked that anyone would accuse them of "just doing their jobs." If you ever run in to anyone like that again, forward them the citations...

MSG Gordon and SFC Shughart MOH citations.

And as for my definition of a hero, UEL summed it up pretty nicely. Let me just say "me too."

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High on the wind, the Highland drums begin to roll, and something from the past just comes and stares into my soul... --Mark Knopfler

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Aptenodytes_Forsteriis
We Wish You a Merry Giftmas


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quote:
Originally posted by DesertRat:
Malruhn;

Slight nitpick... the Somalia MOH recipients were a bit more than just Rangers. And I'm shocked that anyone would accuse them of "just doing their jobs." If you ever run in to anyone like that again, forward them the citations...

MSG Gordon and SFC Shughart MOH citations.

And as for my definition of a hero, UEL summed it up pretty nicely. Let me just say "me too."

I'm not sure there is any poem, painting, or song that can equal the terse, clipped, often ungrammatical prose of a MOH citation for inspirational value. We should be taught the names and stories of MOH recipients in school, as Catholics are taught the lives of the saints, and the Spartans memorized the 300. They are truly special people, one and all.

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GI Joe
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I have to weigh in and agree with Malruhn about our obsession with tearing down heroes. Seems to me more often than not it takes the form of cultural self-loathing rather than simply correcting the historical record. The recent spate of "Davey Crockett really surrended like a coward at the Alamo" charges is a classic case.

I'm especially bothered how it is playing out in current events. My local newspaper decided it was immoral to glorify war, so it refuses to run any story on local troops who have earned awards for valor. They won't even run stories of local troops returning home, unless there is a tragic twist to it. They will only run articles on local soldiers if they have died, are horribly wounded or psychologically traumatized.

I guess some folks are not content in tearing down past heroes, but need to forestall the creation of new ones.

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Wintermute
Angels Wii Have Heard on High


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quote:
Originally posted by DesertRat:
And I'm shocked that anyone would accuse them of "just doing their jobs."

I have to say those two astound me with their courage. Yes, they were 'just doing their jobs', but would any of us be brave enough to do our job in that situation? When I watched the movie, "Black Hawk down" I at first thought they were hamming it up for dramatic effect. I reread the book, and discovered they toned a lot of the events down in the movie to make it less dramatic. The events in the book describe more details are Durants capture, and incarceration by the combatants. It is amazing that he was so capable, and cleared headed in his situation. Sadly, the real hero’s do not get to come home all the time, but they often allow others to survive.
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snopes
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quote:
I have to weigh in and agree with Malruhn about our obsession with tearing down heroes. Seems to me more often than not it takes the form of cultural self-loathing rather than simply correcting the historical record. The recent spate of "Davey Crockett really surrended like a coward at the Alamo" charges is a classic case.
Actually, I'd say Davy Crockett is a classic case of just the opposite. See Sleuthing the Alamo for an overview of how vehemently and irrationally people attack any historian who dares to challenge the myth that Davy Crockett went down fighting to the end, and how quick those same people are to dismiss contrary historical evidence they clearly don't understand.

- snopes

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Jonny T
Little Sales Drummer Boy


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The girl at Colombine who supposedly "said yes" when asked about her faith became a hero to many. Does debunking that myth come into the category of "cultural self-loathing"?

Those who genuinely look up to people as heroes should be able to handle criticism of them, as human beings like any other. Those of us who don't share worship of certain "heroes" can find it intensely irritating to have their supposed greatness shoved down our throats, hence the desire to reveal their humanity, warts and all.

For example: Winston Churchill. Great statesman, led Britain through the second world war, general national hero. But he had plenty of flaws, some more extreme than others, which tend to be glossed over when discussing him in public. Exposing them does not - should not! - make him any less of a hero in the eyes of those who look up to them, but does return balance to his often misguided elevation.

- Jonathan

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Lainie
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quote:
Originally posted by pinqy:
quote:
Originally posted by Malruhn:
Now, we hear about someone that does something "impressive" and we have to tear them down - bringing them back to "regularly achievable standards" (Jessica Lynch).

