Alvin York’s grandson: ‘Greatest battle’ was in Fentress County, not France

Alvin York’s 70-year-old grandson plans to travel this fall to France for the 100th anniversary of the World War I battle where his grandfather won the Congressional Medal of Honor by single-handedly killing 25 German soldiers and capturing another 132, reports The Tennessean. But Gerald York says Alvin York considered his greatest battle to be over founding a state-supported high school in Fentress County that’s still operating (though Gov. Bill Haslam made a short-lived attempt to end state funding five years ago.)

His family, though, remembers a much more ordinary man, not necessarily an icon of bravery and heroism.

His legacy, for those who knew him best, wasn’t forged on the field of battle. Instead it is near his hometown in the walls of the only state-funded and managed public high school — it, too, carries York’s name — in Fentress County, one of the most rural and poor counties in the state.

“He said the greatest battle he had was not in France, but was in Fentress County building a high school,” Gerald York said. “People did not want a high school. They thought, why did their kids need education. They farmed. They needed them to farm.”

That storyline is echoed among many who have lived in Fentress County, where the opioid epidemic rages and unemployment still ranks higher than most Tennessee counties.

… Alvin York established York Institute in Jamestown in 1926, and later turned it over to the state in 1937. With barely a third-grade education himself, York was self-taught, and got the school running almost entirely on his own, Gerald York said.

“He bought the buses. He paid the drivers. He bought the gas,” York said. “He paid the teachers, all with money he raised.”

His fundraising took him just about everywhere, including up and down the East Coast, Brannon said.

But those in his hometown eventually put up resistance to York and his leadership, questioning how he could run a school without an education himself. Amid the turmoil, he turned the school over to the state after local residents created a “movement” to oust York, his grandson said.

“There are probably still some hard feelings in the area over that,” York said

The school still operates today on a portion of the 400 acres that made up the campus. An elementary school also carrying his name stands on 40 acres that came along as part of the land deal.

Note: In 2013, Gov. Bill Haslam moved to shut off state funding for the York Institute, about $2.3 million per year at the time, but abandoned the proposal after widespread protests that the move would violate the state’s promise to Alvin York. A post from when that effort was underway is HERE.

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