The York Artifacts Gallery
In April 2006 The Sergeant York Discovery Expedition (SYDE) turned its effort toward the forest and began the quest to find evidence. Evidence that would prove the claims of a Medal of Honor citation, sworn affidavits, diaries, books and war records in both American and German archives, that Alvin C. York did what he said he did on 8 OCT 1918 and in so doing find and mark the "York Spot".
Colonel Douglas Mastriano, Co-Founder of SYDE and chief researcher, has spent years researching the pages of history from the US archives to those in Ulm, Potsdam, Stuttgart, and Freiberg. His research is unmatched in the subject of York's actions in the Argonne and with that knowledge, he brings an added and necessary talent, a trained eye for military tactics and battlefield reconstruction.
Col. Douglas Mastriano Biography
With the permission of local authorities to use metal detectors, the SYDE Team took what was in the books and armed with military training, began the pain-staking process of searching the Argonne forest for an item no bigger than a nickel.
There were several areas of interest where the SYDE team would begin there search . Areas that, in Col. Mastriano's experience, would have the highest potential for finding artifacts relevant to York's actions. The first being to see if we could find remains of any of the potentially more than 30 machine gun positions documented on the maps of the German units who once occupied these hills prior to 8 OCT 1918.
One of the first pieces of evidence came completely by surprise. While walking toward what looked like a German machine gun position we found a projectile from what appeared to be a US 30.06 rifle round.
This was good news. Since we knew approximately where US fire would be coming from, it gave us a clearer line of fire downhill and left of this position. This small clue proved valuable as a short time later we made another significant discovery, the remains for a German machine gun position.
Over the next several months the SYDE team focused its energy on the small meadow below the machine gun position. An area approximately 130 meters by 70 meters, dubbed "The Block" was divided into a grid pattern and searched. Team members criscrossed each other to avoid missing a single foot of ground. By the end of September 2006 hundreds of artifacts were uncovered. German uniform buttons and matching insignia, fired and unfired German rifle shells, bullet tips some bent having possibly hit their target, shrapnel in all sizes, pieces of stove, broken wine bottles and pottery, pieces of a harmonica, a bucket, an axe-head, a hasp and accompanying padlock and what seemed like hundreds of "our favorite things". A nickname given to the small brass pieces of shrapnel which come from the brass ring at the bottom of artillery shells. Unfortunately for us, these little buggers have virtually the same metal signature as a shell casing but can be sometimes smaller than a dime. You could find yourself digging and sifting for 20 min in hopes of finding a shell casing and only come up with a few of "our favorite things".
On October 14 2006, while searching the northwest end of The Block, Doug came across the most significant find to date, a slug from a .45 caliber pistol round. Since the record is clear that then Corporal York was the only NCO still in the fight, it is a logical deduction that any .45 caliber artifacts in this particular vicinity would be that of York's actions.
It cannot be stated strongly enough that this find was meet with a certain level of excitement and relief. After so many days searching the Argonne through heat, cold, storms, spiders, ticks, and even a rare snake spotting, to finally see a piece of evidence that could be so closely connected to York's actions was truely exhilarating. As with most of our biggest finds, they came late in the day on our last day before returning home. This was was no exception and it would not be until the next weekend that the biggest find of all would finally come.
After finding hundreds of pieces of the German side of the York story and then the .45 caliber slugs just the weekend before we were certain to have found "The York Spot" or at least we were within range of a .45 caliber pistol-shot. With this confidence, we scheduled a press conference for Oct 22, 2006 to announce our conclusions.
October 21, 2006 will be a day the SYDE team will never forget. At 2:08 pm on one of the nicest afternoons in the Argonne Forest I can remember, the tell-tale sound of a shell casing rang over the metal detector. It was in an area which we had avoided up to this point due to the presence of a rather large and vicious blackberry bush. But this time we had the confidence of finding not two but four .45 caliber slugs on the hill just above our position. Knowing York's actions involved fighting off a bayonet attack in which he fired multiple shots from his .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol), a fact supported by the written record in the 82nd Infantry history book dated 1919 where it states that York fired three complete clips from his 45 pistol, we burrowed our way into the blackberry bush. Clearing a small work area, we fired up the metal detector. On its first swipe across the ivy covered ground...Beeeep....the sound of a shell casing.
