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Sergeant Willie Sandlin, East Kentucky's answer to Sergeant York, was born near Buckhorn in Perry County. He was the only Kentuckian to receive the Congressional Medal Of Honor in World War I. Of all the American servicemen who fought during the Great War, only Sergeant Alvin C York received more decorations for valor than Sandlin. Born of humble parents, he had the misfortune to lose his mother when he was a small boy. He grew to manhood with few advantages. At an early age he enlisted in the United States Regular Army. The hardships of youth had taught him well the lesson of taking care of himself. Straight as an arrow, with keen, alert, but steady black eyes, black hair, powerfully muscular, but not heavy built, he was a splendid type of the sturdy men who come from the Kentucky mountain counties. He was not assertive, but almost timid. But his mother was an Abner, and the Abners were among the sturdiest, most reliant stock of the old time families in Perry County. His quick black eyes and muscular frame came from his mother. He enlisted in the army in 1914 and served on the Mexican border. In 1917 he was sent to France with the 132d Infantry. Promoted to sergeant, Sandlin single-handedly destroyed three German machine gun emplacements and killed twenty-four of the enemy on September 26, 1918, at Bois de Forges. For that action, he was awarded the congressional Medal of Honor on July 9, 1919. After the war, Sandlin returned to East Kentucky and bought a farm on Owls Nest Creek near Hyden. He and his wife, the former Belvia Roberts, were active in the Frontier Nursing Service. They had one son and four daughters. Sandlin, then 59, died on May 29, 1949, of a lingering lung infection resulting from a poison gas attack on his company in the Battle of the Argonne. He was buried in Hurricane Cemetery near Hyden. In September 1990 his remains were reburied in the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in Louisville. Willie's wife, Belvia Roberts Sandlin, lived to be 96 years old. She died on February 11, 1999. Belvia was 47 years age when Willie died. She never married again. Their love and respect had lasted their lifetime on this earth. In 2000, the family of Willie Sandlin donated his Medal of Honor to the Kentucky Military History Museum in Frankfort.
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