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World War I

Six Tennesseans received the Medal of Honor for actions during World War I, including Sergeant Alvin York, whose action put a public face on the Medal of Honor when his heroics were featured in the Saturday Evening Post in April 1919 and after Gary Cooper received an Academy Award for his portrayal of Alvin York in the Hollywood film, Sergeant York.


Joseph B. Adkinson

Rank: Sergeant

Organization: U.S. Army

Company: Company C, 119th Infantry, 30th Division

Born: January 4, 1892, Egypt, Tennessee

Place/Date: Near Bellicourt, France, September 29, 1918

Citation: When murderous machine-gun fire at a range of 50 yards had made it impossible for his platoon to advance and had caused the platoon to take cover, Sgt. Adkinson alone, with the greatest intrepidity, rushed across the 50 yards of open ground directly into the face of the hostile machine gun, kicked the gun from the parapet into the enemy trench, and at the point of the bayonet captured the three men manning the gun. The gallantry and quick decision of this soldier enabled the platoon to resume its advance.


James E. Karnes

Rank: Sergeant

Organization: U.S. Army

Company: Company D, 117th Infantry, 30th Division

Born: July 20, 1889, Arlington, Tennessee

Place/Date: Near Estrees, France, October 8, 1918

Citation: During an advance, his company was held up by a machine gun which was enfilading the line. Accompanied by another soldier, he advanced against this position and succeeded in reducing the nest by killing three and capturing seven of the enemy and their guns.

Additional Information: Karnes performed this charge with fellow Tennessean Medal of Honor recipient, John Calvin Ward. The 30th Division was nicknamed the “Old Hickory Division.” Karnes grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee. Alcoa Highway Bridge over the Tennessee River is named after him. After the war he worked as a Knoxville Police Officer. James Karnes is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, in Knoxville, Tennessee.


Milo Lemert

Rank: First Sergeant

Organization: U.S. Army

Company: Company G, 119th Infantry, 30th Division

Born: March 25, 1890, Marshalltown, Iowa, enlisted in Crossville, Tennessee

Place/Date: Near Bellicourt, France, September 29, 1918

Citation: Seeing that the left flank of his company was held up, he located the enemy machine-gun emplacement, which had been causing heavy casualties. In the face of heavy fire he rushed it single-handedly, killing the entire crew with grenades. Continuing along the enemy trench in advance of the company, he reached another emplacement, which he also charged, silencing the gun with grenades. A third machine-gun emplacement opened up on him from the left and with similar skill and bravery he destroyed this also. Later, in company with another sergeant, he attacked a fourth machine-gun nest, being killed as he reached the parapet of the emplacement. His courageous action in destroying in turn four enemy machine-gun nests prevented many casualties among his company and very materially aided in achieving the objective.


Edward R. Talley

Rank: Sergeant

Organization: U.S. Army

Company: Company L, 117th Infantry, 30th Division

Born: September 8, 1890, Russellville, Tennessee

Place/Date: Near Ponchaux, France, October 7, 1918

Citation: Undeterred by seeing several comrades killed in attempting to put a hostile machine-gun nest out of action, Sgt. Talley attacked the position singlehandedly. Armed only with a rifle, he rushed the nest in the face of intense enemy fire, killed or wounded at least six of the crew, and silenced the gun. When the enemy attempted to bring forward another gun and ammunition he drove them back by effective fire from his rifle.

Additional Information: His medals are displayed in the Morristown museum. He is buried in the small Ben Creek Cemetery in Whitesburg, Tennessee.

 


Calvin John Ward

Rank: Private 

Organization: U.S. Army

Company: Company D, 117th Infantry, 30th Division

Born: October 1898, Greene County, Tennessee

Place/Date: Near Estrees, France, October 8, 1918

Citation: During an advance, Pvt. Ward’s company was held up by a machinegun, which was enfilading the line. Accompanied by a noncommissioned officer, he advanced against this post and succeeded in reducing the nest by killing 3 and capturing 7 of the enemy and their guns.

Additional Information: Ward performed his charge with fellow Tennessean Medal of Honor recipient, James “Buck” Karnes. The 30th Division is nicknamed the “Old Hickory Division.” After the war Ward worked in a Bristol mill before attempting to re-enlist in the military.  In 2012 a Tennessee House of Representative resolution remembered Ward as the most decorated American soldier in WWI. He was awarded six American honors, including the Medal of Honor and Silver Star, and six foreign medals.


Alvin C. York

Rank: Corporal 

Organization: U.S. Army

Company: Company G, 328th Infantry, 82d Division

Born: December 13, 1887, Fentress County, Tennessee

Place/Date: Near Chatel-Chehery, France, October 8, 1918

Citation: After his platoon had suffered heavy casualties and three other noncommissioned officers had become casualties, Cpl. York assumed command. Fearlessly leading seven men, he charged with great daring a machine-gun nest which was pouring deadly and incessant fire upon his platoon. In his heroic feat the machine-gun nest was taken, together with four officers and 128 men and several guns.