"Appalachians have a special feeling about the flag of the United States. This is the land that gave them freedom to be themselves, and when that freedom was threatened, they led in seeking independence." Loyal Jones, "Appalachian Values", p. 107
Jones goes on to cite several examples of how Appalachian have led the country in efforts to seek freedom from Great Britain prior to the American Revolution, how the mountains were settled by Revolutionary War veterans who were given land for their war efforts, how Union recruitment was high during the Civil War, how East Tennessee was an area of strong Union sympathy, how both Georgia and Alabama had Union counties during the Civil War, and how Winston County Alabama seceded from Alabama during the Civil War.
The most awarded soldier in World War I was Sgt. Alvin C. York of Fentress County Tennessee. He captured two German machine gun nests and marched back into camp behind 132 German prisoners in the Argonne Forest on October 8, 1918. John Alexander Williams gives a compelling description of York in "Appalachia, A History".
"York was never simply an American hero", Henry Shapiro has commented. "He was first and last a mountaineer because his virtues were the virtues of the native American folk. Tall and lanky, stolid, loyal, simple, choosing duty over his Christian convictions and his pacifism, his sinewy muscles developed by splitting logs on the hillside farm, his marksman's eye trained in squirrel hunting, Alvin York was the mythic mountaineer come to life." By practicing his mountaineer virtues as readily in France as in Tennessee, York validated the notion that these virtues derived from a culture, not just an environment. His legend reinforced the widespread belief in Appalachian exceptionalism while at the same time confirming the essential Americanism that was at the core of the mountaineer image." John Alexander Williams, "Appalachia, A History"; page 223.
While it is inspiring to read this description of the quintessential Appalachian war hero, it is even more inspiring to visit Fentress County Tennessee, as I did in 1990. I was, at that time, the Advance Scout for the Vision Quest Wagon Trains, a private for profit juvenile delinquency company which travels across the southeast with juveniles, horses, mules, and wagons. I was able to secure a campsite on the old York family farm near both the grave of Sgt. York and the Sgt. Alvin C. York Historic Park on US 127 in Pall Mall, Tennessee. During the night we camped on the farm, which is privately owned, we also screened the Hollywood film about York which starred Gary Cooper. I was also able to meet and talk with a few members of the York extended family as we were passing through the area.
In many ways, Pvt. Jessica Lynch represented a kind of Appalachian military volunteer upon which the media and military have fed for many years. Poor Appalachians with little formal education and poor job prospects have often joined the military as a means of becoming self sufficient and obtaining education. While they have fought admirably and often won distinction, they have also been used as cannon fodder, advance scouts in the jungles of Viet Nam, bomb disposal technicians in Iraq and Afghanistan, and public relations tools when they succeed. Pvt. Jessica Lynch's time as a prisoner of war and the treatment she received after leaving the military led cartoonist Mike Keefe of the Denver Post to draw the following strongly worded cartoon in 2003:
Another story of Appalachian valor in war time which is rarely if ever told involves the participation and deaths of a large contingent of Appalachian volunteers at the Alamo. Texans hold the Alamo dear to their hearts and their history. But to my knowledge, almost no one is ever told that Davy Crockett was not the only Appalachian who volunteered to fight and die resisting Santa Anna. There were at least 16 of Davy Crockett's "Tennessee Boys" who also died at the Alamo. William Travis himself was from South Carolina. But today, almost no one knows that he was not a native Texan. Nearly a third of the men at the Alamo have been proven to have come from the states in the Appalachian Region to join the fight for Texas independence simply because they felt it was the right thing to do and an effort worth dying for.