Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland unveiled to the city a sought-after painting depicting an historic event of World War I. The painting was artist Frank Schoonover’s rendering of Cpl. Alvin York engaging enemy soldiers with a .45-caliber pistol.
The mayor said at that very second, Cleveland businessman Allan Jones was in his office, purchasing the original painting of Cpl. Alvin York.
This historic work, “Sergeant Alvin C. York,” was created in 1919 by legendary American artist Frank Schoonover, born Aug. 19, 1877, in Oxford, N. J.
“I am proud to share it with you today, on this Veterans Day in Bradley County,” the mayor said. “The subject of the painting, Sgt. Alvin York, is one of America’s most famous soldiers due to his remarkable act of courage in October 1918, which is depicted in the painting.”
Jones said after the Veterans Day observance he had been aware of the existence of the historic painting of York for many years but never thought it would become available.
“When I learned that Mr. Blakeslee would consider selling the painting to the right buyer, I felt it was essential to bring this piece back to its rightful home in Tennessee and having the painting here on Veterans Day 11-11-11 was very important,” Jones said.
“The timing of the purchase also had unique significance. As it worked out, our attorneys did not close the deal until right before the Veterans Day ceremony began.
According to the Sgt. York Patriotic Foundation, the Pall Mall native was attached to Co. G, 328th Inf., 82nd Div. On Oct. 8, 1918, he and fellow soldiers were pinned down during an attempt to capture a narrow-gauge railroad.
York, as the company sharpshooter — along with 16 other soldiers under the command of acting Sgt. Bernard Early — was given the task of silencing the machine guns that halted the advance the day before.
It was a cold, wet morning. Rain mixed with sleet added to the gloom of the fog that draped the landscape. As the soldiers worked their way around a hill, the men on the left flank stood exposed in a creek bottom. German machine gunners opened fire, wounding or killing nine Americans, including York’s best friend, Murray Savage.
York was on the right flank beneath the crest of a hill in a natural depression, which he used to kill nine of the men who operated the guns. In the meantime, his comrades opened fire on the Germans, and in a few minutes 25 were dead.
The Germans surrendered to what they thought was a superior force, and York and the American survivors escorted 132 prisoners to American forces at Varennes some 10 miles away.
York was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions outside the French village of Châtel-Chéhéry on Oct. 8, 1918, during the Meuse-Argonne.
“He killed 17 German soldiers, all with his pistol,” Rowland said. “Alvin York died in 1962, and he would be proud that his legendary painting is now home in Tennessee, his native state, for the first time since its creation so many years ago.”
Schoonover sold the painting originally to collector H.M. Pierce of Delaware in 1926. It was acquired by Blakeslee Gallery in Wellington, Fla., in 1998.
Gary Blakeslee, who obtained the painting for the gallery, described it as “the single most patriotic piece of artwork any American could own. It is the quintessential World War I masterpiece,” according to the statement read by the mayor.
“I am proud to announce that just this morning on this Veterans Day 11-11-11, the painting was purchased by Cleveland native and businessman Allan Jones,” Blakeslee said upon selling the painting. “Alvin York, the soldier who many thought was cloaked by the breath of God, is finally home!’”
Prior to being acquired by Jones, the painting was on loan to the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum.
“We are glad to have this historic painting in its rightful home of Tennessee!” Rowland said.