Black Jack Pershing: Love and War

The award-winning documentary “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War,” tells the story of World War I General John J. Pershing’s life and the personal tragedy so painful Pershing could never speak of it.

Black Jack Pershing: Love and War – is an important, dynamic, entertaining documentary featuring a man and his life which was pivotal to America’s successful campaigns during World War 1. The story and history as developed by Barney McCoy adds to our understanding of American history accurately and poignantly, and exemplifies the power of filmmaking.  -Ron Hull, Nebraska Public Broadcasting

When America entered WWI in April of 1917 its military was hardly prepared for war. There were roughly 220,000 U.S. soldiers and officers. America’s troops initially lacked the training needed to effectively fight a veteran German army that used modern warfare tactics.

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In the fall of 1918, more than a million U.S troops fought German forces in the deciding WWI battle of the Meuse-Argonne in France. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration.

Germany’s high-powered artillery, poison gas, machine guns, fortified defensive positions and fighter planes exacted a heavy toll on U.S. troops. The Americans fought German troops with French, British, Canadian, Australian and other allied forces in deadly combat along 400 miles that comprised the Western Front.

General John J. Pershing was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson to command the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe. His nickname was “Black Jack.”

Commanding U.S. troops against overwhelming odds would be the greatest challenge of Pershing’s military career. Twenty months after America joined the fight, Pershing and two million troops helped turn the battle tide. Germany was forced to surrender on November 11, 1918.

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General John J. Pershing arrived in France and is greeted by French Army officers in June of 1917. Photo: Library of France.

Black Jack_ John Pershing LW2018 (Promo) from CoJMC on Vimeo.

All rights reserved, 2017 Painted Rock Productions, LLC


Pictorial countdown: 100-days to the 100th anniversary of the WWI armistice

November 11th is Armistice Day, also recognized as Veteran’s Day in America. The WWI armistice began on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 and marked the end of four years of bitter World War I fighting between Germany and the Allies.

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American troops in Paris formed impromptu parades on the streets of Paris on Armistice Day in 1918. Here they are completely surrounded by French civilians who celebrated an end to WWI that claimed the lives of millions of soldiers and civilians. Photo: Library of Congress

November 11, 2018, is the 100th anniversary of the WWI armistice. The following 100-day World War I pictorial countdown will take us up to the 100th anniversary of the Great War’s armistice. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018-

The big picture- The panoramic and large frame photographs below capture the devastation visited on several French cities after the fighting in World War I. Some French and Belgian cities suffered such heavy damage from artillery shelling in the war that they were never rebuilt.

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Lens, France, the devastated coal mining region of northern France. The city and 220 coal pits were rendered useless by the fighting. Click here to see the full-scale version of this photo. Source: Library of Congress

Devastating fighting between Allied troops and Germany troops leveled the French town of Lens in WWI. On the outskirts of Lens, Canadian troops fought their “forgotten battle of WWI” in the Battle of Hill 70. Learn about it in the video below.

The Battle of Amiens (See photo below) was an Allied victory that helped bring an end to World War I. Following the Second Battle of the Marne, the Allies launched an attack in August 1918 with a force of 75,000 men, more than 500 tanks and nearly 2,000 planes.

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Amiens, France in 1919 months after the end of WWI. Photo by W. L. King, Millersberg, Ohio; by courtesy of Military Intelligence Div., General Staff, U.S. Army. Click here to see the full-scale version of this photo. Library of Congress

The Amiens offensive achieved huge gains on the first day, with Allied troops and tanks advancing eight miles and causing 27,000 casualties. Although the German resistance stiffened and the fighting was over after a few days, the battle convinced many in the German high command that victory in the war was unattainable.

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The town square of St. Mihiel, France after American and French troops launched a major offensive against German troops in September of 1918. The Battle of Saint-Mihiel was a major World War I battle fought from 12–15 September 1918, involving the American Expeditionary Force and 110,000 French troops under the command of General John J. Pershing of the United States against German positions. Click here to see the full-scale version of this photo. Library of Congress

The panoramic photo below is of a British artillery company before the company left for WWI combat in France. I converted it into a video so we can get a clearer look at the faces of the young men who went to war, many who never returned home. Music by Chris Zabriski. From the Smithsonian Archives of American Art. 


Wednesday, September 19, 2018-

No laughing matter- Political cartoons were used by both sides in World War I to shore up support for their cause while mocking their enemies. Artists such as Clifford Berryman, Rollin Kirby, and Oscar Cesare are well represented in the cartoon drawings. The newspaper clippings below cover Pro-Allies and Pro-Central Power positions and originate mainly from the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Germany.

Michel (Der Deutsche Michel) appears in many political cartoons as a pipe smoking character who dresses in German national colors when not wearing a nightgown. He originally represented a victim of German authoritarian repression, but Michel slowly evolved alongside nationalistic feelings to represent the aspirations of the German people. By World War One he had come to represent the typical German and was often substituted for soldiers on postcards. Michel can be characterized as a good natured simple man who is best not stirred, for those who wake this sleeping giant from his quiet lifestyle will feel his wrath. He usually arms himself with a flail, not the typical type used in warfare but the tradition tool used by peasants for threshing. He is a man of the land who can dispatch Germany’s enemies as efficiently as he mows grain. Courtesy: Alan Petrulis,
Anti-German cartoon from Australia by cartoonist Norman Lindsay, between 1914 and 1918
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French postcard from the First World War era showing a caricature of German emperor Wilhelm II attempting to devour the world. Public domain.

This cartoon shows the Roman god Mars with a knife through his heart, lying dead upon a spinning planet Earth after the end of WWI. Millions of soldiers and civilians on both sides of the war died. By American cartoonist E.N. Clark. Published in the Buffalo Courier-Express. Library of Congress.

The cartoon “Doings of the Duffs” (1914–1931) originally by American cartoonist Walter Allman. This cartoon puts a spotlight on anti-German sentiment in the U.S. during WWI. Published in the Tacoma Times (Washington)., December 08, 1917, Library of Congress
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The Masses was a graphically innovative magazine of socialist politics published in the United States from 1911 until 1917. Art Young and Robert Minor were two artists whose work appeared regularly in The Masses. In August 1917, the Post Office revoked The Masses’ mailing privileges. The Masses was brought to trial twice as the editors (including the cartoonists) were charged with “conspiring to obstruct conscription.” Although Young and Minor stayed out of prison, the lawsuits caused the magazine to suspend publication. Courtesy: Buzzfeed
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German cartoonist Karl Arnold began providing satyrical cartoons for Simplicissimus and Die Jugend magazines in 1907. His style took form during World War One when he worked for Liller Kriegszeitung, a German supported weekly newspaper in Lille, France for the German occupation troops on the Western Front. This paper published many of his cartoons as fieldpost cards. After the Second World War Karl Arnold emigrated to the United States where he lived until his death in 1953. Courtesy: Buzzfeed
During World War I, no cartoonist exercised more influence than Louis Raemaekers of Holland. Charged with “endangering Dutch neutrality,” his cartoons led the Germans to offer a 12,000 guilder reward for his capture, dead or alive. A German newspaper, summarizing the terms of peace Germany would exact after it won the war, declared that indemnity would be demanded for every one of Raemaekers’ cartoons. Example shown here: “The German Tango.” Courtesy: Buzzfeed
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A German soldier depicted as a raging ape with a bloody sword carrying a crying baby. Created by American cartoonist Terry Gilkison in 1915. Library of Congress
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A cartoon showing Uncle Sam in profile wearing a World War I style military helmet. By American cartoonist Oscar Edward Cesare. Library of Congress
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This World War I cartoon shows a gentleman (labeled “U.S. Senate”) gazing in some perplexity at an enormous scroll (labeled “Peace Treaty”) that has been left on his desk by President Woodrow Wilson. After six months of post-war negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference, President Wilson returned to Washington with the Treaty of Versailles for consideration and ratification by the United States Senate. The Treaty concluded the war with Germany and established a League of Nations. Because the president had not included any Senators in the American delegation, and the Republicans had regained control of the Senate in the 1918 elections, the prospects for ratification of the treaty were cloudy. In November 1919, one year after the end of the war, the Senate rejected the treaty. By American cartoonist C.K. Berryman. Library of Congress

Tuesday, September 18, 2018-

German women in the workforce during World War I- Below: Training women for streetcar service in Berlin, Germany during World War I. Photo: Bain News Service, Library of Congress

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In Germany, the expanded presence of women in the workforce during WWI was a significant result of the war. After the first military actions of the war proved indecisive in 1914, German society was mobilized for total war. The need for more soldiers meant the German government called upon women to enter the workforce. German machine shops recruited over 400,000 women, and ammunitions plants recruited 600,000 women. 

Training women for street railroad service in Berlin Bain (4) Even though the number of women who entered Germany’s workforce for the first time didn’t grow substantially during the war, what did change was where women worked. A large portion of the women who entered the armaments and industrial workforces switched from working in the textile and luxury goods industries.

As WWI dragged on, the production of textiles and luxury goods in Germany were reduced or banned in favor of the increased production of war goods. As much as 40 percent of German women who worked in the textile industry in 1914 were relocated to work skilled factory jobs in war-related industries. 

(Sources: International Encyclopedia of the First World War, Centenary News, “First World War 1914-18) 

Monday, September 17, 2018-

The Battle of Saint-Mihiel, France between September 12 and 16 in 1918 was the first U.S.-led offensive in World War I.

It was also America’s opportunity to prove to our French and British allies that U.S. troops were trained and prepared to play a major role in the war against Germany.

Watch the video below to learn more about the Battle of St. Mihiel. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018-

Did you know that World War I ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918? General John J. Pershing led the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I. His nick name was “Black Jack,” and he was honored as the highest-ranking general in the history of the U.S. Army.  Click on the video below to learn 11 things you probably do not know about “Black Jack” Pershing.

Saturday, September 15, 2018-

War Gardens-   During World War I, Americans were urged to conserve food so more of it could be sent to American and Allied troops fighting the German Army in Europe. Thus, if you’ll pardon the pun, “War Gardens,” and later “Victory Gardens, took root in America.

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Young girls tend a war garden during WWI. The U.S. School Garden campaign was designed to teach children thrift, industry, service, patriotism, and responsibility. Photo: Harris and Ewing

Charles Lathrop Pack organized the National War Garden Commission a month before America entered the war in April 1917. Pack said the war gardens’ purpose was to “increase the food supply without increasing the “use of land already cultivated, of labor already engaged in agricultural work, of time devoted to other necessary occupations, and of transportation facilities which were already inadequate to the demands made upon them.”

Commission members included representatives from several major U.S. universities and the president of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. The commission publicized the gardens with pamphlets, printed material for newspaper distribution, and colorful, propagandist posters.

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As it urged Americans to grow war gardens, The NWGC claimed: 1. Most of the soldiers fighting in WWI had been farmers before they were inducted into the armed forces. 2. Croplands in Europe had been deserted (farmers to soldiers) or devastated by warfare. 3. Submarines had interfered with international shipping. 4. To make matters worse, 1916 was a year of worldwide crop failures. 

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In the American Southwest, Native Americans display the vegetable crop they harvested from their war garden during WWI. Photo: Harris and Ewing. Photo: Harris and Ewing

The commission (with few hard statistics) estimated the food value of America’s war gardens was $350,000,000 in 1917 and $525,000,000 in 1918. The commission estimated that 3 million new garden plots were planted in 1917 and more than 5.2 million were cultivated in 1918. They generated an estimated 1.45 million quarts of canned fruits and vegetables. Home gardeners had put up 500,000,000 quarts of canned vegetables and fruits in 1917, and 1,450,000,000 quarts in 1918. The Commission offered special thanks to women who joined men in “the production of that other sort of munition – the kind that grows in gardens.” 

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The posters were designed to catch attention with bright images and catch phrases. “Sow the Seeds of Victory” was drawn by James Montgomery Flagg.

Following the WWI armistice in November 1918, the “War Garden” became the “Victory Garden.” The wording on the government’s literature and posters changed, but Americans continued to be encouraged by the government to garden and conserve food so that the United States could ship food to the needy citizens of war-torn Europe.

Sources: State Historical Society of North Dakota, Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, Harris and Ewing, The History Channel. 

