John J. Pershing
1860 - 1948
John J. Pershing, who led American forces during World War I, died July 15, 1948. He was 87.
Pershing was born on September 13, 1860 in Laclede, Missouri. The son of a railroad laborer, he graduated from West Point in 1886. While in school, he was recognized for his leadership by being elected class president in his senior year.
His first assignment was as a cavalry officer in New Mexico Territory where he was charged with taking care of hostile Indians. Pershing served in South Dakota in 1890 during one of the last uprisings by the Sioux.
He became Professor of Military Science in 1891 at the University of Nebraska, and taught tactics at West Point in 1897.
Pershing served in the Spanish-American War, and in 1899 served in the Philippines where he helped put down guerilla uprisings. He remained in the Philippines until 1903 when he was ordered back to the United States.
Because of Pershing’s leadership abilities, he was promoted to brigadier general in 1905, a great honor since he went from captain to general in one promotion. Other officers balked at the rank, saying he had only gotten the promotion because he was the son-in-law of a high-ranking Senator, Francis E. Warren.
President Theodore Roosevelt expressed his confidence in Pershing who asked to be sent again to the Philippines. He remained there off and on until 1913.
Pershing returned to help quell Mexican revolutionaries who were threatening the southern borders of the United States. While preparing to bring his family closer to him, he got word that his wife and three children had been killed in a fire in their San Francisco home.
He was made major general in 1916 and ordered to prepare the American army for war in Europe. When the United States entered the war in September 1917, Pershing took raw recruits to Europe. Some were trained by the French before they went into combat, and the French thought the Americans would be permanently attached to them, but Pershing wanted the U.S. to have its own army under his command.
In September 1918, a 500,000 man American army participated in its first real battle at St. Mihiel Salient. The battle in the Argonne Forest followed, and soon the war was over.
Pershing’s patience at building a viable American fighting force was recognized by Congress when they made him General of the Armies in 1919, which is the highest rank ever created in American military history.
In 1921, Pershing was appointed Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army. He retired in 1924, but continued to be active in San Francisco in the fields of education and business.
Pershing died at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. on July 15, 1948. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.