John Joseph Pershing was born
near Laclede, Mo., on Sept. 13, 1860. While attending
the normal school at Kirksville, Mo., he saw a notice
for a competitive examination for the United States
Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He had not thought
of a military career, but West Point offered a good
opportunity. He won the appointment by a single
Graduating in 1886, Pershing
began active service against the Indians in the West.
Five years later he was appointed military instructor at
the University of Nebraska, where he also studied law.
He served at West Point as an instructor in tactics
until the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898.
He sailed for Cuba and fought in the battle of San Juan
On his return from Cuba,
Pershing requested to be sent to the Philippines, which
the United States had just acquired. His work was to put
down revolts by the islands' native tribes. In 1903 he
was recalled and made a member of the General Staff
Corps. In 1905, when the Russo-Japanese War broke out,
he was appointed military observer with the Japanese
Pershing got his nickname,
Black Jack, from serving with a black regiment early in
his career. It came to signify his stern bearing and
rigid discipline. President Theodore Roosevelt promoted
Pershing from captain to brigadier general in 1906. In
1909 he returned to the Philippines as governor of a
province on Mindanao. He put down a Moro uprising in
1913. In 1914 he was recalled to the United States, and
in 1916 he was sent to pursue the Mexican revolutionary
Pancho Villa. After a year of futile searching, the
campaign was called off.
In the meantime, World War I
was raging in Europe. The United States declared war on
Germany in April 1917. President Woodrow Wilson selected
Pershing to command the United States forces in Europe.
Given a free hand, Pershing had to form and train an
entire army organization that expanded in a year and a
half to nearly 3 million men. He was determined to
maintain his forces as an independent army despite
pressure from the Allies to use his troops as
replacement units in European divisions. The American
forces under his command destroyed German resistance in
the Meuse-Argonne offensive of 1918.
In 1919 he was appointed
general of the armies of the United States, a title no
other officer had held. From 1921 to 1924 he served as
army chief of staff, retiring from active duty in 1924.
Pershing's memoirs, 'My Experiences in the World War',
were published in 1931 and won a Pulitzer prize.
Pershing died in Washington, D.C., on July 15, 1948. He
was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.