Friday, September 14, 2018-

War Bread-   As part of a national conservation drive to save food for the war effort in World War I Americans were asked to use non-wheat bread alternatives called “war bread.” This truck was parked on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Photo: Underwood and Underwood

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The photo above shows women cooks of the New York City Food Aid Committee demonstrating how to bake bread, pastries, and other baked goods using wheat substitutes, such as corn and rye. Judging by the looks on the faces of the crowd, some may have been skeptical about the replacements for wheat flour. 

A poster produced by the U.S. Food Administration during World War I encouraged Americans to cut their consumption of white bread so U.S. troops fighting in Europe could have adequate supplies of the bread. 
Photo: Harvey Dunn/U.S. Food Administration/Library of Congress

WarBread3After the United States joined the Allies in World War I in April 1917, tightened food regulations altered the pantries, recipes, and diets of Americans on the home front.

To help manage wartime supply, conversation, distribution, and transportation of food, the government created the U.S. Food Administration, helmed by future president Herbert Hoover.

Part of the department’s role was to invent dishes—and reinvent favorite ones—to help Americans integrate alternative ingredients into their meals.

In Oregon, for instance, the loaf locally called “war bread” contained 40 percent wheat substitutes, such as corn, barley, or rice flour; another type, known as “victory bread,” contained 25 percent substitutes.

Those who munched on war bread, readers of the Oregon Evening Herald were told, were “15 per cent more patriotic than the one who eats victory bread.”

One 1918 pamphlet described these alternative breads as “foods that will win the war.” One wheatless meal per family per day, the pamphlet estimated, “would mean a saving of 90,000,000 bushels of wheat, which totals 5,400,000,000 lbs.”

American home bakers were also encouraged by the U.S government to whip up wheat-free pastries and desserts such as Alcazar Cakes made with potato flour, or a wheat-free Lintz Tart—a pastry made without wheat flour with ample dashes of cinnamon and lemon. I have added two of the U.S. Food Administration’s WWI recipes for the pastries below for culinary adventurers.  

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Photos and recipes: National Archives and Records Administration


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Sources: National Public Radio, Library of Congress, Underwood and Underwood, Evening Herald, Klamath Falls, Oregon, U.S. Foods Administration, Lauren Young, Gastro Obscura

Thursday, September 13, 2018-

Burying horses after a battle- Conditions were severe for horses at the front during World War I; they were killed by artillery fire, suffered from skin disorders, and were injured by poison gas. Hundreds of thousands of horses died, and many more were treated at veterinary hospitals and sent back to the front.  Photo: Bain News Service 

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The continued resupply of horses was a major issue of the war. One estimate puts the number of horses that served in World War I at around six million, with a large percentage of them dying due to war-related causes. Watch the charge scene from the movie “War Horse” below. 

Battle losses of horses were approximately 25 percent of all war-related equine deaths between 1914 and 1916. Disease and exhaustion accounted for the remainder and the Germans specifically targeted horses with gunfire.
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Photograph shows a horse-driven ambulance carrying wounded soldiers in the Forest of Laigne, France during World War I. Photo: Bain News Service

Equine casualties were especially high during battles of attrition, such as the 1916 Battle of Verdun between French and German forces. In one day in March, 7,000 horses were killed by long-range shelling on both sides, including 97 killed by a single shot from a French naval gun.

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Dead soldiers and horses in a field after the Battle of Haelen which was fought by the German and Belgian armies on August 12, 1914 near Haelen, Belgium during World War I. Photo: Bain News Service

Horses were used extensively for military trains. They were used to pull ambulances, carry supplies and ordnance. At the beginning of the war, the German army depended upon horses to pull its field kitchens, as well as the ammunition wagons for artillery brigades.

The British Royal Corps of Signals used horses to pull cable wagons, and the promptness of messengers and dispatch riders depended on their mounts. Horses often drew artillery and steady animals were crucial to artillery effectiveness.

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Photograph shows horses requisitioned for the war effort during World War I, Paris, France. Photo: Bain News Service

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A memorial to all the horses and mules who died in WWI was dedicated in Romsey, Great Britain in 2015. Photo: Paul Jacobs

Animals bolstered morale at the front, due to the soldiers’ affection for them. Some recruitment posters from World War I showcased the partnership between horse and man in attempts to gain more recruits. The horse is the animal most associated with the war, and memorials have been erected to its service, including that War Memorial Park in Romsey, Great Britain, at St. Jude on the Hill, Hampstead, Great Britain which bears the inscription “Most obediently and often most painfully they died – faithful unto death.”

Sources: “1900: The Horse in Transition: The Horse in World War I 1914–1918”. International Museum of the Horse, “The horses that won us the war: How a harrowing reality inspired Michael Morpugo’s classic novel”. Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, Singleton, John (May 1993). “Britain’s military use of horses 1914–1918”. Past & Present: 178–204, Schafer, “Animals, Use of” in The European Powers in the First World War, pp. 52–53

Wednesday, September 12, 2018-

A quiet moment in the German trenches- The Imperial German Army (German: Deutsches Heer) was the name given to the combined land and air forces of the German Empire in World War I. The German Army in 1914 included roughly 25 corps with 700,000 men. Within a week of mobilization some 3.8 million German men were under arms. By August 1916, about 2.85 soldiers were serving on the Western Front with another 1.7 million on the Eastern Front. When the First World War came to an end in November 1918, the German Army had suffered an estimated 5 million casualties, including 1.75-million dead. After the war the Treaty of Versailles restricted the German Army to no more than 100,000 men in size.  Photo: Bain News Service, 1917


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German Army soldiers in barracks in World War I. Photo: Bain News Service
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Training German boys for the Army during World War I. Photo: Bain News Service.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018-

All that remains- A shattered church in the ruins of Neuvilly, France becomes a temporary shelter for American wounded during the World War I Battle of the Meuse-Argonne in September 1918. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration. 

A shattered church in the ruins of Neuvilly becomes a temporary shelter for American wounded September 1918 NARA (2)

An estimated 1,200 churches in France alone were destroyed in the fighting during WWI. One was the Cambrai Cathedral (see below), a Roman Catholic church located in Cambrai, France. The cathedral is a national monument, and the seat of the Archbishop of Cambrai. It was heavily damaged by German shelling in late 1918. 

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Before and after photographs of Cambrai Cathedral show the damage German artillery caused to the church in World War I.

Cambrai was delivered from German occupation by the Allies after several days of fierce fighting in October 1918. Afterwards, a priest held a thanksgiving service in the Cambrai Cathedral for the deliverance of the town by Allied troops. Also prayers were offered for those who fell during the taking of the town. Civilians who remained in the town cellars, and who came out when the Canadians entered their city, are seen in the front row of the cathedral.  

Troops at prayer in Cambrai Cathedral, France, during World War I. Allied troops kneeling at prayer inside the ruins of Cambrai Cathedral after the city was freed from German occupation by Allied soldiers in October of 1918 during WWI. Photo: Library of Scotland

Monday, September 10, 2018-

Sergeant Stubby, America’s original war dog – In 1921, General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I,  presided over a ceremony that honored a soldier’s heroism and bravery under fire during the war. Pershing presented the soldier with a gold medal. And so, Sergeant Stubby, a short brindle bull terrier mutt, became the first dog decorated a hero of World War I.

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General John J. Pershing presenting Sgt. Stubby with a ceremonial medal in honor of his combat service with U.S. troops in WWI. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

The award, from the Humane Society of America,  wasn’t a formal U.S. military commendation, but symbolically recognized Stubby’s unique combat service to America in the war.  

According to the National Museum of American History, while training for combat at Yale University in 1917, Private J. Robert Conroy adopted the stray brindle puppy and named him “Stubby” after his short tail;.

The dog became the mascot of the 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division. He learned the bugle calls, the drills, and even a modified dog salute as he put his right paw on his right eyebrow when a salute was executed by his fellow soldiers. Stubby had a positive effect on troop morale, and was allowed to remain in the camp, despite regulations against it for animals. 

Sgt Stubby 2 (2)When the Yankee Division, 102nd Infantry reached the Western Front in France in February of 1918, Stubby soon became accustomed to the loud rifles and heavy artillery fire. His first battle injury came from gas exposure which sent him to a nearby field hospital where he was nursed back to health. The injury left Stubby sensitive to the tiniest trace of gas.

When the Division was attacked in an early morning gas launch, most of the troops were asleep. Stubby recognized the gas and ran through the trench barking and biting at the soldiers, rousing them to sound the gas alarm, saving many from injury.

Sergeant Stubby and his owner J. Robert Conroy. Photo: Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Stubby also had a talent for locating wounded men between the trenches of the opposing armies; he would listen for the sound of English and then go to the location, barking until paramedics arrived or leading the lost soldiers back to the safety of the trenches.

He even caught a German soldier mapping out the layout of the Allied trenches. The soldier called to Stubby, but he put his ears back and began to bark. As the German ran, Stubby bit him on the legs, causing the soldier to trip and fall. He continued to attack the man until the United States soldiers arrived.

For capturing an enemy spy, Stubby was put in for a promotion to the rank of Sergeant by the commander of the 102nd Infantry. He became the first dog to be given rank in the United States Armed Forces.

After Sgt. Stubby died in 1926, his hide was preserved via taxidermy. He’s currently on display in the “Price of Freedom: Americans at War” exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Later, Stubby was injured during a grenade attack, leaving him with shrapnel in his chest and leg. He was rushed to a field hospital and later transferred to a Red Cross Recovery Hospital for additional surgery.

When Stubby became well enough to move around at the hospital, he visited wounded soldiers, boosting their morale.

By the end of the war, Stubby had served in 17 battles. He led the American troops in a pass and review parade and later visited with President Woodrow Wilson. He visited the White House twice and met Presidents Harding and Coolidge.

The sculpture, “Stubby Salutes,” by artist Susan Bahary.

Stubby was awarded several medals for his heroism, including a medal from the French government and one from the Humane Society of America which was presented by General John Pershing, the Commanding General of the United States Armies. 

Sgt. Stubby died in 1926 but lives on in two exhibits. His preserved hide and medal jacket are on display in the “Price of Freedom: Americans at War” exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. 

A new sculpture, “Stubby Salutes,” was unveiled this past May in Veterans Memorial Park in Middletown, Connecticut in honor of all service animals. Sgt. Stubby may have been one of America’s first service dogs as well as an American combat veteran.  

Sunday, September 9, 2018-

The “Iron harvest”- Between 1914 and 1918 the opposing armies in World War I fired an estimated 1.45 billion shells at each other. It has been estimated that about 66 million contained mustard gas or other toxic chemicals such as phosgene or white phosphorus. Today, 100 years after the war, unexploded shells are still regularly recovered along the Western Front in Belgium and France as local farmers plow their fields and dig up what’s called the “iron harvest” of WWI ordinance.  

Night attack with phosphorous bombs, Gondrecourt, Aug. 15, 1918a
Night attack with phosphorous bombs, Gondrecourt, France. August 15, 1918. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

The World War I casualty rates are still rising today. Every year or two farmers in France and Belgium detonate unexploded WWI shell while plowing their fields. According to Great Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, more people would be killed or wounded were it not for the fact that farmers tend to plow their fields in the same direction which gives buried shells glancing blows that gradually nudge them into line so their noses are less likely to be hit. 

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The French demining team brings in between 50,000 and 75,000 tons of shells per year. Above is one month’s stockpile collected near the site of the WWI Somme battlefield in northern France. Photo: Eleanor Beardsley for NPR

There are still other parts of France that are completely uninhabitable because of the contamination left by WWI. These areas of France, about 460 square miles, are known as the ‘Zone Rouge’, or Red Zone. Under French law it is illegal to live, farm, or grow trees in the Red Zones because it is simply unsafe.

The red areas represent the “Red Zone” no-go areas in France where some of the most devastating fighting happened in World War I. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

According to the Telegraph, in the area around Ypres, Belgium, 358 people have been killed and 535 injured by WWI munitions since the guns fell silent in 1918. Not all the victims are farmers either. In March 2013, seven laborers, policemen and firemen were taken to hospital when a German gas shell exploded during cable-laying work in a village south of Ypres. In October 2007, a man from Loker, Belgium was killed when a shell exploded while he was having a bonfire in his garden. 

