Born September 13, 1860, General John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing was a well decorated World War I Army general who led many deadly, but victorious battles.
He was born in Missouri, one of six children. His father had supported the Union during the Civil War.
In 1882, he was sworn in as a Cadet at West Point where he became a rising star, achieving the rank of First Captain, the highest rank a cadet can rise to. He graduated in 1886 where the West Point Superintendent, General Wesley Merritt, commended him for leadership abilities.
He reported for active duty on September 30th, 1886 as Second Lieutenant, where he served in the 6th Calvary. In 1891, he was appointed as professor of military science. He was promoted to First Lieutenant the following year. While there, he formed Company A, a drill company of hand chosen cadets. Later some of the graduates formed a drill company called Varsity Rifles which they renamed in Pershing Rifles in 1895 after their mentor.
In 1895, he took command of the 10th Calvary Regiment (an African-American unit known as Buffalo Soldiers). During this time, he would earn the nickname “Black Jack.” He successfully led the unit for two years until Pershing was appointed a tactical instructor to West Point in 1897.
During the Spanish-American War and Philippine-American War, Pershing served with distinction as an adjunct general to volunteers and a quartermaster. He was promoted to Captain in February 1901.
In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt wanted to promote Pershing to colonel, but the Army refused. Instead, in 1905, he was stationed in Tokyo as a military attache. That same year, he married his wife Francis. Together, they would have three daughters and one son, though Francis and his daughters would die from an accident in 1915.
During World War I, Pershing was promoted to Major General and led the American Expeditionary Force. Though many criticized his headstrong tactics and pointed to his failures, no one could argue with his overall success. He is also known as the founding father of American Military Police which he formed in October 1918.
After World War I, in 1919, in recognition of his service and many victories, Pershing was promoted to General of the Armies of the United States, the highest possible rank anyone could achieve in the US Armed Forces. He remained active in military life, though he would go into private life after he won the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for his memoir My Experiences in the World War.
Pershing passed away on July 15, 1948 due to heart failure. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. An American hero.
Quote: “A competent leader can get efficient service from poor troops, while on the contrary an incapable leader can demoralize the best of troops.”
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