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Why Alvin York couldn't be a superhero

alvin york

The greatest US story from the Great War is pretty much the Alvin York story. It sounds like a Hollywood director's idea for a blockbuster action movie. For a movie of course the hero has to be from some underprivileged situation, such as the backwoods of Tennessee. He should have some impressive but undiscovered talent. This is a war movie, so the talent can't be baseball; it has to be shooting. The plot of course includes him singlehandedly killing an unbelievable number of enemy; let's say 100. No, let's say 132 to make it sound real. But wait, that's a bit warlike, isn't it? Action movies aren't about enjoying blood, gore, and explosions, so let's just have him capture them, not kill them. Much more tasteful and civilized. 

Now there has to be some complication so the audience will forget this is a movie and think there is some possibility the hero could fail, or even die. How about he is actually an alien life form, hypersensitive to a mineral called Argonne-ite. No, that's probably copyrighted. Or when he gets mad he turns into a green giant. No, people will think of canned vegetables. Or his best friend's father is secretly a nefarious scientist in the pay of the Kaiser. Or, wait, here's one that could help with the politically correct marketing - he could be a conscientious objector!

Hmm.  Hmmmm. No, that's just silly. How would he have become a crack shot that way? Why would he be on the front lines? What infantry would tolerate him? That's just completely crazy. Let's make him a time-traveling cousin of Captain America; that will make sense.

As many, including Mark Twain, have observed, of course truth is stranger than fiction; fiction has to make sense. Alvin York is one of those stories that is fun to find out was really true. And of course they did make a movie about him, a movie that stuck to facts better than many "true story" movies. So he didn't really convert because of a bolt of lightning. And he didn't do what he did singlehandedly. But the most exciting part is the true part; he was actually a conscientious objector who led a few other soldiers in capturing 132 German soldiers (killing some others in the process, because real wars do involve distasteful events) and received the Medal of Honor.

After the war comic books were written about the exploits of these actual heroes, and only later were superheroes invented to fill in. (Batman's original backstory was flying in the 185th Aero Squadron; check out their squadron logo.) Young James Parks grew up reading these comic books and discovered there were real men to go along with the stories, and in his case, the real men were frequently coming over for Sunday dinner. And that's how the Vintage Aero Flying Museum got started. But that's another story; see our booklet below.

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