Last December, CBNNews.com published an article concerning the announcement by a group of Tennessee university researchers that they had found the legendary battle site where Sergeant Alvin C. York won the Medal of Honor on October 8, 1918.
The research team led by geographer Tom Nolan, a member of the geosciences faculty at Middle Tennessee State University, and Michael Birdwell, an Alvin York scholar and member of Tennessee Tech University's history faculty, uncovered more than 1,400 artifacts at a site near Châtel-Chehéry, France.
Now one man has come forward to challenge the researchers claims. United States Army Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Mastriano says the researchers are simply in the wrong place. And he says he has the proof to back up his claim.
Watch Daniel Day's video report of Lt. Col. Mastriano's search for the Sergeant York battle site. Video courtesy Armed Forces Network Europe, Heidleberg, Germany.
Mastriano, a military intelligence officer working for NATO, has spent six years researching York's story using both American and German military accounts of the battle.
It is an accepted fact that the general area where York's heroic fight took place was near the village of Châtel-Chehéry. Both York scholars and armchair historians agree on this point. However, conflicting written accounts have made it almost impossible to pinpoint exactly where the actual fight took place. Even though York went back to the battle site in January of 1919 to show a U.S. Army investigation team exactly what happened and where.
York's heroic deeds and even the army's investigation were portrayed in the 1941 movie Sergeant York. Actor Gary Cooper won the Academy Award for Best Actor for playing the role of York. York, himself, was an advisor to the film's producers.
Team Finds Artifacts Described by York
Most historians in the search, including Mastriano, agree that the key to finding the actual site would be the discovery of a concentration of empty.45 caliber cartridge casings. These casings would provide the best evidence of where York was located during the firefight. He described firing his rifle toward machine gunners on a hill before pulling out his Colt.45 automatic to shoot seven German soldiers, who had charged him. The Army's History of the 82nd Division published in 1919 recounts York emptied three complete clips from his.45 for a total of 21 rounds fired.
In Search of Sergeant York
In October 2006, Mastriano led a team of military officers, veterans, researchers, family members and battlefield archaeologists armed with metal detectors in search of the battle site west of Châtel-Chehéry in the Argonne Forest. The team recovered 21 empty.45 cartridge casings scattered over a ten-foot area near the base of a hill. German and American rifle rounds were also found.
Mastiano claims the artifacts found by his team fit closely with York's own account. He has even had the casings examined by a ballistics expert, who confirmed all of the cartridges came from the same gun.
Team Member Believes York's Account
Kory O'Keefe was a member of Mastriano's search team. In an e-mail to CBN News he wrote, "Doug wet my appetite for the search by telling me the German side of the York story and how he was amazed that no one he talked to could pinpoint the actual place where it all happened. In recent times, the testimony of York was being questioned as to the authenticity of the events and that maybe York did not really do all that is said of him."
O'Keefe believes York did performed all of the amazing feats of heroism that were documented in 1919. "From what I knew of York, he was an honest, humble and God-fearing man," he said. "One who would not embellish the facts of his actions for fame, fortune and recognition. To find the actual spot where York earned the Medal of Honor and see if the artifacts confirm the story, was something I felt was important and worth the effort. Finding the York spot for me meant one, playing a role in confirming York's testimony to be true and accurate and two, the chance to share this story of faith to a new generation of people."
German Archives Pinpoint the Battle Site's Location
"The claim by Mr. Birdwell that they found the spot where York earned the Medal of Honor is completely wrong," Mastiano said in a statement to The Associated Press last fall. "Their declaration is not supported by battlefield archeology, German archival data, military doctrine or terrain analysis and most importantly, the Germans that York fought and captured were never there."
Mastriano said his team's work and successful search for right location was accomplished by extensive research done in German archives in Stuttgart, Freiburg, Potsdam, Rottweil and Ulm, which resulted in more than 700 hours spent pouring over extensive archival records across Germany and the U.S. "The biggest obstacle that Mr. Birdwell faces is that they did not spend a single day in the German archives, where the most important York related documents are," he told the AP. "They are missing at least 100 essential documents. Because of this, they went into the Argonne with only half of the story and ended up in the wrong valley, finding artifacts from a different battle, a battle that York, and the Germans he ultimate fought with, were not in."
"This claim is rife with numerous other problems and is not helped by the fact that the core of their team has no military experience. A trained military eye can see that their claim is not logical from a tactical point of view," he said.
Mastriano has completed a 47-page report on his findings, which has been reviewed by the Châtel-Chehéry mayor and the French government archaeologist assigned to the Champagne-Ardennes region.
In his report, Mastriano explains how his evidence confirms that York fought and captured soldiers from the German 125th and 120th Württemberg regiments and the 210th Prussian regiment. The report indicates there is only one spot in the entire Argonne Forest where these three units overlapped. It is the same spot found by Mastriano and his team. This location is 600 meters from where the research team from Tennessee report they found their artifacts.
But what about the artifacts found by Birdwell's team? Mastriano explained many of the artifacts displayed by the university researchers are French light Chauchat machine gun bullets. None of the sixteen Americans with York on October 8, 1918 carried this type of weapon.
In addition, Mastriano says the photographs taken by the army investigation team in 1919 do not match the Tennessee researchers site.
To Honor a True American Hero
To honor York's legacy, Mastriano would like to see the construction of a Sergeant York Historic Trail in the Argonne Forest. He has even mapped out the trail's route, so visitors could walk in the footsteps of York. He foresees historical markers placed at the appropriate locations marking highlights from the battle. At the end of the trail, a monument would be erected by officials of Châtel-Chehéry to York and the men who died during the fight. The purpose, Mastiano says, would be to honor all American soldiers who served in the Argonne.
Mastriano and O'Keefe have also created a website known as Sergeant York Discovery Expedition and have posted photographs and other information about their artifacts. Mastriano's entire report will also be posted to the website soon.
O'Keefe says the York story is a great witness to God's patience, providence, power, and protection. "I think it would be great for a new generation to discover the York story," he said. "It was amazing to see God work to strengthen our faith even as we searched to find evidence to support the testimony of faith of another. It is my privilege to honor this soldier and man of faith by finding the evidence to support his testimony and continue to share his message of faith, the good news."
"In the words of Sgt. York, "So you can see that God will be with you if you will only trust Him; and I say that He did save me. Now, He will save you if you will only trust Him"
The Associated Press, Stars and Stripes, Armed Forces Network Europe and The New York Times contributed to this story.