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Unexploded grenades and shells from WWI found on the former battlefield of the Somme in northern France. Photo: Eleanor Beardsley for NPR

In 2012 alone, the Belgian military collected 105 tons of munitions, many containing toxic chemicals, and the French police, who run a similar collection service out of a base near Arras, 80 tons. Sometimes, when a long-lost arms cache or depot is discovered, the total is higher still. In 2004, for example, 3,000 German artillery shells were found at a single site in Dadizele, east of Ypres.

More stories on the Iron Harvest from World War I:

Saturday, September 8, 2018-

When not in battle- The ability for both sides to place so many men in the field for so long is a testament to the power and control the military could exert in World War I but also the strength of belief of those involved in the fighting.

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Billet of Company B, Three Hundred and Sixteenth Military Police, Ninety-first Division. Left to right: Corpl. Jack Vosburgh, Pvts. Napoleon J. Bardwanes, A. Schled, V.R. Hickeschler, P.J. Range, Preston Clapper, H.E. Hughett, and cook Frank Speck, at various diversions. Montigny de Roi, Haute Marne, France. Photo: Library of Congress

British Library Curator Matthew Shaw wrote: “It is impossible to understand how men volunteered, accepted conscription and continued to fight without taking into account their beliefs about the war. ” Those immediately thrown into heavy action tended to cope less well than novices who were gradually exposed to conflict.

As soldiers spent more time under fire, they tended became hardened to the rigors of the Front. Veteran soldiers learned to pay attention to their environment, taking advantage of cover and working better under fire. In general, older hands did better with managing the intense feeling of terror that inflicted itself on those under fire.

US Troops in France WWI From National Archives and Records Administration
U.S. troops in France. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

Soldiers also had to cope with long stretches of anxious waiting, or even boredom, as well as responding to or participating in attacks. To counteract this, busy routines were put in place, ensuring that trenches were repaired, men supplied, and all was ready for the long, wakeful nights (daytime was usually too dangerous for major activity). Soldiers broke the restless monotony by writing letters to and reading letters from loved ones, singing, reading up on the latest newspaper reports from back home in America, thinking about post-battle dance routines in their minds.   

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Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

Soldiers could also comfort themselves with the knowledge of the inefficiency of most First World War weaponry. As Dr. Shaw noted: “Men often resorted to black or gallows humor, as well as a bitter fatalism and superstition, as a means of dealing with everyday reality; doses of rum may also have played their part in steadying nerves.”

Erich Maria Remarque, author of “All Quiet on the Western Front” put it another way: “It’s all rot that they put in the war-news about the good humor of the troops, how they are arranging dances almost before they are out of the front-line. We don’t act like that because we are in a good humor: we are in a good humor because otherwise, we should go to pieces.” 

 Friday, September 7, 2018-

Canada’s efforts in the Great War- Preparing to go “over the top,” Canadian soldiers fix bayonets to their rifles as they ready themselves to leave their trench and attack across a battlefield in France during World War I. Photo: Library and Archives of Canada

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When Britain was at war, Canada, as a member of the British Commonwealth, was also at war automatically.

 According to the Canadian War Museum, as members of the British Commonwealth, Some 619,636 Canadians enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force during WWI. Approximately 424,000 served overseas. Of these men and women, 59,544 members of the CEF died during the war, 51,748 of them as a result of enemy action.

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A recruitment poster from the British Commonwealth during World War I. Photo: Canadian War Museum

The war united most Canadians in a common cause, as was also the case in America. The extremity of Canada’s national effort though nearly tore the country apart.

Few in Canada expected the long four-year struggle (It was 19 months for the U.S.) or heavy death toll. A war fought supposedly for liberal freedoms against Prussian militarism exposed uneasy contradictions, including compulsory military service, broken promises to farmers and organized labor, high inflation, deep social and linguistic divisions, and the suspension of many civil liberties.

Some women received the right to vote, but other Canadians – recent immigrants associated with enemy countries – saw their voting rights rescinded.

Canadian 1st Battalion at Valcartier Canadian War Museum (2)
Panoramic view of the 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion at Valcartier, Qc. Most of the soldiers in this photograph would likely have been killed or wounded by the end of the war due to the terrible casualty rates suffered by front-line infantry battalions. Photo: Canadian War Museum

Patriotic romanticism reinforced by official propaganda forged a reputation that the Canadians were an army of fearsome lumberjacks, voyageurs, or cowboys, but most had been pre-war laborers, white-collar workers, or farmers.

Canadian soldiers in a trench in France in 1916 during WWI. Photo: Agence Rol – Bibliothèque nationale de France

According to the Canadian War Museum, the Canadians took great pride in differentiating themselves from British troops, even – or perhaps especially – by their well-documented tendency toward indiscipline.

Soldiers of the First Contingent especially were noted for pushing the boundaries of proper military behavior, calling officers by their first names or refusing to salute. By 1917, senior commanders, including Sir Douglas Haig, recognized the Canadians as an effective military force, but their carefully self-cultivated reputation for restlessness, brawling, and indifference to military etiquette continued throughout the war.

A Canadian gunner chalking messages on to 15-inch howitzer shells in September 1916. Photographer: Lieutenant William I Castle, Canadian official photographer, Imperial War Museum,

The Canadians resented being mistaken for other imperials. They responded to “Canada,” “Canuck,” or just “Tommy” when addressed as such by Allied troops or civilians, and took overseas many of the songs, idioms, and attitudes that had marked their lives in Canada.

While the Canadians wore similar uniforms and carried similar weapons as British troops, they sported unique unit cap badges and shoulder bars that read “CANADA.”

Thursday, September 6, 2018-

Medicine in the War- Doctors and nurses were recruited from civilian hospitals to serve in the United States Army medical corps, while others volunteered with the American Red Cross. Hospitals were established at home and abroad to care for the sick and wounded, and new medical technologies, such as mobile X-Ray machines and motorized ambulances, were used for the first time. Photos: National Archives and Records Administration.  

Although X-rays, or Röntgen rays, had only been discovered in 1895, by the First World War radiographic technology was already widely used in medicine. Five mobile X-ray units were available at the Front, in addition to many of the casualty clearing stations and base hospitals.
A mobile French radiology automobile in the field during World War I. Photo: Bain News Service


The U.S. Army Ambulance Section in WWI consisted of a headquarters, one horse-drawn and three motor ambulance companies. Their purpose was to transport men from the Battalion Aid Stations to the Field Hospital Section.

French Operating Ambulance (2)

ambulance-58-largeIf the travel time from collection points to the hospital was too long, leaving a man unattended, the Ambulance Sections set up intermediate points that allowed for a continuance of emergency medical care called Dressing Stations. The section’s four companies possessed 12 horse-drawn and 36 motor ambulances.

By 1918 operational experience proved the motor ambulance to be reliable and effective for evacuating patients from near the front provided roads were not too damaged.

RedCrossFortWWI (2)
Photograph shows a Red Cross vehicle used for gathering wounded soldiers from trenches during fighting in World War I. Photo: Bain News Service, Library of Congress

Sources: National Archives and Records Administration, Jaffin, Colonel Jonathan H. Medical support for the American Expeditionary Forces in France during the First World War (Fort Leavenworth 1990), Volume VIII, Field Operations, The Medical Department of the United States Army in the World War (Washington, 1925), Volume XI, Section I, General Surgery, The Medical Department of the United States Army in the World War (Washington, 1925), Bain News Service, Library of Congress

Wednesday, September 5, 2018-

World War I sparks new technology and innovation: The Allies introduced the U.S. military to technological advancements in weapons, medical treatment, communication, and transportation. On the battlefield, American forces fought using airplanes, long-range artillery, gas, motorized ambulances, mobile X-ray equipment, wireless radio, and other modern tools of war.   Photos: National Archives and Records Administration.  

Camera WWI NARAed
Aeroplane Graflex camera in action. Circa 1917-18
28-0820aField Radio
A field telephone used by American Lieutenant Colonel R. D. Garrett during World War I.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018-

American factories rev up for World War I – Omaha, Nebraska American Red Cross workers demonstrate a new gauze rolling machine in 1917. American factories were already producing and selling war materials to support France and Britain before it entered WWI. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration.  Red Cross Gauze Roller Omaha 1917-18

When the U.S. joined the war against Germany in 1917 the American industrial revolution boomed even more.  Between 1914 and 1918, U.S. exports to Europe rose from $1.479 billion dollars to $4.062 billion dollars.

Women assemble Colt firearms in Connecticut during WWI. Photo from Central Connecticut State University

The private sector saw a significant increase in demand for supplies for the American army during the war. Contracts from the Army and Navy, for things like food, clothing, guns, and ammunition, increased rapidly. As a direct result, federal spending in the US also saw a swift increase, from $477 million in 1916 to its peak in 1918 of $8.450 billion.

Women building plane
Women working in American factories surged during WWI as millions of American men enlisted in the military and fought in Europe during the war. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

For people working in the industrial side of the economy, their wages went up around six or seven percent during the war. The increase in wages and the fact that it was now much easier to find work led to an impressive increase in the labor force of America. Overall, U.S. unemployment declined from 7.9 percent to 1.4 percent in this period, in part because workers were drawn into new manufacturing jobs and because the military draft removed from many young men from the civilian labor force. Total labor forces rose from about 40 million in 1916 to 44 million in 1918 and many of the new factory workers were women.  

Author David Drury wrote: “While demand for guns had been incredibly high during the war, it soon fell off in 1919.  The overall workforce was cut back for the company and women were especially affected.  It would not be long before women were again encouraged to work in factories.  When wartime factory production rocketed again in World War II, propaganda like Rosie the Riveter was used to spur women into working in factories.  This is yet another example of how the First World War forever changed the way industry functioned in the United States.”

Rosie the Riveter was used to spur women into working in factories in WWII.

Before the war, the U.S. was known for being a debtor country. After the war, America became a net creditor, making around $6.4 billion dollars.

WWI came with many losses in life, but the American economy saw significant improvements for many years to come. Industry and production for wartime efforts contributed greatly to the new and improved American economy during WWI.

(Sources:, Central Connecticut State University, David Drury, “Hartford in World War I”) 

Monday, September 3, 2018-

And No Bird Sang -Part 2 – Yesterday, I wrote about the incomprehensible destruction of World War I.

After returning home to find her home in ruins, a distraught French woman reflects in this photograph from World War I. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration.

After the war’s end in 1918, an extraordinary film was commissioned by the French government to capture the scale of the Great War’s devastation and the shocking extent of the fighting across the Western Front in northern France and Belgium.

LucienLeSaintPortrait (2)
Lucien Le Saint, 1917, © Musée Albert-Kahn – Département des Hauts-de-Seine

The 78-minute film was called “En dirigeable sur les champs de bataille” (“In airship on the battlefield”). It was shot by film-maker Lucien Le Saint in what was said to be a French government effort to obtain reparations from the Germans for the devastation left behind by the war.

The film was shot at the beginning of 1919 with French balloon pilot Jacques Trolley de Prévaux as he flew a few hundred feet above the battleground.

Jacques Trolley de Prévaux Photo: French government

Thanks to the French government, I was able to get portions of the film and have paired them in the video below with a portion of the song ‘The Awakening’ by composer Joseph M Martin.

To me, the song’s lyrics  capture the physical and spiritual desolation left behind in the war’s ruins.

 “I dreamed a dream, a silent dream of a land not far away.

Where no bird sang, no steeples rang, and teardrops fell like rain.

I dreamed a dream; a silent dream. I dreamed a dream of a land so filled with pride that every song, both weak and strong, withered and died.

I dreamed a dream.

No hallelujah; not one hosanna! No song of love, no lullaby.

And no choir sang to change the world. No pipers played, no dancers twirled.

I dreamed a dream; a silent dream.”

A naval gunnery officer before the war started in 1914, Jacques Trolley de Prévaux had been retrained to fly the dirigibles that had been developed to spot for artillery, detect mines at sea and fight against submarines. For his actions he was awarded the Légion d’honneur and the Croix de guerre.

He joined the French Resistance at the beginning of 1942 and turned down an opportunity to go to London, but decided to stay in France. According to the French government’s Chemins de Mémoire, Trolley de Prévaux felt he would be of more use at home than in London. Secondly, his wife, a Jew of Polish origin and a resistance fighter along with him, was pregnant.

