Dedicated group trying to set 'Sergeant York' story straight RANDALL BEACH Published: June 6, 2008
BERNARDEARLY WAS a modest man who never liked to talk about his war experiences or complain about his injuries. But after my column appeared May 25 about efforts by Early's descendants to honor this unassuming local hero, I received an email account from a man who shared some intimate, rewarding hours with Early in 1958.
The anecdote by Jim Condon Sr. of Wallingford offers a rare glimpse into Early's feelings and frustrations. This is like discovering a historic never-before-seen photograph in an attic envelope.
Maybe you know Early's story. I had never heard it until Robert D'Angelo Jr. of Woodbridge, Early's great-nephew, contacted me a few weeks ago.
All I knew about the event came years ago from seeing the dopey, misleading movie "Sergeant York," starring Gary Cooper.
The Hollywood tall tale played up Alvin York as the lone hero of a bloody World War I battle in the fields of France.
According to this folk story, also promoted by Army officials at the time, York single-handedly killed 25 German soldiers with his crack shooting ability and rounded up another 132 of them.
Sgt. Early was the commander of that unit, the one who led them into battle.
There were 16 men besides York immersed in the combat that day, but they were almost completely forgotten.
After the war, Early's supporters in his latter-day hometown of Hamden finally managed to win him some recognition.
In 1929, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
Early didn't say much at that time, except noting the guys who fought alongside him also deserved to be honored.
York, incidentally, had received a Congressional Medal of Honor years earlier.
Early had been seriously injured in the battle and was in a hospital for months, unaware that military officials were spinning a scenario with York as the main man.
Early died at a young age, 68, in 1961, his war wounds probably contributing to his demise.
His granddaughter, Karen Early Scott of North Haven, told me he rarely spoke about what happened on the battlefield.
But she remembered he refused to watch that movie. The only time she asked him about it, he merely said, "It didn't happen that way."
Three years before Early died, Condon had a chance meeting.
Condon was looking for an apartment to rent on Front Street in New Haven and the superintendent turned out to be Early. Condon said Early had his own place there and invited Condon inside.
After Early told Condon he was "the sergeant with Sgt.
York," Condon, who had served in World War II and Korea, replied he knew the story well.
Early then pulled out his scrapbook of newspaper clippings.
"He was very proud of them," Condon wrote. "He did say that York was not the person who captured all the Germans. It was a team effort and not easy."
"He asked how could they have believed the story 'it was he who captured them alone.' It made a great movie, but hard to believe he did this alone.
He said it was not true and not fair for the men who died in this attempt and the ones who survived."
Condon added, "I could tell as he gazed at his album it did bother him" that York got all the credit. "Veterans are lonely people.
I still can see him slumped in his easy chair in the living room."
Condon also told me, "I would like to see a statue built some place in New Haven, with 'the Sarge' standing there and the names of the men that were with him. I know he would be happy, not for himself but for his men.
He was that kind of man."
Former Hamden Mayor John Carusone, who has written columns about Early, told me a statue is "out of our means" but that he and two members of the Hamden American Legion, Fred McCarthy and Abner Oates, are working with D'Angelo on a resolution to have the town of Hamden install a commemorative plaque in front of HamdenMiddle School.
Carusone noted Early lived in Hamden in his later life, and both of Early's sons, Bernard Jr. and James, worked for the town.
They are deceased, too.
Carusone never met Early, but remembers seeing him from a distance one day.
"He walked with a kind of a gimp, not a healthy walk. He was ailing."
Carusone calls the Sgt. York story "a farce." He added, "History has to be straightened out."
Randall Beach can be reached at email@example.com or 789-5766.