Throughout recorded history, there are countless stories of men who rose from relative obscurity to the heights of renown and valor through their stellar actions under tremendous pressure and against huge odds. Such is the case of Sergeant Alvin York, an American soldier whose valor during World War I took him from his humble beginnings in the backwoods of Tennessee to the front pages of every newspaper in the nation (Lee, 1985). One of the best accounts of York’s rise to greatness is David D. Lee’s “Sergeant York-An American Hero”. This essay will discuss how Lee’s work supports a particular thesis, how that thesis is supported within the work, and some individual thoughts about the book.
To the credit of the author himself, Lee resisted the temptation to weave a fantastic tale about Sergeant York; rather, realizing that the facts must support the thesis, Lee put forth the thesis in “Sergeant York, An American Hero” that York was not an individual in search of greatness, but rather that greatness was thrust upon him as a result of his taking the actions that he had to take in the heat of battle to preserve his life, the lives of his comrades, and to fulfill his duty as a defender of the flag of his country. In a sense, Lee’s real-life thesis is much like the fictional Horatio Alger stories of the last century, which told of an individual whose sense of duty and ability to stand up and do what is right at the time when that action was most needed turned the individual into the focus of adulation and an air of greatness, without any attempt on the part of the individual to gain fame or recognition on their own. Lee depicts York as a man who simply did what was right, to the best of his ability, and his success made him the epitome of greatness in his own time.
Lee’s Support of the Thesis
Perhaps one of the best attributes of Lee’s book is that the thesis he presented was not simply his own opinion or something of pure fiction that was woven out of thin air. Rather, Lee supported his thesis, the rising of York from humble obscurity to greatness through sheer instinct and sense of duty, by painstakingly accurate research. For example, Lee begins his book with a narrative about the early life of York in the woodlands of Tennessee, detailed with information about York’s ancestors and contemporaries, as well as York’s own financial struggles, which shows the humanity and humble origins of York. Later in the book, when the author tells of York’s military achievements, he simply does not use the American versions of the events, which could have a bias toward York. To add a balanced account of York’s deeds, Lee uses the German military archival information, which actually reinforces the achievements of York, as they are told by his enemies (Lee, 1985).
Simply put, Lee uses the hard facts of the life and achievements of Alvin York to support the assertion that York came from nowhere to become an American hero.
Individual Thoughts about the Book
For what it is worth, in one humble opinion, Lee’s book is well written, sharply factual, yet entertaining nonetheless. In books such as these, there is often a tendency to inflate the truth and distort facts to exaggerate the greatness of the subject. However, Lee has done none of this, and it shows in an excellent book.
(Lee D D 1985 Sergeant York- An American Hero)Lee, D. D. (1985). Sergeant York- An American Hero. Louisville, KY: University Press of Kentucky.