John Pershing

John Pershing

(1860-1948)

America’s military leader in World War I came from the prairie hamlet of Laclede, Missouri. John Pershing worked on his father’s farm and taught at a country school while still in his teens. He went to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and gradu¬ ated as senior cadet captain in 1886.

Pershing became a cavalry lieutenant. He fought against Geronimo (see no. 79) of the Apache nation as well as the Sioux nation during his early military years. He then taught military tactics at the University of Nebraska (1893—1897). Pershing demonstrated his valor in the Spanish-American War and won a Silver Star for gallantry in combat.

Pershing served in the Philippines (1901-1903) and as America’s official observ¬ er during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). Deeply impressed by Pershing’s reports, President Theodore Roosevelt pro¬ moted him from captain to brigadier general in 1906, bypassing 862 senior officers. Pershing served three more years in the Philippines and then was sent to the Mexican border in 1915.

He pursued the Mexican revolutionary Francisco “Pancho” Villa into Mexican terri¬ tory. Returning from the foray, Pershing was named commander of the American Expeditionary Force, which was to be created and sent to the European battlefields in World War I.

Pershing arrived in France in June 1917. His presence allowed Charles E. Stanton to visit the grave of the Marquis de Lafayette and declare, “Lafayette, we are here,” on July 4, 1917. Determined to keep American troops together as a separate army, Pershing clashed loudly and often with both British and French leaders. Their calls for him to be replaced went unheeded; the grim, effective American remained as the leader of his nation’s forces in Europe.

Made a full general in 1917, Pershing over¬ saw the creation and deployment of a two- million-person U.S. Army. His men won the crucial battles of Belleau Wood and Chateau Thierry, stopping the last German offensive. Pershing coordinated a huge American offen¬ sive in the Meuse-Argonne area in the last weeks of the war.

Named general of the armies in 1919, Pershing returned home to tremendous praise from the American public and government. He hoped to be asked to run for the presiden¬ cy in 1920 but was not, so he retired from the army in 1924, and served as chairperson of the Battle Monuments Commission for the rest of his life. Pershing died in Washington, D.C. and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.