Jacques and Lotka Trolley de Prévaux in 1936. Photo: Paris Match

In the spring of 1943, he received the Distinguished Service Order from the British and appointed to become one of the main leaders of the French Resistance. He was arrested by the Gestapo in Marseille in March 1944. Jailed at Montluc Prison, he was executed in August 1944. His wife, Lotka, met with the same fate. Promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral, Trolley de Prévaux was posthumously made a Compagnon de la Libération, or Hero of the Liberation of France.

Sunday, September 2, 2018-

And no bird sang- Part 1- Forests and meadows turned to barren wasteland after 48 months of fighting ended World War in 1918. Where songbirds once sang, the sounds of artillery fire and whizzing machine gun bullets demolished nature, cities, soldiers, and citizens.    

One of the deadliest conflicts in world history left 7 million civilians and 10 million military personnel dead. Along the Western Front in Europe thousands of miles, primarily in Belgium and France, were reduced to rubble and ruin by the fighting.

As I conducted research for my documentary on U.S. General John J. Pershing, I was haunted by the thousands of photographs and films from the war that documented the massive destruction. 
Battlefield view dev good
British Troops in battle dev (3)

Saturday, September 1, 2018-

World War I ushered in new combat technology in the form of machine guns, submarines, and high powered artillery. It also gave birth to aerial combat.
At the beginning of the Great War, airplanes on both sides were used to provide reconnaissance for the troops fighting on the ground.
Soon, German and Allied airplanes were fighting in the air across the Western Front. As they did, new innovations in aircraft design, weaponry, including synchronized machine guns that allowed pilots to fire through their aircraft’s propeller without hitting the blades, and pilot tactical training created a new class of death-defying celebrities: They were called flying aces. Many became popular heroes.\ 
Airplanes Pilots
Some of World War I’s most popular flying aces as described by Wikipedia.
Red_BaronManfred von Richthofen, also known as the “Red Baron”, was a fighter pilot with the German Air Force. He is considered the ace-of-aces of the war, being officially credited with 80 air combat victories.Originally a cavalryman, Richthofen transferred to the Air Service in 1915, becoming one of the first members of fighter squadron Jagdstaffel 2 in 1916. He quickly distinguished himself as a fighter pilot, and during 1917 became leader of Jasta 11 and then the larger fighter wing unit Jagdgeschwader 1, better known as “The Flying Circus” or “Richthofen’s Circus” because of the bright colours of its aircraft, and perhaps also because of the way the unit was transferred from one area of allied air activity to another – moving like a traveling circus, and frequently setting up in tents on improvised airfields. By 1918, Richthofen was regarded as a national hero in Germany, and respected by his enemies.Richthofen was shot down and killed near Vaux-sur-Somme, France in April 1918. There has been considerable discussion and debate regarding the circumstances of his death. He remains one of the most widely known fighter pilots of all time and has been the subject of many books, films, and other media.
Billy Bishop
William Avery Bishop, Canadian flying ace

William Avery Bishop, AKA Billy Bishop, was a Canadian flying ace who was officially credited with 72 victories, making him the top Canadian and British Empire ace of the war.
When WWI broke out in 1914, Bishop was commissioned as an officer but became ill with pneumonia when the regiment was sent overseas.

After recovering, he was transferred to mounted infantry unit where Bishop showed a natural ability with a gun and excelled on the firing range. His seemingly “super-human” eyesight allowed him to put bullets in a target placed so far away others saw only a dot.

In 1915 he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, joining the 60th Squadron in France in 1917. He soon became highly skilled in aerial combat and shot down a total of 72 enemy aircraft, including 25 in one 10-day period. 

Promoted to lieutenant colonel, Bishop was appointed to the staff of the British Air Ministry in August 1918, and in this capacity, he helped to form the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) as a separate service. After the war, he joined one of the first commercial aviation companies in Canada, and he eventually became a businessman. In 1936 he was appointed honorary air vice-marshal of the RCAF, and he became honorary air marshal during World War II.

French Colonel René Paul Fonck

Colonel René Paul Fonck was a French aviator who ended the First World War as the top Allied fighter ace.

When all succeeding aerial conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries are also considered, Fonck still holds the title of “all-time Allied Ace of Aces.” He received confirmation for 75 victories (72 solo and three shared).Taking into account his probable claims, Fonck’s final tally could conceivably be nearer 100.

Fonck was never wounded and, according to, claimed that only one enemy bullet ever hit his airplane.

He was methodical, detailed, a skilled marksman, and a braggart. He took pride in using the least amount of ammunition necessary to bring down an enemy. He was a fine flier, but his self-promotion won him few close friends.

He didn’t drink or carouse with the other pilots, preferring to plan missions, perform calisthenics, and press his uniforms. In a remark that displayed both his skill and his boastfulness, he once said, “I put my bullets into the target as if by hand.”

He was made an Officer of the Legion of Honor in 1918 and later a Commander of the Legion of Honor after the war, and raised again to the “dignity” of Grand Officer.

Rickenbacker with plane
American flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker. Photo: Library of Congress

Edward (Eddie) Vernon Rickenbacker was an American fighter ace in World War I and Medal of Honor recipient.

With 26 aerial victories, he was America’s most successful fighter ace in the war. In 1917, Rickenbacker enlisted in the United States Army and trained in France with some of the first American troops.

Most men chosen for pilot training had college degrees and Rickenbacker had to struggle to gain permission to fly because of his perceived lack of academic qualifications. Rickenbacker was originally assigned as an engineering officer at the U.S. Air Service’s pursuit training facility where he practiced flying during his free time.

Rickenbacker 22
Eddie Rickenbacker Photo: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force

He learned to fly well and was placed in one America’s air combat units, the 94th Aero Squadron, informally known as the “Hat-in-the-Ring” Squadron after its insignia.

On April 29, 1918, Rickenbacker shot down his first plane followed by 25 more enemy “shoot downs” before the war ended on November 11, 1918. Rickenbacker’s 26 victories remained the American record until World War II.

He flew a total of 300 combat hours, reportedly more than any other U.S. pilot in the war.

After WWI, Rickenbacker was also a race car driver and automotive designer, a government consultant in military matters and a pioneer in air transportation, particularly as the longtime head of Eastern Air Lines.

Friday, August 31, 2018-

WWI’s silent killer: Most Americans are surprised to learn that more U.S. soldiers died from the flu during the Great War than from enemy fire in combat. 

Spanish_flu_hospitalIn late 1918,  when thousands of American soldiers arrived in France, they carried a highly contagious strain of flu with them to the unsanitary trenches of the Western Front. The flu infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide—about one-third of the planet’s population—and killed some 675,000 Americans.

Naval Hospital
Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

In such close quarters, the flu spread wildly. For some, pneumonia followed flu. Many died. American Commander John J. Pershing himself caught the flu and had to take to his bed for several days. Pershing mentioned his brush with flu (he called it the grippe) in his war diary.

Pershing Diary Mentions His Flu

The virus affected both sides of the war. Soldiers in the field didn’t know how to recognize or treat it. 

Click here to see a short video about the effect the flu had in WWI from the documentary “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War.” 

The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed more people than the Great War itself with estimates of the dead ranging from 20 to 50 million people. It has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history.

According to the History Channel, at the time, there were no effective drugs or vaccines to treat this killer flu strain. Citizens were ordered to wear masks, schools, theaters and businesses were shuttered and bodies piled up in makeshift morgues before the virus ended its deadly global march.

Thursday, August 30, 2018-

World War I was the first war where mass media and propaganda played a significant role in keeping the people at home informed about what was happening on the battlefields. It was also the first war where governments systematically produced propaganda as a way to target the public and shape opinion.

External propaganda to other countries was also an integral part of the war. Words and images were the messaging weapons used by virtually every country that fought in WWI. 

Call for Country

According to scholar David Welch, patriotism and nationalism were two of the most important themes played on by the propaganda during WWI. From: Library of Congress

Perhaps nowhere was that more obvious than in WWI posters designed and widely distributed by the governments of the United States, France, Great Britain, and Germany. Their purpose was to build support for the cause or to undermine support for the enemy.

French war poster 4
This French WWI poster encourages French citizens to “Fight or Buy Bonds” in support of the war effort against Germany. From the Library of Congress.
German recruiting poster
A German recruiting poster for WWI. From: Library of Congress
British war poster
British war poster. From: Library of Congress
Irish war poster
Irish war poster. From: Library of Congress.

Atrocity propaganda was another form of advertising used during WW!. It focused on and embellished violent acts committed by the German and Austro-Hungarian armies. The Germans and Austro-Hungarian soldiers were depicted as inhumane savages with their barbarity emphasized as a way to provide justification for the war.

A good months business

Only the Navy can stop this

Your liberty bond will stop this

In America, the Committee on Public Information was headed by former investigative journalist George Creel. He emphasized the message that America’s involvement in WWI was necessary in achieving the salvation of Europe from the German and enemy forces. In Creel’s book “How We Advertised America,” Creel said the committee was formed to make the Great War a fight that would be a “verdict for mankind.” Creel also referred to the committee as a “vast enterprise in salesmenship” and “the world’s greatest adventure in advertising.” 

Learn more about Creel in the American Experience video below.  

Creel and the Committee on Public Information used every available form of messaging to get the U.S. government’s message across- printed word, spoken word, motion pictures, and posters. All were designed to justify America’s reasoning to go to war.
The CPI’s colorful posters appeared in every store window. With their messages for enlistment and draft registration, buying Liberty Bonds, rationing food, supporting the Red Cross, etc., they caught the attention of millions of Americans.


African American recruiting poster



According to author Jia-Rui Cook, To merge the popular poster art forms of advertising with key messages about the war, the CPI formed a Division of Pictorial Publicity in 1917. George Creel, asked Charles Dana Gibson, one of America’s most famous illustrators, to be his partner in the effort. Gibson, who was president of the Society of Illustrators, reached out to the country’s best illustrators and encouraged them to volunteer their enduring creativity to the war effort.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018-

Historian Frank Vandiver. Photo: Rice University

Historian Frank Vandiver was one of the most widely read biographers of WWI General John J. Pershing. Pershing commanded the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe during the war.

In a 1963 speech to the U.S. Air Force Academy, Vandiver described Pershing’s historic accomplishments as a military leader and the formative importance of Pershing’s experiences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the 1890’s. Some of those experiences would serve Pershing three decades later in WWI. Hee’s what Vandiver said:  

“Pershing’s years in Lincoln may have been among the most influential in his life. In retrospect, Lincoln seems an unlikely place to mold a Great Captain. Prairie-locked, stuck off at the tail end of nowhere, the town and the university stood as lonely outposts of culture on the fringes of civilization. But what outposts! Chancellor James Canfield, who presided over the university, proved an “unusually able, farseeing, vigorous man, with a delightful personality;” one of the local attorneys, William Jennings Bryan, boasted fame beyond the prairies; and one of Lt. Pershing’s particular friends was a struggling young lawyer named Charles G. Dawes. 

Pershing 1892 Great Photo at UNL with staff sm
First Lieutenant John Pershing with members of the University of Nebraska Cadet Corps in 1892 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Pershing earned a law degree during his four years at the university and rebuilt the school’s declining military cadet program into one of America’s finest. Photo: Lincoln Journal Star

Vandiver continued: “In the company of stimulating friends the new Professor of Military Science made radical changes in the cadet corps of the university. Receiving the full support of Chancellor Canfield and the faculty, Pershing bore down with West Point discipline and worked to build an esprit to replace inertia. Out of all this hard work came a crack drill team–one that set records and took trophies and would be known thereafter as the famed Pershing Rifles. Working with these boys added another chapter in the education for leadership. Later Pershing remembered his problems and cast the value of what he learned:

Pershing 1921 Lincoln Portrait 200
General John J. Pershing as commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe during WWI. Photo: Library of Congress

“The psychology of the citizen as a cadet was that of the citizen soldier. Under training by one who understands him he can be quickly developed into a loyal and efficient fighting man. It would be an excellent thing if every officer in the army could have contact in this way with the youth which forms our citizenship in peace and our armies in war. It would broaden the officer’s outlook and better fit him for his duties. . .”
Surrounded by faculty, students, intellectual curiosity, the young officer gave in to temptation, studied law, was graduated with the class of 1893 and was admitted to the bar. But that still did not quench his urge toward academic affairs, and he managed to teach regular college mathematics two hours a day.”

