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Program 1220

1. Sgt. York
2. Cordell Hull
3. Boy Scout flag-placing project
4. Tuskegee Airmen
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Byrdstown, TN

For more information:
Sgt. Alvin C. York Historic Park preserves the York family farm and gristmill. General Delivery Hwy. 127, Pall Mall, TN 38577, (931) 879-6456
• The Sergeant York Patriotic Foundation maintains a web site with links to biographies and photos.

Producers: Jim Piston, Dave Shuffett
Videographers: Brandon Wickey, Dave Shuffett
Editor: Jim Piston

The Soldier

Alvin York

This special edition of Kentucky Life salutes heroes of warfare and statesmanship, beginning with the backwoodsman who became America’s most decorated soldier.

When Alvin York was growing up in northern Tennessee in the early years of the 20th century, no one would have pegged him as a hero-to-be. In fact, he was known as a young hellraiser and troublemaker by the people of the Cumberland Mountains. One of 11 children born to a poor farmer, he hunted meat for the family, becoming a crack marksman in the process, and occasionally worked as a day laborer. But he preferred to spend his time making the rounds of bars and gambling dens on both sides of the Kentucky-Tennessee border.

All that changed when York, shocked by the death of a friend in a bar fight, attended a revival and became a member of the fundamentalist Church of Christ in Christian Union. Along with drinking, gambling, movies, dancing, and even swimming, York swore to give up violence and fighting.

That presented a problem a few years later when America entered World War I and York received a draft notice. He attempted to claim conscientious objector status, citing the tenets of his church. But that request was denied because the church—a local offshoot operating in only three states—was not recognized as a legitimate Christian sect. So York was off to the war.

The incident that would make him a hero took place on October 8, 1918 in the Argonne Forest in France. A small American patrol led by Sgt. York encountered a German machine gun unit, and the fight that ensued ended with more than 20 Germans dead and another 132 surrendering to York and six comrades.

Though York certainly acted heroically and overcame astounding odds, he never claimed to have taken on the German unit alone. Yet that was the legend that grew up in the popular imagination. York was lionized as the bravest individual soldier of the war, awarded a dozen different medals, and given a hero’s welcome, while others in the unit were barely acknowledged. (Nine years later, two other members of the patrol were finally awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.) York returned home and tried to focus on his postwar cause of improving education for the young people of the hill country. Later, he even came to denounce America’s involvement in the war that had made him famous. But his legend continued to grow. In 1942, amid the patriotic fervor of the second world war, a Hollywood biopic starring Gary Cooper forever solidified his image as a simple backwoods boy and reluctant fighter who did his patriotic duty and became a hero in the process.

Meanwhile, when asked how he would really like to be remembered, York himself always told people that he hoped it would be for his efforts to improve education and bring modernization to his isolated mountain home. He died in 1964.

Byrdstown, TN

For more information:
Cordell Hull Birthplace and Museum, 1300 Cordell Hull Memorial Dr., Byrdstown, TN 38577, (931) 864-3247

Producers: Jim Piston, Dave Shuffett
Videographer: Dave Shuffett
Editor: Jim Piston

The Statesman

Cordell Hull

Cordell Hull also grew up in northern Tennessee, just a few miles from Alvin York’s homeplace. His father farmed the same hills (and made a little moonshine to supplement his income), and the boys roamed overlapping territories as young men. But unlike York, who came to regret his lack of education only after his wartime experiences expanded his horizons, Hull decided early on that he would get as much schooling as he could. And where York ended up decorated for combat valor, Hull would go on to receive a Nobel Peace Prize.

Aiming for a career as a lawyer, Hull went from a one-room school in the Cumberlands to academies in Celina, TN; Bowling Green, KY; and Lebanon, OH. Law degree in hand, he turned to politics and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1907. He remained there until 1931, when he was elected to the Senate.

By that time, the long-serving congressman had caught the eye of the brain trust surrounding Franklin Roosevelt. When he was elected president in 1932, FDR tapped Hull to be his secretary of state. Hull remained in that office until ill health forced him to resign in 1944. His 12-year tenure makes him the longest-serving U.S. secretary of state.

Even as they steered America through World War II, Roosevelt and Hull shared a dream of a world body to settle disputes peacefully. After the United Nations charter was ratified in 1944, Roosevelt said that Hull had been “the one person in all the world who has done the most to make this great plan for peace an effective fact.” He nominated Hull for the Nobel, which was awarded in 1945.

Among the many public facilities named in honor of Hull is a highway marking a historic route from Mammoth Cave to the Smoky Mountains. Each October, it’s the site of the Rollercoaster Fair, a three-day festival featuring 150 miles of yard sales, food, and entertainment along part of the Cordell Hull Highway as well as a loop around Dale Hollow Lake that passes several sites associated with Hull. His birthplace in Byrdstown is preserved as a Tennessee state park.

Franklin County

The Scouts

Boy Scout flag project

To wrap up our tribute to veterans, we visit with some young men who are helping to make sure that those veterans are not forgotten. In a non-military cemetery in Frankfort, host Dave Shuffett meets Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts who come each Memorial Day to place flags on veterans’ graves. Several of the boys and their troop leaders talk about what the project means to them and why it’s important.

Fayette County

For more information:
Tuskegee Airmen Inc., P.O. Box 9166, Arlington, VA 22219-1166, (703) 286-7653
• Ron Spriggs of Lexington has amassed an impressive personal collection of memorabilia related to the Tuskegee Airmen, which he exhibits around the country. He has talked with Renee Shaw about the achievements of the Airmen and how he became interested in their history in two programs from KET’s Connections with Renee Shaw, which are available for viewing online.

Producer: Dave Shuffett

The Pilots

the Tuskegee Airmen

Our next segment explores Kentucky connections to the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, the first African Americans to be trained as fighter pilots and support crew. Within the segregated U.S. military of World War II, they proved to an often doubting establishment that black soldiers had the intelligence, skills, and bravery necessary to be effective in combat. In fact, while escorting more than 200 bombing missions, the Tuskegee Airmen never lost a bomber.

The Airmen named themselves for the Tuskegee, AL base where they were trained. There they were under the command of training director Noel Parrish, a white Lexington native. Though not particularly a crusader in matters of racial justice, Parrish was at least willing to socialize with his trainees, which most of the other white officers were not, and to treat them the same as he would white recruits. (On arrival at the base, he ordered all “white” and “colored” signs removed.) And he was fair with his men, holding them to high standards and turning them into a skilled and disciplined unit. Since the Deep South location didn’t afford them many opportunities for recreation, he also arranged for morale-boosting visits by black entertainers and celebrities like Lena Horne and Joe Louis.

The Tuskegee Airmen themselves came from all over the country. Those with Kentucky ties included James McCullin, a former Kentucky State University football player who was killed in a midair collision in 1943. Another Kentuckian who served as a crew chief asked for and got permission to name one of the Tuskegee Airmen’s planes after a former KSU homecoming queen.

Fayette County

For more information:
Aviation Museum of Kentucky, 4316 Hanger Dr., Lexington, KY, (859) 231-1213

On Location

Dave hosts this edition from the Aviation Museum of Kentucky, at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington.

SEASON 12 PROGRAMS: 120112021203120412051206120712081209121012111212
1213121412151216121712181219122012211222: Dr. Clark’s Kentucky Treasures

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