Sunday, November 11, 2018

THE WW1 CENTENNIAL

    Time certainly flies. Today marks the 100th Anniversary since the end of the First World War. The Great War, as it was then known, began in August 1914 with Serbia, France, Belgium, Britain, and Russia on the Allied side. Italy joined the Allies in 1915, and the US joined in 1917. The American commander was General John 'Black Jack' Pershing, a career soldier whose innovative tactics largely were responsible for smashing the German Offensive of 1918 and hastening the end of the war. 



    Pershing earned his nickname because he once commanded a regiment of Buffalo Soldiers during the 1890's. Originally it was a term of derision 'Nigger Jack' spread by his enemies; but the variant 'Black Jack' was turned by his friends into a epithet of respect. Pershing was an early proponent of Civil Rights. During high school, he volunteered as teacher in a school for Blacks. Later, during WW1, when Black regiments were banned by US policy from combat duties among White units, Pershing transferred them to the command of the French Army; thus circumventing the racist policy. 

    When the General arrived on the Western Front, he was on ancestral homeland. His family immigrated to the US from Alsace-Lorraine, the scene of some of the heaviest fighting of the war. He had originally entered West Point for its educational opportunities (he had shown an early aptitude for science) but found Army life to be his true calling. Pershing served with distinction against the Sioux and Apache Indians and later won the Silver Star during the Battle of San Juan Hill in 1898. In 1905, he was an observer in the Russo-Japanese War and in 1908 was an adviser with Bulgarian forces fighting for independence from Turkey. In 1913, Pershing won the Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry against Moro savages in the Philippines. 

     Pershing led a punitive expedition into Mexico in 1916; and assumed command of the A.E.F. in 1917. His exploits there are matters of history. What's not widely known is that he designed the modern combat boot in 1918 and, after the war, organized the Military Police. In 1921, President Harding appointed him Army Chief of Staff. Pershing proposed the first Interstate Highway System, though it wasn't enacted until the Eisenhower Administration. In 1924, he retired. 

     The General's wife died in 1915, but like any good red-blooded American man, that didn't stop him from having a few lovers. He finally remarried at the age of 86 (!), to a lady 34 years his junior. That may have been a bit too much for him: he died two years later in 1948. His son was a Staff Officer to General Marshall during WW2 and one of his grandsons was KIA in Vietnam. Another grandson also was career military and the architect of the modern ROTC Program. 

     I'm of an age where I actually knew some WW1 veterans, though all are deceased now. During the next week or so, I'll recount some of their stories as well as I can remember them. 

      

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