The pictures below show the first .45 caliber ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) shell casings discovered by members of The Sergeant York Discovery Expedition on 21 OCT 2006. Twenty-three shell casing were found in all.
(Click on the photos to see a closer look.)
The first shell casing discovered The photo above shows the second shell casing
found at the York Spot. This casing was found almost
completely intact thus putting an end to the theory that
these smaller .45 caliber casings may have
"dissolved" or were otherwise impossible to find.
The two photos above were taken of the third and fourth shell casings discovered. Again, one being completely intact, gave hope that all 21 casing could be found. All of the shell casing shown in this page were found at what is now known as the "York Spot". The area where all 23 casings were found is only about 10 - 15 feet square and each shell casing was only 4 - 6 inches deep in the rich Argonne soil.
Doug and Josiah at the site of the first .45 cal. slug find (left). Gary Martin and Kory O'Keefe at the site .45 cal shell casings.
These pictures were take at the York Spot. Each flag represents the location of a .45 caliber shell casing.
Notice the tight grouping which indicates a fairly static firing position.
Armed with as much evidence as we could fit in the conference room and the freshly unearthed .45 caliber shell casings, the SYDE team presented its conclusions that the York Spot had indeed been located. The evidence found on the battlefield combined with the years of research in the archives proved beyond a doubt that Alvin C. York did in fact tell the truth of the events of 8 OCT 1918.
Press conference held at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery 22 OCT 2006 - Doug Mastriano and Kory O'Keefe
Mayor Roland Destenay (left) Doug and Josiah Mastriano (center) Gary Martin and Kory O'Keefe (right)
enjoy some photos with the York .45 cal. ACP shell casings at the press conference 22 OCT 2006
York shell casings displayed at the press conference (left). Mentioned earlier, we were searching the Argonne forest for a piece of history almost 90 years old that was only the size of a nickel. York .45s in portrait with a US 5 cent piece. (right)
More portraits of the York .45 caliber ACP (automatic Colt Pistol) shell casings. (above)
The letters "REM-UMC" and the number 17 can be seen on the bottom of one of the York .45 caliber shells found at the York Spot. These markings indicate the manufacturer, Remington - Union Metallic Corporation, and the year of manufacture, 1917.
The .45 caliber shells were an important part in finding the York Spot, however, no one artifact can stand alone to tell the story. It is a combination of all the artifacts considered in relation to the written records that tell the complete story.
These pictures show the 30.06 shell casings found near the "York Spot". The positions where these shells were found corroborate the testimony that some of the 17 Americans with York also fired their weapons.
This type of shell casing is consistent with the rifle used by US forces in the Argonne.
Even with all the evidence we had collected there was still one nagging piece of the puzzle left. We had still yet to find a static firing position that York could have used to take out the machine gun. It was not until the summer of 2007 when preliminary work on the York trail had gotten under way that the final piece fell into place. Forty-six 30.06 US Rifle shells were found in an excellent flanking position near the machine gun nest found earlier.
Doug with his son Josiah at the York Rifle Position Kory and Josiah at the York Rifle Position
Kory steps off the distance between York's firing position and the German machine gun measuring about 60 meters.
A 30.06 US rifle shell found in the flanking position along with 9 clips. All of these shells were
found within a 10 foot circle giving evidence of a static position.
Here the shells and clips can be seen together. This find is important because the 82nd infantry history book published in 1919 states that York fired all the ammunition from his belt. It is possible that York, being an expert marksman and mindful of his situation, remained in this position until close to running out of ammo and then made his way back to where the bayonet attack eventually took place.
York's rifle position taken up during the fight on 8 OCT 1918. This position is consistent with the Medal of Honor citation which states that York, with great daring, charged a machine gun position.
Here are 44 rifle shells, two others were found on a separate visit to the Argonne.
(Click on the photos above for a larger view)
York's heroic action lead to US forces acheiving thier objective of the morning of 8 OCT 1918, to cut off the German supply line running North-South through the Argonne Forest.
The US rifle clips pictured below give evidence of the fight which continued after York's action when the US 82nd Div., 328th regiment secured a position covering the North-South road.
SYDE discovered many US artifacts while searching for the York Spot and building the York Trail. Below are just a few.
A folded comb A US button
Several US Buttons Assortment of US artifacts
Col. Douglas Mastriano's YouTube Channel has an archive of many of the York news stories.