Tuesday, August 28, 2018-

America declares war on Germany. This was the headline in the Lincoln Daily Star (Nebraska) newspaper with word that President Woodrow Wilson would ask Congress to formally declare war against Germany in April of 1917.   

Lincoln WWI headline war declared

Wilson cited Germany’s violation of its pledge to suspend unrestricted submarine warfare in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean, as well as its attempts to entice Mexico into an alliance against the United States, as his reasons for declaring war. On April 4, 1917, the U.S. Senate voted in support of the measure to declare war on Germany. The House concurred two days later. The United States later declared war on German ally Austria-Hungary on December 7, 1917.

Uboat sinking
British ships sunk by the noted German raider U-9, commanded by German Capt. Lt. Otto Eduard Weddingen in WWI. Photo: Library of Congress.

Germany’s resumption of submarine attacks on passenger and merchant ships in 1917 became the primary motivation behind Wilson’s decision to lead the United States into World War I. 

According to the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian, while Wilson weighed his options regarding the submarine issue, he also had to address the question of Germany’s attempts to cement a secret alliance with Mexico.

On January 19, 1917, British naval intelligence intercepted and decrypted a telegram sent by German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann to the German Ambassador in Mexico City.

The “Zimmermann Telegram” promised the Mexican Government that Germany would help Mexico recover the territory it had ceded to the United States following the Mexican-American War. In return for this assistance, Germany asked for Mexican support in the war.

Zimmerman Telegram decoded
The coded Zimmerman telegram sent by German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann to Mexico next to the telegram’s words decoded by British intelligence in WWI and passed on to the United States in 1917.

Initially, the British had not shared the news of the Zimmermann Telegram with U.S. officials because they did not want the Germans to discover that British code breakers had cracked the German code. However, following Germany’s resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare in February, the British decided to use the note to help sway U.S. official and public opinion in favor of joining the war. The British finally forwarded the intercepted telegram to President Wilson on February 24. The U.S. press carried the story the following week.

President Woodrow Wilson

Despite news of the Zimmermann Telegram, President Wilson hesitated asking for a declaration of war, waiting until March 20 before convening a Cabinet meeting to broach the matter—almost a month after he had first seen the telegram. 

Historians continue to debate why Wilson waited until 1917 to declare war on Germany,  especially, as noted by the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian, “…because of  Wilson’s efforts to avoid war in 1915 after the (German) sinking of the British passenger ocean liners Lusitania and Arabic, which led to the deaths of 131 U.S. citizens.


When America went to war with allies France and Britain in April 1917, a massive enlistment effort by the United States resulted in the skyrocketing of America’s standing military. It went from roughly 220,000 soldiers and officers in April 1917, to more than 4-million U.S. troops in November 1918. More than 2-million of those U.S. troops were commanded by General John “Black Jack” Pershing and fighting on European soil when Germany surrendered to the Allies.

Monday, August 27, 2018-

The Generals Meet: From right to left bottom row- French General Augustin Debail, French Commander-in-Chief  Joseph Joffre, Mrs. Joffre, American Commander and General John J. Pershing, French General and Supreme Allied Commander Ferdinand Foch. Photo: Bibliothèque nationale de France

Dubail_Joffre_[illisible]_Pershing_Foch_[...]Agence_Rol_btv1b530030471edDuring World War I, U.S. General John J. Pershing often had a strained relationship with his French and British counterparts who demanded U.S. troops be placed under their command in combat against Germany. General Pershing refused to allow U.S. troops to serve under anyone but American commanders during most of the Great War.

The movement of German Divisions across France during the Operation Michael military offensive between March 31 and April 5, 1918.

Pershing did relent in the spring of 1918. He placed American troops under French and British direction to stymie a series of four massive German military offensives. They were code named Michael, Georgette, Gneisenau and Blücher-Yorck. Michael was the main attack. It was designed to divide French and British troops, capture Paris, drive the British into the sea, and defeat the Allies before more American troops could arrive to fight in France. 

(Below: Watch a German war film about its WWI spring offensive of 1918) video 

Operation Michael began with one of the most intense bombardments of the war. More than 6,600 German artillery guns bombarded 46 miles of British front for five hours, firing more than 3.5 million shells. Next, a total of 67 German divisions flooded in against the British Fifth and Third Armies as well the French Sixth Army. The main blow was directed at the British Fifth Army where attacking German troops had an almost three-to-one advantage.

Operation Michael
German storm troopers advancing through clouds of smoke towards enemy positions during Operation Michael. Photo; Imperial War Museum

With a heroic response by French, British and 3rd and 4th Division Australian troops, the Allies blunted the German attack in late March. On April 2, General Pershing sent several thousand fresh American troops into the trenches to fight alongside the British and French. It was the first major deployment of U.S. troops in World War I.

American Doughboys prepare for combat, 1918. Photo: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Author Edward Lengel wrote “American Companies B and D (about 120 men each) and the Headquarters Company of the 6th Engineers were at work near Péronne, France when the German offensive began.  A few days later, a fleet of trucks arrived at the engineers’ camps. The British front lines had broken wide open. Every available man was needed to help beat back the German assault.

The engineers received British Lee-Enfield rifles and Lewis machine guns to supplement their own Springfields, ate a chicken dinner, and boarded the trucks. Their mood was upbeat despite the desperation of the hour. In a wooded area east of Villers-Bretteneux, France, the engineers dug formidable trenches supplemented by strong points built to withstand enemy assault.”

American patrols made first contact with German infantry on March 27 and 28, exchanging fire that resulted in casualties on both sides. There were no reserves. Just alongside them waited four hundred Canadian railway workers, like the Americans pressed into last-ditch service as combat troops. On March 29, Good Friday, German spotters identified the American trenches and their artillery opened fire in earnest. The engineers stayed safe for the most part in their trenches and dugouts, but German shells obliterated the American field kitchen, killing several men.

The next day, March 30, the Germans attacked.

Lengel noted: “Battle-tested German troops used every means at their disposal to shatter the American lines. But the engineers were ready. Firing rifles and Lewis guns from their well-constructed trenches, they beat back multiple attacks until their ammunition ran low.

As the attacks continued, an officer near Péronne encountered a hulking, grizzled Kentucky engineer hiking toward the lines. He had an Enfield rifle over one shoulder and a Springfield over the other, and bandoleers of ammunition slung over his torso. The muddy helmet cocked on his head was dented by shrapnel.

“Sixth Engineers?” the officer asked.

The man nodded. “Gave us hell this morning,” he said.

“Drive them back?”

The engineer lifted his eyebrows. “Did we?” he asked. “Say, buddy, we used up all our Springfield ammo on ‘em and then started after ‘em with our Lee-Enfields. Sure hope we get reinforcements soon though. Every time they come over we always lose some of the boys, and they ain’t many of us left.”

“Going back up?” the officer persisted, and swiftly regretted it.

“Say, buddy,” the Kentuckian drawled. “Mah daddy is deputy sheriff at Catlettsburg, Kentucky, an’ if he evah thought that a boy of his’n backed away from a German, he’d take me out an’ shoot me hisself.”

Fired by this kind of spirit, the engineers held on until the German attacks faded out. A ,  heavy British artillery bombardment on April 1 disorganized the Germans further, allowing time for infantry to come up and relieve the now combat-hardened American engineers. The 6th Engineers suffered 28 men killed and 54 wounded in stopping the German assault. 

Ultimately, the German Armies were also unable to maintain supply lines to their advancing troops and the great German offensive ground to a halt. It was a key turning point in the war and resulted in terrible losses on both sides. German casualties numbered 240,000 killed, wounded and captured while combined British and French casualties were 250,000 killed, wounded and captured.

In August, with the support of 2 million fresh American troops, the Allies counter attacked and used new artillery techniques and operational methods to drive the Germans into retreat. The Allies 100 Day Offensive resulted in the Germans being driven from all of the ground taken in the Spring Offensive and force the Germans to surrender in November of 1918.    

Sources: Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Australian War Memorial, Mental Floss, Das Bundesarchiv, Edward Lengel, Wikiwand

Sunday, August 26, 2018-

Artillery company prepares to embark for France. This photograph of a British artillery company was taken in Great Britain by an unknown photographer in 1916. From the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

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The writing on the back of the photo indicates the company was about to embark for World War I combat duty on the Western Front in France. The video below gives you a more personal view of the British soldiers as they prepared to fight in a war that took the lives of more than 9.7-million soldiers.

The greatest number of casualties and wounds in World War I were inflicted by artillery because of several developments in artillery warfare. Artillery could now fire new high explosive shells, throw them farther and at a higher rate of fire. Because of this, enemies in trenches could constantly be fired upon. The heaviest loss of life for a single day occurred on July 1, 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, when the British Army suffered 57,470 casualties.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Sir Winston Churchill once described the battles of the Somme and Verdun, which were typical of trench warfare in  their futile and indiscriminate slaughter, as being waged between double or triple walls of cannons fed by mountains of shells. In an open space surrounded by masses of these guns large numbers of infantry divisions collided. They fought in this dangerous position until battered into a state of uselessness. Then they were replaced by other divisions. So many men were lost in the process and shattered beyond recognition that there is a French monument at Verdun to the 150,000 unlocated dead who are assumed to be buried in the vicinity.

Saturday, August 25, 2018-

Clearing the dead. A seldom discussed part of war is the military clearance of the battlefield and burial of those who died in combat. According to author Peter Hodgkinson, during and in the years following World War I, the successes of those efforts resulted in cemeteries that became memorial grounds on the Western and other fronts of the war. Clearing the battlefields wasn’t only driven by military pragmatism. There were also important non-military social and psychological factors involved.

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British Graves Registration Units like these worked in France and Belgium from 1914-1920 identifying and properly burying the dead soldiers who died in combat. Photo: ©Jeremy Gordon-Smith, Imperial War Museum

From a military standpoint, identification and burial were matters of accounting and morale. There was also public pressure during and after WWI to ensure recovery, identification and burial. British Reverend E.C. Crosse wrote: “Burials on active service had very great practical importance. In the first place if one had buried a man’s body, one knew for certain that he was dead. Secondly, nothing is more depressing to the living to see unburied dead about them.”

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A British Corporal from a Graves Registration Unit with an exhumed body. Photo: ©Jeremy Gordon-Smith, Imperial War Museum

After the Battle of the Somme in France, Fabian Ware, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the British military’s Directorate of Graves Registration & Enquiries, raised  his concerns about British military morale and public perception in late June of 1917. “We are on the verge over here of serious trouble about the number of bodies lying out still unburied on the Somme battlefields. The soldiers returning wounded or in leave to England are complaining bitterly about it and the War Office has already received letters on the matter.”

Graves Registration Units became responsible for recording the burial of the dead (and cemeteries), but it was up to the military unit itself to carry out the actual burials of an estimated 9.7-million soldiers who died fighting on both sides of the the Great War.

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White crosses mark the temporary locations of dead soldiers in a destroyed French Village on the Western Front during WWI. Photo: ©Jeremy Gordon-Smith, Imperial War Museum

Clearance and burial were some of the most unpleasant and unpopular tasks of the war. British Private J. McCauley was attached to a burial detail in late 1918. He wrote: “For the first week or two I could scarcely endure the experiences we met with, but I gradually became hardened. Often have I picked up the remains of a fine brave man on a shovel. Just a little heap of bones and maggots to be carried to the common burial place. Numerous bodies were found lying submerged in the water in shell holes and mine craters; bodies that seemed quite whole, but which became like huge masses of white, slimy chalk when we handled them.” 

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Burial services for British soldiers killed in combat on the Western Front during WWI. Photo: ©Jeremy Gordon-Smith, Imperial War Museum

The United States military also had a Graves Registration Service. On August 7, War Department Order 104 authorized the organization of a U.S. Graves Registration Service (GRS). The first GRS units reached France in October 1917. General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe demanded particular attention be paid to recovering, identifying and providing proper burials for the roughly 543,000 Americans who died combat related deaths in WWI. Watch the video below for more details.

Sources: “Clearing the Dead” by Peter Hodgkinson,WWI Resource Centre., National Archives and Records Administration, Imperial War Museum, Painted Rock Productions, LLC

Friday, August 24, 2018-

Americans near the front lines at Rouen, France during World War I. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration. 

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When America joined the war against Germany in April 1917, the U.S. military had roughly 220,000 soldiers and officers. In one of the most ambitious military feats in U.S. history, more than 2-million U.S. soldiers were recruited, trained, shipped across the Atlantic, and fighting in France and elsewhere in Europe when Germany surrendered in November of 1918.

