HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — 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.
"Any work done using Mastriano is built upon poor, false research," Gregory wrote.
Both institutions have told Gregory they have opened preliminary reviews.
Mastriano has not responded to repeated requests for comment, including written questions, from The Associated Press.
The 57-year-old Franklin County Republican, first elected two years ago and currently pondering a 2022 run for governor, seemed to emerge out of nowhere last year to become a one-man force in Pennsylvania politics.
He has boasted of speaking with Trump at least 15 times and organized an election hearing in Gettysburg that featured Rudy Giuliani and a phone call appearance by Trump.
He was even scheduled to speak on the U.S. Capitol steps during the early afternoon on Jan. 6 and had organized charter buses to Trump's speech. Despite calls from some Democratic Senate colleagues to resign, Mastriano has maintained he broke no laws the day of the Capitol breach and has not been charged.
Before Mastriano entered the political limelight, he attracted attention for his claim to have pinpointed the precise location of York's famed battle. He organized construction of the 2-mile (3-kilometer) "Circuit du Sergeant York" trail, lined with interpretive markers and dedicated amid fanfare in 2008.
But a multidisciplinary team that conducted its own surveys of the general battle area concluded the correct spot is very likely about a half-mile (0.8 kilometers) south of Mastriano's purported location.
"The issue is not about a few meters' difference between the two sites," said Dutch journalist Stephan van Meulebrouck, who has written about the York site controversy. "It is about good research versus bad research and the inability, or even the unwillingness of certain parties in this debate to admit to that fact."
In his 2014 book "Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne," and elsewhere, Mastriano has repeatedly dismissed any notion that there is a legitimate dispute about the validity of his preferred site, writing that "we know with certainty the location of the York action," that it was "discovered with 100% certainty" and that it "has been located and verified."