General John J. Pershing (1860-1948), Commander in Chief of the AEF (American Expeditionary Force) during the war, arrived in Paris in June, 1917. Marion was there to witness the July 4th parade in the streets heralding the arrival of the American soldiers. “The first American troops are in Paris! First came some dignitaries in automobiles, then the band playing full blast, and then our soldiers in khaki and Stetsons, the brownest, toughest, most businesslike citizens you ever laid eyes on, all with eyes dead ahead and solemn as tombstones—fighters every inch! The French cheered wildly and yelled, “Vive l’Amérique! Vive l’Amérique!” and waved banners. They certainly looked fine, very brown and hardy, fairly covered with flowers the populace had given them, stuck in their hats and coats and in the barrels of their guns. When at length they defiled and marched to the cemetery to place a wreath on La Fayette’s tomb, we fell in behind in our camions with the mob….So you see it was ‘some day’. A day to feel, right through you, the red-blooded tide of friendship between France and the U.S.A., good will bursting all bounds. A day to feel that you were a part of it all, that you were doing your bit and had a right to the thrills that were going up and down your spine! To have seen with my own eyes two nations gripping each others hands, nations that I love almost equally.” (Marion Mitchell, Chapter 2)
When the United States finally did enter the war, Pershing was given command of the AEF. The Army was not prepared; they had limited supplies, no aircraft and were struggling with organization and with recruitment. To add to that, the French and British expected the American soldiers to serve under their commands. Pershing refused and was able to secure separate camps for his men to aid in their training. He may be best known for leading the Battle of Meuse-Argonne in the Fall of 1918, finally sealing the fate of the German army and helping to end the war. His autobiography, My Experience of War, was published in 1931 and won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1932. There have been many books published since then about his military career; the latest one about the Battle of Meuse-Argonne came out this month, March, 2016. Forty-Seven Days: How Pershing’s warriors came of age to defeat the German Army in World War I by Mitchell Yockelson. It chronicles a short period of time, but covers it in depth.
The National Park Service honored him with a special monument in Pershing Park. If you go to Washington DC, the park is located between Pennsylvania Ave. and 14th and 15th Avenues. He may have been greatly pleased with this monument as he was appointed to the American Battle Monuments Commission by President Harding and he held the position of Chairman until his death in 1948. The Commission was established by Congress in 1923 as an independent agency of the US government to maintain permanent US military cemeteries, memorials and monuments in the US as well as outside the US.
Pershing Park will become the site of the new World War One Memorial. The final design was just chosen and fund raising has begun. Read more here. It should be dedicated on Nov. 11, 2018, one hundred years after the end of the war.
If you would like to donate $11.11 or more, click here.
When the war ended Pershing maintained a position as a consultant for the military. He was considered a mentor for George C. Marshall, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar N. Bradley and George S. Patton during World War II. Pershing was promoted to General of the Armies, a six-star General. The only other person to ever be awarded this honor was George Washington. Pershing is buried in Arlington Cemetery with his soldiers.
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Photo Credits: pbs.org; nps.gov