Thursday, August 23, 2018-

Eugene Jacques Bullard (1895-1961) Bullard was the first African American combat aviator. He was known as the “black swallow of death” for his courage during World War I missions.

Eugene Jacques Bullard Photo: U.S. Air Force Museum

In August of 1917 Eugene Jacques Bullard, an American volunteer in the French army, became the first African American military pilot and one of only a few black pilots in World War I.

He was born in Columbus, Georgia, on Oct. 9, 1894, to William Bullard, a former slave, and Josephine Bullard. Eugene described his early youth as unhappy. He made several unsuccessful attempts to run away from home, one of which resulted in his being returned home and beaten by his father.

In 1906, at the age of 11, Bullard ran away for good. For the next six years he wandered the South in search of freedom and settled in France as a prizefighter in 1913.

When WWI started in 1914, he enlisted in the French Foreign Legion and rose to the rank of corporal. For his bravery as an infantryman in combat, Bullard received the Croix de Guerre and other decorations.

The cover of a book about Bullard’s life as America’s first African American aviator.

During the Battle of Verdun in 1916, Bullard was seriously wounded. He was taken from the battlefield and sent to Lyon to recuperate. While on leave in Paris, Bullard bet a friend $2,000 that despite his color he could enlist in the French flying service. Bullard’s determination paid off. In November 1916 he entered the Aéronautique Militaire as a gunner/observer, but when he reported to gunnery school, he obtained permission to become a pilot.

After completing flight training, Bullard joined the approximately 200 other Americans who flew in the Lafayette Flying Corps, and he flew combat missions from Aug. 27 until Nov. 11, 1917. He later wrote, “… it seemed to me that French democracy influenced the minds of both black and white Americans there and helped us all act like brothers.”

Eugene Bullard with his pet monkey “Jimmy” beside a Nieuport 24 fighter of the 93rd Squadron (Escadrille) in August or September 1917. He flew with Jimmy tucked inside his coat on every combat mission. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Bullard quickly became known for flying into dangerous situations often with a pet monkey named “Jimmy.” He amassed a distinguished record, flying 30 combat missions, with one confirmed downing of a German plane and another “unconfirmed” German plane downing.

Bullard is said to have had an insignia on his Spad 7 C.1 fighter plane that portrayed a heart with a dagger running through it and the slogan “All Blood Runs Red.”

When the United States entered the war, Bullard, and other American expatriates, applied for transfers to U.S. forces.  Despite Bullard’s flight experience, his application was denied.

The United States military pressured France to ground Bullard permanently to uphold the U.S. military’s segregationist racial policy against black pilots. France succumbed and removed Bullard from aviation duty. He returned to his infantry regiment, and he performed non-combatant duties for the remainder of the war.

After the war, Bullard remained in France as an expatriate. Bullard discovered jazz,  eventually owning two nightclubs, including “L’Escadrille,” in the Montmartre section of Paris. During this time Bullard rubbed elbows with notables like Langston Hughes, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Josephine Baker.

Bullard also successfully parlayed his status as a former boxing champion into a popular gymnasium. Bullard’s Athletic Club catered to elite French Parisians and African Americans. Bullard-Air-Ace-and-BoxBullard married Marcelle Straumann in 1923. The couple had two daughters, Jacqueline and Lolita, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1931.

Even before World War II officially began in 1939, Bullard became involved in espionage activities against French fifth columnists who supported the Nazis. His nightclubs were popular with German officers, who had no clue that Bullard, fluent in German, was indeed a spy.

When war came he enlisted as a machine gunner in the 51st Infantry Regiment, and was severely wounded by an exploding artillery shell.  By the end of World War II, although a national hero in France, Bullard and his daughters moved to New York City. He established a new life, working odd jobs selling perfume and operating the elevator of the RCA building, home to The Today Show.  In 1954 Bullard was interviewed for the show.

That same year, he was one of the veterans chosen to light the “Everlasting Flame” at the French Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe, and in 1959, the French honored him with the Knight of the Legion of Honor.

On Oct. 13, 1961, Eugene Bullard died and was buried with full military honors in his legionnaire’s uniform in the cemetery of the Federation of French War Veterans in Flushing, New York.

In the epilogue to his well-researched book, Eugene Bullard, Black Expatriate in Jazz-Age Paris, Craig Lloyd described the sad poignancy of Bullard’s situation in the United States: “The contrast between Eugene Bullard’s unrewarding years of toil and trouble early and late in life in the United States and his quarter-century of much-heralded achievement in France illustrates dramatically … the crippling disabilities imposed on the descendants of Americans of African ancestry … .”

Thirty-three years after his death, the Secretary of the Air Force posthumously appointed Bullard a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force in 1994.

DAYTON, Ohio — Eugene Jacques Bullard exhibit in the Early Years Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Additional Sources:
National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Craig Lloyd. “Eugene Bullard (1895-1961).” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 01 October 2014. Web. 30. August 2015. Craig Lloyd, Eugene Bullard: Black Expatriate in Jazz-age Paris (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2000); P.J. Carisella, James W. Ryan, and Edward W. Brooke, The Black Swallow of Death: The Incredible Story of Eugene Jacques Bullard, The World’s First Black Combat Aviator (Boston: Marlborough House, 1972); William A. Shack, Harlem in Montmartre: A Paris Jazz Story Between the Great Wars (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001); “Eugene Bullard,” Contemporary Black Biography. Vol. 12 (Detroit: Gale, 1999): Dominick Pisano, “Eugene J. Bullard,” (Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, 2010); U.S. Department of Defense Films.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018-

Great American author Ernest Hemingway in World War I.  During the Great War, Hemingway volunteered to serve in Italy as an ambulance driver with the American Red Cross. In June 1918, while running a mobile canteen dispensing chocolate and cigarettes for soldiers, he was wounded by Austrian mortar fire.

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Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

“Then there was a flash, as when a blast-furnace door is swung open, and a roar that started white and went red,” he recalled in a letter home.

Despite his injuries, Hemingway carried a wounded Italian soldier to safety and was injured again by machine-gun fire. For his bravery, he received the Silver Medal of Valor from the Italian government—one of the first Americans so honored.

According to author Thomas Putnam, Hemingway wrote about his experience years later in Men at War, Hemingway wrote: “When you go to war as a boy you have a great illusion of immortality. Other people get killed; not you. . . . Then when you are badly wounded the first time you lose that illusion and you know it can happen to you. After being severely wounded two weeks before my nineteenth birthday I had a bad time until I figured out that nothing could happen to me that had not happened to all men before me. Whatever I had to do men had always done. If they had done it then I could do it too and the best thing was not to worry about it.”

Ernest Hemingway at home in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1919. (Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, Kennedy Library)

Recuperating for six months in a Milan hospital, Hemingway fell in love with Agnes von Kurowsky, an American Red Cross nurse.

At war’s end, he returned to his home in Oak Park, Illinois, a different man. His experience of travel, combat, and love had broadened his outlook. Yet while his war experience had changed him dramatically, the town he returned to remained very much the same.

Two short stories (written years later) offer insights into his homecoming and his understanding of the dilemmas of the returned war veteran.

In “Soldier’s Home,” Howard Krebs returns home from Europe later than many of his peers. Having missed the victory parades, he is unable to reconnect with those he left behind—especially his mother, who cannot understand how her son has been changed by the war.

Agnes von Kurowsky, a Red Cross nurse, and Ernest Hemingway, a Red Cross volunteer, are pictured in Milan, Italy, during World War I. This was before Hemingway became a famous novelist. Photo courtesy of the Ernest Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Massachusetts.

“Hemingway’s great war work deals with aftermath,” stated author Tobias Wolff at the Hemingway centennial celebration. “It deals with what happens to the soul in war and how people deal with that afterward. The problem that Hemingway set for himself in stories like ‘Soldier’s Home’ is the difficulty of telling the truth about what one has been through. He knew about his own difficulty in doing that.”

The Sun Also Rises features Jake Barnes, an American World War I veteran whose mysterious combat wounds have caused him to be impotent. Unlike Howard Krebs, who returned stateside after the war, Barnes remains in Europe, joining his compatriots in revels through Paris and Spain. Many regard the novel as Hemingway’s portrait of a generation that has lost its way, restlessly seeking meaning in a postwar world.

Hemingway’s second novel, A Farewell to Arms, is written as a retrospective of the war experience of Frederic Henry, a wounded American soldier, and his doomed love affair with an English nurse, Catherine Barkley.

Author Putnam said Hemingway rewrote the conclusion to A Farewell to Arms many times. Among the gems of the Hemingway Collection are the 44 pages of manuscript containing a score of different endings—which are often used today by visiting English teachers to provide their students with a glimpse of Hemingway the writer at work.

At a Kennedy Library forum, author Justin Kaplan noted the number of delicate changes Hemingway made to the novel’s last paragraphs. When asked once why he did so, Kaplan recounted, Hemingway responded: “I was trying to find the right words.”

After reading an early draft, F. Scott Fitzgerald suggested Hemingway end the book with one of its most memorable passages: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure that it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.” Scrawled at the bottom of Fitzgerald’s 10-page letter in Hemingway’s hand is his three-word reaction—”Kiss my ass”—leaving no doubt of his dismissal of Fitzgerald’s suggestions.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018-

He was the American doughboy who would be America’s president. Harry Truman was the only American president that saw combat action in World War I.  According to author H.W. Crocker III, after two enlistments with the National Guard, Truman returned to the family farm in Missouri in 1911 to help support his family.

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Harry Truman, age 33 after enlisting in WWI and his National Guard enlistment papers. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration and Truman Library

That changed in April 1917. When America declared war against Germany, Truman quickly reenlisted in the National Guard in June. Before his unit finished training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Truman was recommended for promotion to captain. By April 1918, he was in France attending Advanced Artillery School and graduated with his captain’s promotion. Truman didn’t particularly care for France or the French. Typical was his frustration with the dining habits of French officers: “It takes them so long to serve a meal that I’m always hungrier when I get done than I ever was before.”

Truman saw his first action in August 1918, amid the mud and mire of the Vosges mountain range in Alsace-Lorraine, firing an artillery barrage and being fired on in return. The captain stood his ground. Many of his men did not. He cursed them for it, and won their respect.

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Future president Harry Truman was a captain in Battery D, 129th Field Artillery in WWI. He commanded a notoriously undisciplined artillery battery. “Give ’em hell Harry” got his start busting miscreants, promoting high performers, and surprising even himself with his success at managing and training a difficult lot of men: “Can you imagine me being a hardboiled captain of a tough Irish battery?” he wrote his girlfriend (and future wife), Bess Wallace. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

September brought Truman to the Argonne Forest and the Meuse-Argonne offensive that would end the war. Truman remembered that the opening barrage, to which his battery contributed, belched out “more noise than human ears could stand. Men serving the guns became deaf for weeks after. I was deaf as a post from the noise. It looked as though every gun in France was turned loose and the sky was red from one end to the other from the artillery flashes.”

The artillery followed the infantry, and at the end of it all, with the armistice in November, only one man in Truman’s battery, Battery D, had been killed in action and only two others had been wounded, all of them while detailed to another command. He had performed exceptionally well. The war was the making of Truman. Decades later he would become America’s 33rd president.

Below: Read a letter Harry Truman wrote his future wife Bess during the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne in October 1918.

Truman Letter to Bess

Monday, August 20, 2018-

On a cold January night in 1919, U.S. Army Col. Luke Lea and six American soldiers made an illegal crossing into Holland and a brazen visit to a 17th-century Dutch castle. There,  German Kaiser Wilhelm II lived in exiled comfort with his wife and entourage. Lea demanded an audience with the deposed WWI ruler. Lea’s intention, he claimed, was to kidnap “Kaiser Bill,” and deliver him to face war-crime charges in Paris, where the allies were holding peace talks.

Click here to read Mitchell Yockelson’s amazing story “The bizarre tale of a kidnapping attempt, the German kaiser and a beloved ashtray” in the Washington Post. 

