John Pershing

John Pershing (1860-1948) led the United States Army during World War I (1914-1918). American soldiers under Pershing’s command, nicknamed “doughboys”, privided crucial support to the Allies in the final year of the war. Pershing’s army was the first American force to fight in a European conflict. Pershing himself returned home after the war to a hero’s welcome: a ticker tape parade in New York. Elevated to the highest ranks in the army, he remained on active duty until the eve of World War II (1939-1945) and was a mentor to many of the generals who commanded the second American war in Europe.

Pershing was born in Missouri and graduated from the West Point military academy in 1886. Promoted to general after the Spanish American War (1898), Pershing led the American troops that fruitlessly searched for the Mexican bandit Pancho Villa (1878-1923) in 1916.

When the United States Congress declared war on Germany in 1917 to enter World War I, President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) picked Pershing to lead the American expeditionary force. Simply getting America’s four million soldiers across the Atlantic Ocean proved an enormous logistical challenge, since the US Navy possessed virtually no transport ships at the time. Indeed, it would take eight months before American soldiers began arriving in Europe in great numbers. The made a strong impression on the French, who were astonished by the cheerful, singing American soldiers.

Arguably Pershing’s most significant accomplishment on behalf of his country and his troops was to resist pressure from France and Great Britain to use American soldiers as spares in their depleted armies. Battered by three years of trench warfare and inept leadership, the French and British armies were in wretched shape.

Pershing argued with the Allied leaders to ensure that whenever possible, American troops would fight in American units. American troops saw significant action in 1918, and total US deaths amounted to 49,000 soldiers killed in action. The American troops tipped the numerical balance in Europe in favor of the Allies, and Germany agreed to an armistice on November 11, 1918, ending the war.

From the Intellectual Devotional – American History by David S. Kidder and Noah D. Oppenheim

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