“The Second Elder Gives Battle”, is the title of the first published account of the events of October 8, 1918.The article, written by George Patullo, was printed in the April 26, 1919, edition of the Saturday Evening Post. There are several areas of this story of which surviving members of this detachment are on record of having been in disagreement with. The date of this publication follows the collection of affidavits addressed in the previous section.
Patullo regards the York story as “genuine” based on three stated conditions.First, he presents the fact that the story had been “thoroughly sifted by headquarters of the 82vd Division”; this includes an investigation involving Major G.E. Buxton, former battalion commander and commander at the time of the incident, Major Tillman, current battalion commander, and Captain E.C.B. Danforth.Patullo next claims to have questioned every soldier in the detachment with York; finally, that he “went over every step of the ground while (York) told the story.Ironically, Patullo concluded the paragraph upon which he bases the veracity of his article with a curious twist regarding “alleged war heroes” by writing, “So many are newspaper made; the soldiers over here could explode many a bubble reputation at home.”
As discussed in the previous section “Affidavits 1919” there are clear and obvious issues regarding the “sifting” to which Patullo is referring.As we will later learn, it will be the commander of the battalion, G.E.Buxton, who will devote a great deal of his personal time and effort to further investigation of this event. For an extensive period and long after the war, Buxton repeatedly opposed the conclusions drawn by the original investigation. Examples of this perspective can be seen in the simplest of correspondence, as with Joseph Konotski in May of 1930 (see letter), in his unsolicited support of the other men in his admonishment of the “single-handed” references (see Providence Journal Article), and lastly, the contact he maintained with Otis Merrithew for several years and his whole-hearted support for him (Efforts for Merrithew); that this matter remained "un-sifted" to the commander is unambiguous.
Secondly, the claim to have questioned every soldier in the detachment is simply untrue. The most glaring omission being that of Bernard Early and Otis Merrithew, both of whom remained hospitalized at the time this article was written.Further, despite Patullo’s claim, there is not a single quote in his article that cannot be extracted directly, word for word, from the affidavits to which he had access.With the possible exception of comments (not quoted) mentioned by Patullo, attributed to Percy Beardsley; the personal questioning of all the other soldiers in this detachment is doubtful at best.
To his credit, Patullo does an outstanding job as a writer telling the story as he walked the hallowed ground upon which this fierce battle raged.He is also able to deftly intertwine the backdrop and persona of Alvin York, the backwoods conscientious objector turned “soldier by scripture” into the story with great proficiency; that was his objective.
There is no doubt or question as to whether or not York battled hard during this engagement. While it has been stated numerous times on this site it cannot be stated enough.What is not in question are the actions of Alvin York; what is being examined here is the role the other sixteen men played in the initial advance and capture by this detachment.Further, what is being exposed is the action of the remaining ten, not seven, survivors in this battle beside York. Repeatedly, the ultimate victory in this battle is attributed to York and seven privates; while wounded in battle, Early, Merithew and Muzzi continued to serve a crucial role in the fight.
In the section titled, “Never a Thought of Death”, Patullo writes, “My purpose in quoting the statements of these men is to show by elimination what York did.” Patullo goes on to claim that all of the survivors are “accounted for” yet from these same statements, Beardsley, Donohue and Sacina stated that they had fired their weapons; Beardsley attributes firing to “three or four” of the other survivors firing “two to three” shots apiece. Even in a letter from Buxton to Merrithew, Buxton recalls a conversation he had with York in which York told him that he had seen Konotski firing (see letter).This article also fails to take into account the actions of Early and Merrithew, who despite being wounded continue to fight.With and without this information, Patullo incorrectly attributes all German casualties to York. In an interview of Konotski some time later he stated, “As soon as we opened up on the first Germans, a great many of them started firing at us with machine guns.It was a machine gun nest and they had about 35 (men) on the hill.When they surrendered, we were surprised to see how many we had killed and how many were left.I know if they had stayed a little longer, we wouldn’t be here today and there wouldn’t be no Sgt. York.The newspaper said York killed about 20, but he told us then he killed about 5 or 6”
With that, the legend of Sgt. York is born, and the space separating him from the other sixteen men begins to grow.It is upon this article that nearly all other popular accounts of this event are based.With very few exceptions along the way; from Cowan, to Skeyhill to Warner Bros., this space will continue grow, leaving the Other Sixteen in the shadows.
Quoted material taken from "The Second Elder Gives Battle" by George Patullo, The Saturday Evening Post, April 26, 1919