The group that attempted to kidnap Kaiser Wilhem II, at Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia in 1919. (Tennessee State Library and Archives)

Sunday, August 19, 2018-

After learning of the German troop retreat from her district in World War I, a French woman returns to find her home a heap of ruins. During the First World War, specifically at the time of the Battle of Verdun in 1916, many villages in northern France were destroyed by the fighting.  Photo: National Archives and Records AdministrationWWILearning of German retreat from her district French woman returns to find her home a heap of ruins

According to Reuters, ten months of fighting saw German and French troops being pushed backwards and forwards, and by December 1916 the French had retaken almost all the territory that had been lost. German troops did not come through, but nine villages had been utterly wiped out. An estimated 300,000 French and German soldiers were killed and over 450,000 were injured.

After the Great War, it was decided that the villages should not be rebuilt, and most have remained without any inhabitants. But nonetheless they are still administered by unelected mayors, who are chosen by local authorities after a law was passed in 1919, symbolically maintaining their administrative existence.

See the BBC video below for more on the devastation left behind after WWI ended. 

 Saturday, August 18, 2018-

German soldiers in France in 1918. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration


In August 1914, Europe’s great powers prepped their armies and navies for a fight, but no one was preparing for a long struggle—both sides were counting on a short, decisive conflict that would end in their favor. “You will be home before the leaves have fallen from the trees,” Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany assured troops leaving for the front in the first week of August 1914. More than four years later, Germany surrendered WWI on November 11, 1918, its economy in shambles and army badly tattered. According to a summary of World War I casualties, complied by the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service, 1,773,700 German soldiers and sailors were among the war dead, 4,216,058 wounded, 1,152,800 prisoners, for a total of 7,142,558 casualties-  a sobering 54.6 percent of the 13,000,000 soldiers Germany mobilized for the war. Click here to read more from the German perspective.

 Friday, August 17, 2018-

U.S. Army Infantry troops:  African-American unit, marching northwest of Verdun, France, in World War I. Because of segregationist policies, most African-American combat troops served, not with white U.S. troops, but with French troops during WWI.  Many of the African-American soldiers were later given medals for their battlefield gallantry and valor by the French government. Photo: Library of Congress. WWI U.S. Army Infantry troops, African American unit, marching northwest of Verdun, France, in World War I

According to, while still discriminatory, the Army was far more progressive in race relations than the other branches of the military. Blacks could not serve in the Marines, and could only serve limited and menial positions in the Navy and the Coast Guard. By the end of World War I, African Americans served in cavalry, infantry, signal, medical, engineer, and artillery units, as well as serving as chaplains, surveyors, truck drivers, chemists, and intelligence officers.

Although technically eligible for many positions in the Army, very few blacks got the opportunity to serve in combat units. Most were limited to labor battalions. The combat elements of the U.S. Army were kept completely segregated. The four established all-black Regular Army regiments were not used in overseas combat roles but instead were diffused throughout American held territory.

There was such a backlash from the African American community, however, that the War Department finally created the 92nd and 93nd Divisions, both primarily black combat units, in 1917. The video below about the 93rd Division was created by the U.S. Army Signal Corps during WWI.

According to the National Museum of the U.S. Army, In October 1917, 639 African-American men received their commissions as either captain or first or second lieutenant, and were assigned to infantry, artillery, and engineer units with the 92nd Division. This was to be the first and only class to graduate from Fort Des Moines; the War Department shut it down soon after their departure. Future black candidates attended either special training camps in Puerto Rico (from which 433 officers graduated), the Philippines, Hawaii, and Panama, or regular officer training facilities in the United States .

The Army had no written policy on what to do if an officer training camp became integrated, so each camp was allowed to decide for itself the manner in which the integration was executed. Some were completely segregated and others allowed for blacks and whites to train together. Over 700 additional black officers graduated from these camps, bringing the total number to 1,353.

Although African Americans were earning higher positions in the Army, that did not necessarily mean they were getting equal treatment. Black draftees were treated with extreme, racist hostility when they arrived for training. White men refused to salute black officers and black officers were often barred from the officer’s clubs and quarters. The War Department rarely interceded, and discrimination was usually overlooked or sometimes condoned. Because many Southern civilians protested having blacks from other states inhabit nearby training camps, the War Department stipulated that no more than one-fourth of the trainees in any Army camp in the U.S. could be African American.

Even when integrated into fairly progressive camps, black soldiers were often treated badly and sometimes went for long periods without proper clothing. There were also reports of blacks receiving old Civil War uniforms and being forced to sleep outside in pitched tents instead of warmer, sturdier barracks. Some were forced to eat outside in the winter months, while others went without a change of clothes for months at a time.

Not all black soldiers suffered treatment like this, however, as those who were lucky enough to train at newly erected National Army cantonments lived in comfortable barracks and had sanitary latrines, hot food, and plenty of clothes.

Thursday, August 16, 2018-

Lady ambulance drivers decorated for their bravery during WWI air raids assemble to be presented with commendation medals in March of 1918. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

Author Evangeline Holland summed it up nicely when she wrote: “In the early 1900s, driving an automobile was an act of independence and privilege, and…a woman driving an automobile in the early 1900s exercised her ability to go wherever she wanted when she wanted. This was an undoubtedly terrifying specter in the era of militant suffragist demonstrations, and the resistance towards women stepping outside of their “place” forced women ambulance drivers during WWI to carefully navigate their roles as “helpmeets” (proper femininity) with their “masculine” positions in the thick of the war.”

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American Mary Dexter, a volunteer with the British Red Cross wrote vivid and compelling descriptions of her time as an ambulance driver in France during WWI. Wanting to get closer to the Front … Mary Dexter joined the Hackett-Lowther Unit for an initial six-month term. The Hackett-Lowther Unit was a private ambulance and canteen service run by two women and ‘the only’ female unit at the Front. The British would not permit women so close to the front, and they were surprised to drop by the French facility and see women there. See Dexter’s photo below from her time as an ambulance driver.  


“In the Soldier’s Service” is a fine book based on letters Dexter wrote her mother from France. Here’s one example:


Author Jennifer Robson wrote: “The ambulance vehicles were difficult to drive and maintain, particularly so in cold or rainy weather. The routes the drivers traveled were exceptionally treacherous and the hours they worked were very long. Worst of all was the suffering of their passengers, to which they were witness day after day, night after night, month after soul-destroying month. Ernest Hemingway, himself a volunteer ambulance driver with the Red Cross, described it simply in a letter to his parents. “The ambulance is no slacker’s job.””

Wednesday, August 15, 2018-

First Lieutenant E. V. [Eddie] Rickenbacker, 94th Aero Squadron, World War I American ace, standing up in his Spad plane. Near Rembercourt, France.

Eddie Rickenbacker

With 26 aerial victories, he was America’s most successful fighter ace in WWI. Rickenbacker was also considered to have received the most awards for valor by an American during the war. Rickenbacker flew a total of 300 combat hours, reportedly more than any other U.S. pilot in the war. His life story may exceed even the imagination of Hollywood. 

When Rickenbacker learned of the WWI armistice, he flew an airplane above the western front to observe the ceasefire and the displays of joy and comradeship, as the formerly warring troops crossed the front lines and joined in the celebrations.

Eddie Rickenbacker and crew

Rickenbacker was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross a record eight times. One of these awards was converted in 1930 to the Medal of Honor. He was also awarded the Legion of Honor and the Croix de Guerre by France.  After WWI, Rickenbacker was a race car driver and automotive designer, a government consultant in military matters and a pioneer in air transportation, particularly as the longtime head of Eastern Air Lines. Photos: National Archives and Records Administration

In the late 1950s, a film profile on Rickenbacker, named “The Immortal Ace,”  was narrated and hosted by Arthur Godfrey.  From: 


Tuesday, August 14, 2018-

After the successful trial use of Harley-Davidson motorcycles by the U.S. Army to hunt down Pancho Villa and his troops during the Mexican Revolution, the government ramped up their use in Europe during World War I. more than 60,000 Harley-Davidson and Indian motorcycles were manufactured for the U.S. military.    Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

WWI Motorcycle Man Harley Davidson

Pictured above- The Indian Powerplus Big Twin: Leading into World War I, Indian motorcycles dedicated nearly all of its production resources to the war effort.

Monday, August 13, 2018-

From all along the battlelines these German prisoners filed into France as the French, British and American troops turned the WWI battle tide against Germany along the Western Front in late 1918.

The situation of WWI prisoners of war s an aspect of the conflict little covered by historical research. However, the number of soldiers imprisoned reached a little over seven million for all the belligerents who fought in the Great War.

Photo: Keystone View Company  

German POWs in France

Sunday, August 12, 2018-

Wake up America! Civilization calls every man, woman and child!

By: James Montgomery Flagg.

Given the troubled political times America finds itself in today, I thought this WWI poster might be appropriate. 


This poster shows a woman dressed in Stars & Stripes, symbolizing America asleep. After two and a half years of neutrality, the United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917. James Montgomery Flagg, who created some of the war’s most indelible images, sounded the alarm for all citizens in this poster which was featured in “Wake Up, America” Day in New York City just thirteen days later on April 19th. Actress Mary Arthur was Flagg’s model for Columbia who is a personification of America and Liberty. She is shown asleep, wearing patriotic stars and stripes and a Phrygian cap–a symbol of freedom since Roman times. While she dozes against a fluted column, another visual reference to Western classical antiquity and civilization, sinister storm clouds gather in the background. (Source: Library of Congress)

Saturday, August 11, 2018-

Soldiers in the U.S. 23rd Infantry gun crew fighting in the Argonne Forest in France during the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne in late 1918. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration.

US Infantry In The Argonne Forest

The Battle of the Meuse-Argonne lasted 47 days and was the pivotal America-led part of the Allies push against German troops that ended the war and forced Germany’s surrender. The Battle of the Meuse-Argonne was the largest battle in American military history with more than 1.2-million Doughboys and 50,000 French troops fighting German troops at its peak in late October and early November of 1918. 

The battle cost 28,000 German lives, 26,277 American lives and an unknown number of French lives. It was the largest and bloodiest operation of World War I for the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), which were commanded by General John J. Pershing.  U.S. troop losses were exacerbated by the inexperience of many of the troops and the tactics used during the early phases of the operation.     

Friday, August 10, 2018-

Some of the American “Hello Girls” who, according to the Doughboy Center, answered General John J. Pershing’s appeal for bilingual telephone-switchboard operators from the U.S. to serve in France during WWI. Pershing’s “Emergency Appeal” specifically requested women, who worked as switchboard operators for the new Bell Telephone Company, be sworn into the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Pershing stated, “women have the patience and perseverance to do long, arduous detailed work.”

According to NPR, at the height of the fighting, 223 “Hello Girls” connected over 150,000 calls per day. Meanwhile, male Signal Corps soldiers were busy stringing telephone wire for communications from the combat trenches to Pershing’s A.E.F. headquarters at Chaumont, France. It was the first time in the history of warfare that soldiers in the front-lines were connected to the General command. Because they were women, the Department of War denied the “Hello Girls” veteran status — including benefits, medical care, commendations, honorable discharges, military funerals, even the right to wear their uniforms for 60 years until their service was finally recognized during the Carter presidency in 1977. Photo: Harvard University Archives 

Thursday, August 9, 2018-

General John “Black Jack” Pershing arrives in France with the first American troops on June 13, 1917.

EditedPershing Imperial War Museum

There were 190 American soldiers and civilians in Pershing’s entourage when it stepped onto French soil at Boulogne-sur-Mer. Pershing commanded the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe during WWI which grew to more than 2-million fighting U.S. troops by the end of the war.

Photo: Imperial War Museum

Wednesday, August 8, 2018-

The deadly aftermath of a battle between U.S. 4th Division troops and dug-in German machine gunners along a sunken road near Arras., France in February 1918.

Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

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Tuesday, August 7, 2018-

The first party of American soldier engineers to arrive at the British front in France in early 1918. Near Boisleux-en-Mont, France in the Arras area. 

Photo: National Archives and Records Administration  

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 Monday, August 6, 2018-

Photo 1: Some of the African-American soldiers from the 369th “Harlem Hellfighters” Regiment on their return trip home from serving with French troops in WWI. These men were decorated by the French government with the French Croix de Guerre because they distinguished themselves by acts of heroism involving combat with the enemy.

