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Sergeant York and the Great War

Sergeant York and the Great War: His Own Life Story and War Diary, Alvin York
Originally edited by Tom Skeyhill, 1930
Edited by Richard “Little Bear” Wheeler
(Vision Forum, 2005), hb., 209 pp.

Originally Skeyhill edited York’s diary into publishable form and in this edition Wheeler has included photographs and some history of World War I. I like the story of York and I love introducing my boys to heroic men, so I was excited about this book. However, it was a bit of a disappointment.

Wheeler notes in his introduction that Skeyhill had not corrected York’s grammar or spelling. He felt this authenticity “draws the reader into the life of Sergeant York.” If the errors were limited this might be OK, but they were so great and numerous as to make the reading ponderous. Also this edition is very repetitive which made it boring in several places. My boys often asked, “Haven’t we read this part before?” I would even double check only to discover that the same points and stories were simply repeated in concurrent chapters. Better editing could make this a more useful book.

Concerning editing, it was not always clear what came from the editors and what was from York himself. At several places it clearly noted “Editor’s note:”. But it was often not marked when it returned to York. At other places it seemed certainly to be the editor (based on spelling, etc.) but it was not marked. Again, more careful editing would be helpful.

Parents should also be aware that the doctrinal positions of York at times seem questionable. His discussions of conversion sound works oriented at times. This may in fact be simply due to his lack of training and failing to communicate clearly. But you need to know this as you communicate to your children! Also he seems to suggest that his fellow soldiers who showed no concern for God were spiritually fine because they meant well. Again, my point here is not a critique of York’s beliefs (it may be unclear, etc.) but what we communicate to our children as we read.

The portion describing York’s heroism in the Argonne Forest was good (though still repetitive). A pared down version of this which came some sampling of his earlier life and his war efforts would be more useful. The photos and timelines are good resources. I would recommend this book as a resource to “dip into” rather than a book to read straight through.

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