But Pfc Lynch didn't do anything impressive. That whole mess was a combination of unconfirmed intel reports and an overenthusiastic senior officer (possibly more than one, but I doubt it) who leaked the story to the Washington Post.

pinqy

And IIRC, she herself was less than happy about some of the inaccurate reporting of her experience.

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The Rubber Chicken
The First USA Noel


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quote:
I have to weigh in and agree with Malruhn about our obsession with tearing down heroes.
I don't think, in most cases, "tearing down heroes" is really what is going on. To me, tearing down a hero would be by deliberately attempting to slander them by emphasizing their flaws and ignoring or omitting their contributions, or by reporting rumors as fact (for an example of this, see Ted Rall's Pat Tillman Cartoon). That does happen, but usually not by professional historians.

What a lot of people see as "tearing down" heroes is simply filling in the nuances and complexities that are a part of any person's life. As with any person, some of those nuances are positive, some are negative, and some just are. They don't take away from what a person accomplished, or make them less of a hero.

IMHO, the problem is that we build heroes up to mythical stature, and then are shocked when we find out that they had flaws and concerns like any person does. Then it seems like the hero is being torn down.

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Malruhn
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The citations for the Rangers in Somolia are here.

The comments I heard were along the vein , "They were doing their job and ended up just fighting for their lives. What's heroic about that??" They equated the act to be equal to a long-haul truck driver that ends up going off a bridge and then struggling in vain to get out of the cab before drowning. They did their job, something got screwed up, then they cashed in their chips.

Rubber Chicken, the difference between that Tillman cartoon and this case is just the horrific minimization of the actions to make the people less - versus slanted bias and lie to produce slander. You can't slander if it's the truth, even if minimized.

It's like we aren't supposed to have heroes any more. If someone does something outstanding, people begin digging to find out how they got so lucky and to denigrate the accomplishment.

Now, this may be fallout from a huge drive to make paper heroes. The Challenger disaster for one, is a big bee in my bonnet. The people on board were highly respected scientists and military folk - and died tragically... they were NOT heroes. The way the Challenger crew was elevated over all other shuttle crews as heroes - for the sole reason that they died - just sickens me.

I also see (I might be paying more attention to it...) more and more people saying that military folks "win" medals, and my munchkin just gets hung all over again.

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Babies are like tattoos. You see other peoples' & they're cool, but yours is never as good & you can't get rid of it.

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The Rubber Chicken
The First USA Noel


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quote:
Rubber Chicken, the difference between that Tillman cartoon and this case is just the horrific minimization of the actions to make the people less - versus slanted bias and lie to produce slander. You can't slander if it's the truth, even if minimized.

I wasn't comparing the Tillman cartoon to the Somalia MOH citations per se, but rather to the overall comment that we generally want to "tear down heroes." If someone looks at what the Rangers did in Somalia, agree on the basic facts of the incident, and then think it wasn't worthy of the Medal of Honor, that is a person making a completely subjective assessment of what a "heroic" action is.

Filling in or correcting details and facts about an incident is different. If the initial story of Jessica Lynch stated that she fired her M-16 until she ran out of ammunition, and it later turns out that she never fired her weapon, I don't think correcting the inaccuracy is a way of "tearing down" Jessica Lynch as a hero. It is simply filling in the correct facts of the narrative. If, knowing that, you still assess her to be a hero, then great. If that detail makes you think she is no longer a hero, then so be it. But either way, I don't think that adding facts to a story, by itself, is expressive of a desire to tear down heroes.

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CannonFodder Global Trotter
Little Sales Drummer Boy


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MSGs Gary Gordon and Randy Shugart (I've fought on the MOUT site named in their honor at Ft Polk) far exceeded their assigned duties that day. As snipers they were to observe the battle from afar, destroy targets of opportunity and report the situation up the chain of command.

When the tone of the battle changed they saw they could better be utilized by being inserted next to the downed helicopter, rendering medical aid, and reinforcing the position. They were exquisitely trained and experienced men who understood the nature of their actions better even then the headquarters personnel who reluctantly granted their request to alter their mission. Their actions are the embodiment of the phrase 'This we do, that others may live..."

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"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die."

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