World War I historian, author unravels legend of Sgt. Alvin York at 'Date With History' lecture

  • Author and historian James P. Gregory Jr., who wrote "Unraveling the Myth of Sgt. Alvin York: The Other Sixteen," recently gave a presentation at Cantigny in Wheaton.

    Author and historian James P. Gregory Jr., who wrote "Unraveling the Myth of Sgt. Alvin York: The Other Sixteen," recently gave a presentation at Cantigny in Wheaton. Courtesy of First Division Museum, Cantigny

Posted4/28/2023 6:00 AM

Any military history buff would find the "Date With History" presentations at the Visitor's Center of the First Division Museum and Cantigny Park in Wheaton to be interesting and revealing.

But those who enjoy great stories should also mark their calendars when these monthly presentations occur at Cantigny or online through Zoom. They cover various topics related to U.S. military engagements, heroes and, sometimes, myths.


As a youngster, one of my favorites movies was "Sgt. York," starring Gary Cooper in a World War I drama about the heroic efforts of a conscientious objector from the hills of Tennessee who entered the war and single-handedly captured hundreds of Germans in a famous battle.

At the Cantigny presentation earlier this month, World War I historian and author James Gregory Jr. spoke about the myths surrounding the "single-handed" aspect of the event and how the media and Hollywood built Alvin York to heroic heights while ignoring the other 16 men who survived the battle and played vital roles in capturing the enemy.

James P. Gregory Jr.
James P. Gregory Jr.

Gregory's book "Unraveling the Myth of Sgt. Alvin York: The Other Sixteen" stems from years of research to finally give the other men in that 82nd Division battalion their proper recognition.

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"The men were just telling the truth about what happened and that it was not just a single-handed myth," Gregory said during his presentation. "The War Department was scrambling (with its version of what happened) when the other men were saying it didn't happen like that."

The question about what happened faded until Warner Bros. released the popular film in 1941. "The other men were kind of thrown under the bus in the movie," Gregory said. "They were essentially pushed out of the story."

Gregory said he had received some flak about his work, some alleging he was trying to taint York's deeds on that Oct. 18 day in 1918 during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. But he insists that wasn't his intention. "The story is amazing about taking out German machine guns and capturing so many enemy prisoners, and Alvin York did what he said he did," Gregory noted. "But the efforts of the other 16 men who survived were just thrown out."

The next "Date With History" presentation is a "Conversation with a Medal of Honor Recipient" from 7 to 8 p.m. Monday, May 8, at the Visitor's Center. The speaker is Staff Sgt. David Bellavia, who will discuss his heroic efforts to save lives during the U.S. battle for Fallujah in November of 2004 in Iraq. Information about Cantigny's "Date With History" presentations is available on the website.


This 'school' definitely rocks

Actor Jack Black sparked an "educational" appreciation of rock 'n' roll music with his classic comedy "School of Rock" in 2003.

It spawned an entire field of music education programs under the franchise of School of Rock, which operates in numerous area communities, including Geneva, Naperville, Glen Ellyn, Schaumburg, Arlington Heights and Barrington, to name a few.

But the movie also triggered a live theatrical version, much to the delight of music and comedy lovers of all ages. It was no surprise to see an enthusiastic audience at Paramount Theatre in Aurora at last week's opening night laughing, cheering, singing along and, ultimately, delivering a standing ovation for the cast and crew of the first Chicago production of "School of Rock."

The musical, which plays at Paramount through June 4, represents another high mark for the theater, which has always delivered high-quality productions that match or surpass anything offered in Chicago or other suburbs.

Even if you've never seen the movie, you will quickly fall in love with Nick Druzbanski's portrayal of the main character, Dewey Finn, a freeloader living with a former bandmate and his girlfriend.

Finn's journey in "borrowing" his friend's name and teaching resume to become a substitute teacher at an upscale private school -- and eventually turn his classroom into a rock band -- leads to encounters with numerous memorable characters.

In giving various local theaters a shoutout in my column over the years, I always like to note some stage actors who stood out in my mind.

You can't help but find Omi Lichtenstein's role as Summer Hathaway, the classroom's stickler to school rules and ultimately the band's manager, as one of the funniest in the musical. This youngster is a delight to watch.

Also, in the important role of the school principal, Rosalie Mullins, it would be hard to imagine anyone other than Veronica Garza playing this part. Garza was quite convincing in showing the side of a school principal who kept things in order while suffering anxiety at the thought of not pleasing the students' parents.

In addition, through the number "Where Did the Rock Go?" she revealed her great singing voice and the "hidden" side of her heart" -- one that still enjoyed rock music and letting loose, as long as no one else was watching.

The full cast portraying the school kids impresses with its singing and dancing. And when the group belts out "Stick it to the Man" along with Dewey, it's a definite showstopper.

Check out more in the reviews in the Daily Herald -- and then go see this play. We saw plenty of young kids in the audience, and this production is appropriate for those who know what a music class in school is all about.

Movies the old-fashioned way

While we're anxious for the new theater complex to open next month along Randall Road in Batavia so we can experience everything modern and current for the moviegoing experience, we still enjoy seeing a movie as folks did 100 years ago.

That happens at the Silent Movie Night dates at the Arcada Theatre in downtown St. Charles.

Earlier this month, I took in "Spring Fever," a 1927 romantic comedy starring a very young Joan Crawford. The movie centered around golf and country club life of the late 1920s and was fascinating from that standpoint alone. But it was a funny story, with actors who made names for themselves during the silent film era.

Mostly, it's an interesting experience to see a silent film, one made grand every time with the live musical score played by cinema arts organist Jay Warren of the Silent Film Society of Chicago.

The next silent film scheduled for the Arcada is at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 9, for the 1926 romantic comedy "Kiki."

If you've never seen a silent movie at the Arcada, do so before that part of our nation's history really is just a memory.

Geneva veteran not 'unknown'

After decades of uncertainty and no closure for the death of a young Geneva man in the Korean War in the early 1950s, the remaining relatives and family finally have some answers.

Years of trying to identify remains never revealed what happened to Sgt. Richard E. Crotty, a 22-year-old member of the Army's Easy Company infantry division.

But the family's request to disinter remains known only by number, but potentially, those of Crotty, buried as an "unknown" in a memorial cemetery in Hawaii, resulted in a match discovered through special DNA analysis at a Honolulu lab.

Further studies did not indicate if Crotty was killed in action or died as a prisoner of war. Crotty's remains will be buried Saturday, April 29, in Peoria.

A chance to win

As part of its efforts to further its national causes of promoting patriotism and combating child abuse, the Tri-Cities Exchange Club will draw the winning ticket for its annual Draw Down fundraiser on Tuesday, May 2, at the club's morning meeting.

You still have time to buy tickets at $100 each to win $2,000 -- contact club president Brian Henry at 630-715-3162 for information or to purchase a last-minute ticket.

Also, because much of this column has a historical tone, we'll also mention the St. Charles Historical Museum is encouraging supporters to participate in an Italian Feast fundraiser through Onesti Entertainment from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 3, at the new Rock 'n Ravioli restaurant at the Arcada Theatre in downtown St. Charles. The evening includes an Elvis Presley tribute from Rick Saucedo.Cost is $50 per person. Tickets, RSVP and more information is available at

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