Date With History series to explore the legend of Sgt. Alvin York

  • James P. Gregory Jr.

    James P. Gregory Jr.

Posted3/30/2023 12:45 PM

The First Division Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton resumes its Date with History series on Thursday, April 6.

Author and historian James P. Gregory Jr. will discuss his newly published book, "Unraveling the Myth of Sgt. Alvin York: The Other Sixteen."


The free lecture will take place at 7 p.m. CT in person at the Cantigny Park Visitors Center and online.

For those at Cantigny, copies of Gregory's book will be available for purchase and signing by the author. Online viewers should register at to receive a Zoom link.

On Oct. 8, 1918, 17 soldiers from the 82nd Division, American Expeditionary Force, led by acting Sgt. Bernard Early, flanked a German machine gun nest in a surprise attack that captured more than 80 German soldiers before an unseen machine gun suddenly opened fire and killed six men.

Acting Cpl. Alvin York, a member of the patrol, was credited with taking control of the squad and single-handedly killing 20 Germans, capturing 132 prisoners, and eliminating 35 machine guns, all before leading the men back to Allied lines.

For his bravery, York not only received the Medal of Honor and was promoted to sergeant, but also rose to fame and glory.

The 1941 Howard Hawks movie "Sergeant York," starring Gary Cooper, solidified York as a legend and one of the best-known military figures in American history.

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Gregory's book highlights the other 16 soldiers who took part in the battle, capture, and return before fading into relative obscurity in York's substantial shadow.

As the tale reached mythological proportions, the other survivors began to speak out, seeking recognition for their parts in the engagement.

Their voices were muted, however, by improper investigations, cover-ups, and media misrepresentations.

The author recovers the story of these soldiers and the roles they played alongside York, while revealing the process of mythmaking in 20th-century America.

Gregory is a doctoral candidate at the University of Oklahoma. He is a prolific author and editor, publishing multiple articles and books on World War I history. In addition to his latest work, his works include "The Story of One Marine," "A Poet at War," "C'est la Guerre," and "Memories of Company C."


In 2022, he earned the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation's "Colonel Robert D. Heinl, Jr. Award" for distinguished feature writing involving U.S. Marine Corps history.

The First Division Museum is open daily, except Mondays, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Admission is free with Cantigny Park's regular entrance fee. Visit for more details.

The First Division Museum, part of the Chicago-based Robert R. McCormick Foundation and located at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Illinois, promotes public learning about America's military heritage and affairs through the history of the "Big Red One" -- the famed 1st Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. The museum's main exhibit hall, First in War, transports visitors to the trenches of World War I, the beaches of World War II, and the jungles of Vietnam.

A second exhibit hall, Duty First, explores the First Division's history in more recent times. The Robert R. McCormick Research Center, open to the public, houses the museum's library, archival and photo collections. Tanks from every era are outside the museum, along with artillery pieces and a personnel carrier. Memorial markers and commemorative statuary pay further tribute to those who served. For more information, visit

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