By Linda Hicks
MUSEUM OF VETERANS & MILITARY HISTORY
At the Museum of Veterans and Military History, recently, a church group from Little Rock toured and the pastor was drawn to a signed letter by U.S. Gen. John J. Pershing.
The letter is displayed in a World War II exhibit. The pastor shared a story regarding his father, a very young soldier at the time, who had served in WWI and was assigned as a driver to Peshing. The pastor told that his father once failed to salute a black officer in Pershing’s presence. Not only was the young ordered, by Pershing, to make amends and salute the officer, but he was also ordered to stand and salute the American flag non-stop for 30 minutes for disrespecting the officer.
Pershing was born and raised in Missouri. While Pershing struggled academically his first year at West Point, he was determined to succeed. He graduated 13th out of a class of 77 in 1886. In 1896, Pershing was assigned to the frontier with the Tenth Cavalry, an all-black regiment. The Native Americans called these troops buffalo soldiers because they believed the soldiers’ hair resembled that of a buffalo. At the time, blacks were segregated from whites in the military.
Pershing was later assigned to teach at West Point. There, he was given the nickname "Black Jack" because he had spent time with the Tenth Cavalry. When the Spanish-American War broke out, Pershing was selected to command the Tenth Cavalry once more and led his men in Cuba at the Battle of San Juan Hill. The bravery and courage shown by the men of the Tenth Cavalry earned them Pershing’s respect and admiration. He often praised the black soldiers to others, an unusual thing to do during this time.
Some of Pershing’s tactics have been criticized both by other commanders at the time and by modern historians.
However, Pershing is the only American to be promoted in his own lifetime to General of the Armies, the highest possible rank in the United States Army. He also became an expert marksman and, in 1891, was rated second in pistol and fifth in rifle out of all soldiers in the U.S. Army. In October 1918, Pershing saw the need for a dedicated Military Police Corps and the first U.S. Army MP School was established at Autun, France. For this, he is considered the founding father of the United States MPs. Because of the effects of trench warfare on soldiers’ feet, in January 1918, Pershing oversaw the creation of an improved combat boot, the "1918 Trench Boot," which became known as the "Pershing Boot" upon its introduction.
On his 64th birthday, September 13, 1924, Pershing retired from active military service. He died in 1948.
Located at 53 N. Mt. Olive in Vilonia, the museum hours are 9 to 4 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays. Also, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., on the first Sunday of the month. Group tours are available by appointment. No charge to tour. For information, call 501-796-8181.