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 John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing

John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing

Laclede, Linn County, Missouri, USA
Death 15 Jul 1948 (aged 87)
Washington, District of Columbia, District Of Columbia, USA
Burial Arlington, Arlington County, Virginia, USA
Plot Section 34, Site S-19
Memorial ID 806 · View Source
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United States General of the Armies. Born in Laclede, Missouri, he was the son of a railroad switchman. At 17, he taught in a rural school for African-American children to earn enough money to pay for his college education at Kirksville Normal School (now Truman State University.) in Kirksville, Missouri. In 1881, answering an advertisement for the United States Military Academy's entrance exam, he sat for the exam and won entry to West Point in 1882. Graduating 30th out of 70, he also was president of his class and captain of cadets. He received his commission in the cavalry and was ordered to the Western frontier, fighting Indians under the command of General Nelson A. Miles and earning his first combat citation. During this time he participated in the famous Massacre at Wounded Knee. From 1891 until 1895, he served as a professor of military science at the University of Nebraska, earning a law degree there in his spare time. Later he returned to the United States Military Academy as a tactical officer. In 1898, due to the Spanish-American War, he was sent to the Philippines where he earned a Silver Star. Here he impressed the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and his own Colonel, a Civil War vet, who said that he was the coolest man he had ever seen under fire. He then went about organizing the Insular Bureau, under which the affairs of the Philippine Islands and Puerto Rico are still administered. In 1899, now a Captain, he returned to the Philippines where he put down an uprising of the Moros and received the personal congratulations of Secretary of War Elihu Root. In 1904, he was assigned as military attaché of the American embassy in Tokyo, Japan during the Russo-Japanese War. The following year he returned to the United States and married Helen Frances Warren, the daughter of United States Senator Francis E. Warren. In 1906, as he had done during the Spanish-American War, he caught the eye of Theodore Roosevelt, now President of the United States. Roosevelt promoted him over 862 other officers, which prompted a great deal of professional resentment. The promotion raised rumors of favoritism and political dealing, fueled by the fact that his father-in-law was chairman of the Senate Military Affairs Committee. Regardless of the rumors, he continued to serve with great distinction and returned to the Philippines again as military commander and remained there until 1913. In January 1914, he returned to the United States where President Woodrow Wilson assigned him under General Frederick Funston; Wilson then order him to "pursue and disperse" Pancho Villa and his band of Mexican guerrillas. Leaving his family at the Presidio in San Francisco, California, he went to El Paso, Texas, to coordinate his campaign. Just before he was to begin his movement into Mexico, he received word his wife and three daughters died in a house fire. Only his 6-year-old son had survived and this was due to the heroics of the family maid. Because of this tragic personal loss, he left his duties, but only long enough to see to the burial of his family, then returned and pressed on with his assignment. Though he failed to capture Villa, he effectively stopped Villa's terrorism and earned himself a promotion to Major General. It was also during this campaign that he earned the nickname "Black Jack" by commanding, (and advocating), the 10th Calvary, a distinguished regiment of black troops, often called the "Buffalo Soldiers." Once he returned to Washington D.C. in 1917, and due to the sudden death of General Funston, President Wilson, on the advice of his military attaché, Major Douglas McArthur, named him to command the American Expeditionary Forces being sent to France after America's declaration of war on Germany. The army he was to command did not exist yet; his task was to create it. One of his first actions upon arriving in France was to pay respects at the tomb of the Marquis de Lafayette. As he laid a wreath on the French soldier's grave, his aide announced, "Lafayette, we are here!" This signified to the French people that America was ready to assist them as they had the young American republic in 1776. He fought diligently to maintain the integrity of the American forces. He did not, and would not, concur with the plan to use American forces only as replacements for depleted French and British troops. He also refused to allow any American forces to fight separately; insisting that all American forces fight together as a unit. It was his American troops who defeated the Germans in the St. Mihiel Salient in September 1918. In October, the Americans fought bravely against the Germans along the Hindenburg Line during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and on November 11, 1918, the armistice was declared. Upon his return to the United States, he received a hero's welcome. Congress conferred upon him the Thanks of Congress and the rank of General of the Armies of the United States. With this rank he was given the option of 5 stars but declined the offer. (This rank was created by Congress in 1799 explicitly for George Washington. It was later learned that Washington had never accepted the rank, so the Congress conferred it upon Washington posthumously in 1976, maintaining Washington's place as the senior ranking officer on the United States Army roster.) He served as Army chief of staff from 1921 until his retirement in 1924. He went on to chair the American Battle Monuments Commission and write his two-volume memoirs, which earned him a Pulitzer Prize. Though he lived at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC, he was called upon during World War II for advice and counsel by the Army chief of staff General George C. Marshall. In 1948 upon his death, his funeral cortege was led by the President of the United States, Harry S. Truman, himself a veteran "doughboy" from World War I. After the funeral service in the Memorial Amphitheatre, (his was one of only nine to ever be held there), his last requests were honored. He had asked that he be buried with the men he had led and fought beside. He was interred in a special lot which placed him in front of his doughboys. His last request was that his grave be marked with the same white government regulation tombstone that marked his men. He was the recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, and many foreign awards. Buried beside him is his grandson, Second Lieutenant Richard Warren Pershing, who was killed in action in Vietnam.

Bio by: Ugaalltheway




"The devotion, their valor and their sacrifice will live forever in the heart of their grateful countrymen."
General of the Armies John J. Pershing




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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 1 Jan 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 806
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing (13 Sep 1860–15 Jul 1948), Find A Grave Memorial no. 806, citing Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Arlington County, Virginia, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .