When General John J. Pershing died on July 15, 1948 the nation mourned the loss of its greatest military hero. He was laid in state in the United States Capital Rotunda and buried at Arlington National Cemetery. A thousand miles away, the small town of Laclede Missouri reflected on its most famous son.
Nothing in Pershing's humble beginnings suggested his spectacular future. The values of hard work and education that he learned in his youth shaped his unparalleled career. While teaching at the Prairie Mound School, Pershing chanced upon a newspaper ad offering an exam to enter West Point. The rest truly is history.
Pershing's career spanned the globe. He commanded "Buffalo Soldier" cavalry troops in the last days of the Indian Wars, charged up San Juan Hill in the Spanish American War, fought guerilla wars during the Phillippine Insurrection and pursued Pancho Villa into Mexico. He mentored the most famous names of the military’s next generation; George C. Marshall, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, George S. Patton and Douglas McArthur.
His bright professional path was marred with great personal tragedy. Pershing's wife Frances and his three young daughters all perished in a fire. Only his son Warren was rescued. Warren joined his father on his command and grew into honorable military service himself. Warren acted as an army advisor under George C. Marshall in World War II. He himself had two sons who added further honor to the Pershing name. While in the Army, John Warren Pershing helped shape the Army and Army ROTC service nationwide. His brother Richard was killed in action in Vietnam.
World War I found General Pershing in France as the Commander in Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces. More than two million men served under his command. At War's end, Pershing returned home with the rank of General of the Armies of the United States. This rank was bestowed on him by a special act of Congress in 1919. At that time, the name of John J. Pershing was known and greatly respected by all Americans.
Never in American history has there been such a man. The name of General John J. Pershing should still be known by every American - every veteran, every school child. He was the only living person in our country's history to be named a 6 Star General. There are only two men with such an honor - Pershing and our founding father General George Washington.