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Johnson County's WWII 'Sgt. York'

By Paula Walter
It’s been said that Carl Blackburn, now 96 years old, is the most decorated soldier in Johnson County. Blackburn now resides at Ivy Hall in Elizabethton. While he may struggle from time to time to share his memories, they are never far from his thoughts.
Blackburn was born in 1918 in Butler. He joined the Conservation Corp and worked on a ranch in Nevada. Just six months later, he was drafted into the United States Army. He served in the 5th Division, 11th Infantry 2nd Battalion in Company D under General Patton.
He served in Iceland, England, France, Sertland, Belgium, Holland and Germany as a machine gunner.
“I manned two machines,” Blackburn said. “One was a 30-caliber and a 50-caliber to shoot down planes.”
One of Blackburn’s most vivid memories of his time in Iceland is that of the Northern Lights.
“It scared the tar out of me!” he said, waving his arms in demonstration.
From Iceland he traveled to Scotland by boat, and then took a train from Scotland to Condor.
“The conductor was only 15,” Blackburn said still amazed after all these years. “The foreman was only 14.”
Blackburn’s division played a role in the war as they left England and headed for Normandy. They fought across France and had a significant role in the Battle of the Bulge.
Blackburn became widely known for his ability to shoot and to shoot well. According to Blackburn, he was asked if he was related to Sergeant York, who was the most decorated American Soldier of WWI. York was also from Tennessee. Blackburn earned the nickname “York” for his shooting skills.
“I was asked if I was related to York,” Blackburn recalled with a smile.
According to Blackburn, there were times when his unit was able to enjoy a special treat now and then.
“I got a cake one night,” said Blackburn with an impish grin as he described how he would sneak across enemy lines to find extra food for those in his unit.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.