In French woods, rivals take aim at senator's WWI research

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The statue of World War I hero Sgt. Alvin C. York stands on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol Tuesday, March 16, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. The claim in Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano's 2014 book about York, that a 1918 U.S. Army Signal Corps photo was mislabeled and actually shows York with three German officers he captured, has been disputed by rival researchers. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

HARRISBURG, Pa. – The World War I exploits of Sgt. Alvin C. York netted Gary Cooper a best actor Academy Award and Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano a degree, a book deal — and academic backlash.

Mastriano had a deep interest in York long before he led anti-mask protests last year, fought tirelessly to overturn then-President Donald Trump's reelection loss and showed up outside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot.

Mastriano's research into York helped earn him a doctorate in history from the University of New Brunswick and a publishing deal with the University Press of Kentucky, but critics argue his work does not hold up to scrutiny.

A crack shot, York led a small group of U.S. soldiers behind German lines to disrupt machine gunfire while badly outnumbered outside the village of Chatel-Chehery, France, in the waning weeks of the war. More than 20 German soldiers were killed and 132 captured, winning the Tennessee native widespread fame and the Medal of Honor.

More than a century later, a battle continues to rage over where exactly it all took place.

For more than a decade, other researchers have questioned Mastriano’s claim to have conclusively proved exactly where York was when his lethal marksmanship played out in October 1918. They argue his research is plagued with errors and that a walking trail to the battle location he helped build actually takes visitors to the wrong spot.

In the past two months, University of Oklahoma history graduate student James Gregory has filed complaints with Mastriano's publisher and with the Canadian university.

“Many of his citations are completely false and do not support his claims whatsoever,” Gregory said in a Jan. 25 email to the University Press of Kentucky, identifying footnotes with no apparent relation to their corresponding book passages.