Harlem Hellcats 369th

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Photo 2: African-American soldiers of the 369th in service with French troops during WWI. Two-point-three million blacks registered [for the draft]” during WWI.  Although the Marines would not accept them, and the Navy enlisted few and only in menial positions, large numbers served in the army. Some 375,000 blacks served overall, including “639 men [who] received commissions, a historical first,” author Chad L. Williams writes in his essay “African Americans and World War I.”  Photos: National Archives and Records Administration 

Sunday, August 5, 2018- 

Officers and crew of the German submarine U.58, captured by the U.S.S. Fanning, entering the War Prison Camp at Fort McPherson, Georgia in April 1918.

 In late January 1917, Germany announced that its U-boats would engage in unrestricted submarine warfare. On March 17, German submarines sank three American merchant vessels, and the U.S. declared war on Germany in April 1917.

Photo: Mathewson & Winn

Captured German Sub U58 crew

Unrestricted submarine warfare in early 1917 was initially very successful, sinking a major part of Britain-bound shipping. With the introduction of escorted convoys, shipping losses declined and in the end the German strategy failed to destroy sufficient Allied shipping. An armistice became effective on 11 November 1918 and all surviving German submarines were surrendered. Of the 360 submarines that had been built, 178 were lost, but more than 11 million tons of shipping had been destroyed.

UboatsLOCU-boats in a German harbor. Photo: Library of Congress

Saturday, August 4, 2018- 

A shattered church in the ruins of Neuvilly, France becomes a temporary shelter for WWI American wounded in September 1918.

Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

A shattered church in the ruins of Neuvilly becomes a temporary shelter for American wounded September 1918 NARA (2)

Friday, August 3, 2018-

The devastated coal mining region in the town of Lens in northern France during WWI. An estimated seven-point-five million men lost their lives on the Western Front during World War One. The front was opened when the German army invaded Luxembourg and Belgium in 1914  and then moved into the industrial regions in northern France. 

Lens France the devastated coal mining region of northern France LOC

It was in this region that both sides dug vast networks of trenches that ran all the way from the North Sea to the Swiss border with France. This line of tunnels remained unaltered, give or take a mile here and a mile there, for most of the four-year conflict. 

Photo: Library of Congress

Join us Sept. 21 for “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War,” in Alliance, Nebraska


Please join us at 6:00 p.m. (MST), Friday, September 21 at the Knight Museum and Sandhills Center, 908 Yellowstone Avenue, in Alliance, Nebraska.

It’s a free screening and discussion of “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” with the award-winning film’s producer and University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor Barney McCoy.

General John J. Pershing, a Missouri native and prominent historical figure in Nebraska, commanded American troops in World War I. He rose to global recognition with an illustrious military career that included the Allied victory in WWI. Drawn from personal papers, archival photographs and film, the award-winning documentary Black Jack Pershing: Love and War tells the story of Pershing’s military career and his personal life, including tragedies seldom examined.

Black Jack Pershing: Love and War selected for opening night at the Kansas International Film Festival


We’re off to see the Wizard. Actually, we’re off to screen “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” on opening night, 7:45 p.m. on Friday, October 12 at this year’s Kansas International Film Festival. Our documentary on the life of WWI General John J. Pershing has been selected to screen at the festival during it’s run from October 12-18 in Overland Park, Kansas.

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For more details on the screening, tickets, and theater location go to the Kansas International Film Festival website. Hope you’ll join us in Overland Park this October.

On the Road: Screening “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” at the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri

The National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri.

My sincere appreciation to all who came to the National World War I Museum and Memorial for the screening of “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” in Kansas City, Missouri on August 2.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications professor Barney McCoy introduces his documentary on WWI General John J. Pershing, August 1, 2018, at the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri. Photo: Dean Davison

Our audience of roughly 130 asked questions about General Pershing’s promotion over 800 more senior officers to the rank of brigadier general. Thus began his ascension to becoming the commander of U.S. forces in WWI and the highest-ranking active-duty officer in U.S. history.

The audience wanted to know what Pershing might think of today’s military and political scene in America. I told them I didn’t think Pershing would approve. They asked about Pershing’s strategic tactics in WWI that began with large U.S. combat casualties and ended with Germany’s surrender to the Allies in 1918.

Professor Barney McCoy and Dr. Shawn Faulkner, author and military history professor at Fort Leavenworth’s U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, answer audience questions after the screening of “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” at the National WWI Museum and Memorial on August 1, 2018. Photo: Dean Davison

I was honored to have retired lieutenant colonel Shawn Faulkner, an outstanding military historian at Fort Leavenworth’s U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, join me in the question-and-answer session after the screening of the documentary. It was a wonderful evening in one of America’s most beautiful war memorials.

The Liberty Memorial site dedication outside Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri on November 1, 1921. Photo: Library of Congress

Did you know Pershing and the other four Allied commanders came to Kansas City to dedicate the war memorial in 1921? The event may have drawn the largest crowd in Kansas City history.

From left to right: Allied commanders Lieutenant General Jacques of Belgium, General Diaz of Italy, Marshall Foch of France, General Pershing of the United States, and Admiral Beatty of Great Britain at the dedication of the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, November 1, 1921. Photo: Moxie Hanley, courtesy Kansas City Public Library Missouri Valley Special Collections

By the way, the National WWI Museum and Memorial is the largest of its kind in America. There is no current WWI memorial in Washington, D.C. to pay tribute to the 4-million American men and women who served and sacrificed in the Great War.

World War I remains America’s forgotten war, even though more Americans gave their lives during that war than during Korea and Vietnam combined, and even though it profoundly shaped the rest of “the American century.”

More than four million American families sent their sons and daughters to serve in uniform during the Great War. 116,516 U.S. soldiers died from combat and disease. Another 200,000 were wounded, a casualty rate far greater than in World War II. More than 350,000 African Americans served in the U.S. military, as did Native Americans and members of other minority groups. And, for the first time, women joined the ranks of the U.S. armed forces.


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Artist’s rendering of the proposed WWI Memorial at Pershing Park in Washington D.C. Joe Weishaar; Sabin Howard; GWWO, Inc.; WWI Centennial Commission; Weta Workshop

Thanks to the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, an effort to build a WWI memorial in Washington is now underway. They need your donations to complete the beautiful memorial sculpted bronze-relief mural wall which will occupy Pershing Park in our nation’s capital. To donate just click here.

Thanks to NWWIMM curator Doran Cart and his fantastic staff for inviting me to screen the Pershing documentary in Kansas City. Thanks to Amy Struthers, interim dean of the UNL College of Journalism and Mass Communications who drove down to Kansas City from Lincoln to attend the screening and meet with CoJMC alumna.

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In memory of Brad Richmond, a friend and videographer on the Pershing documentary. Photo: Barney McCoy

And a very special thanks to Rebecca Richmond and her son Tyler who came to our screening. Becky’s husband Brad was one of the videographers and an enthusiastic supporter of the Pershing documentary project.

Brad passed away this summer after a long battle with cancer. He was a former TV News colleague, a great father and husband, a protector of animals, and a dear friend of mine.


The Dedication: General Pershing at the Montfaucon American Monument.

On August 1, 1937, WWI General John “Black Jack” Pershing dedicated the American memorial in Montfaucon, France that honored the U.S. and French soldiers who died fighting in the 1918 Battle of the Meuse-Argonne. As he reflected on the pivotal battle of the Great War, Pershing delivered one of the greatest military speeches in American history. Listen and watch it in the video below.

The Dedication: General Pershing Montfaucon American Monument from CoJMC on Vimeo.

Impact DOCS names “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” an Excellence Award winner

Impact Docs Award of Excellence 2018

We are thrilled to report that “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” has been honored with an Impact DOCS Award of Excellence in this year’s international documentary feature category. The Impact DOCS judges based their decision on the documentary’s quality, creativity, and technical execution. ” These skilled filmmakers highlighted issues ranging from renewable energy to gun violence and important historical events. The judges honor them for their passion and expert filmmaking craft,” the judges said.

The award-winning documentary “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War,” tells the story of World War I General John J. Pershing’s life and the personal tragedy so painful Pershing could never speak of it.

The Impact DOCS judges said this year’s winners represent filmmakers whose experiences range from Oscar winners to first-time filmmakers and who hail from all corners of the globe. “They (the winning filmmakers) make a  – made a huge IMPACT entertaining audiences and bringing awareness to the critical issues of our times,” said Impact DOCS officials.

Impact DOCS winners list

Reserve your free tickets now for the Aug. 2 screening of “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War,” in Kansas City, Mo.

p-National-WWI-Museum-and-Memorial--2015-2_54_PromoPlease join us at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, August 2 at the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri.

It’s a free screening and discussion of “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War.” To reserve your free tickets click on this link. 

General John J. Pershing, a Missouri native, rose to global recognition with an illustrious military career that included the Allied victory in WWI. Drawn from personal papers, archival photographs and film, the award-winning documentary Black Jack Pershing: Love and War tells the story of Pershing’s military career and his personal life, including tragedies seldom examined.


On the Road: Screening “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” at the Nebraska National Guard Museum in Seward, Nebraska

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The audience for our screening of “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” at the Nebraska National Guard Museum on July 2, included historical reenactors who played the roles of Teddy Roosevelt, George Patton and General Pershing as well as (front row, second from left) real-life Lieutenant General Timothy J. Kadavy, director of the U.S. Army National Guard. Photo: Jerry Meyer

Today was a first among our national screenings of “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War.” The audience at the Nebraska National Guard Museum in Seward included living reenactors of WWI General John J. Pershing, President Teddy Roosevelt, and WWII General George Patton.

There was a real-life lieutenant general in the audience too-  Lieutenant General Timothy J. Kadavy, director of the U.S. Army National Guard attended the standing room only screening of our documentary about General Pershing’s life.

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UNL CoJMC professor Barney McCoy at the screening of his documentary on WWI General John J. Pershing at the Nebraska National Guard Museum in Seward, Nebraska on July 2. Photo: Jerry Meyer

It’s always special to screen the documentary in Nebraska where Pershing spent many formative years of his life.

In the 1890’s, Army Lieutenant, Pershing spent four years commanding the student Cadet Corps at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln while earning a law degree.

Pershing’s two sisters, May and Grace, attended UNL too. They spent their post-college lives living and working in Lincoln. They also helped care for General Pershing’s young son Warren between 1915-1920.

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(Left to right) John Pershing as commander of the cadet corps at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the1890’s. Pershing with son Warren and sisters May and Grace outside their Lincoln, Nebraska home in the early 1920’s. August 1915 newspaper headline reporting the deaths of John Pershing’s wife Frankie and three daughters.

How come? Pershing’s wife Frankie and the couple’s three young daughters were killed in a fire at the commandant’s residence at the Presidio in San Francisco, California in  August of 1915. At the time, Brigadier General Pershing was on duty more than a thousand miles away at Fort Bliss, Texas. Pershing was sent there amid rumors that Mexican Revolutionary General Pancho Villa was actively planning to lead his troops in a raid against El Paso. Six-year-old Warren, the only survivor of the fire, came to Lincoln to live with General Pershing’s sisters.

Villa and Pershng
When U.S. General John Pershing first met Mexican Revolutionary General Pancho Villa in 1914 the two men were on friendly terms. Two years later Pershing would lead 10,000 U.S. soldiers on a chase for Villa and his troops after Villa’s forces raided Columbus, New Mexico.

Seven months later, Pancho Villa and his soldiers attacked Columbus, New Mexico, killing 18 Americans and burning down much of the town. Villa was furious with the town because two merchants there reneged on a promise to deliver weapons that Villa had already paid. President Woodrow Wilson sent General Pershing to retaliate in March 1916. Pershing lead 10,000 U.S. soldiers, chasing the elusive Villa, who knew his way through the difficult terrain of northern Mexico. Villa and his retreating raiders were pursued by Pershing and his soldiers across the border and 400 miles into Mexico where Pershing spent much of the next year before being ordered home. Because of the Mexican government’s dislike of Pershing’s presence on Mexican soil, it proved increasingly dangerous and impossible to capture Villa.

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A letter General John Pershing wrote from Mexico to his son Warren in Lincoln, Nebraska during the U.S. military’s hunt for Mexican Revolutionary General Pancho Villa in 1916.

Between 1917 and 1920, Pershing and his son were again separated. General Pershing was ordered by President Wilson to sail for France to command 2-million U.S. soldiers.

Over the next 18-months, Pershing’s American Expeditionary Forces helped to turn the WWI battle tide in favor of the Allies along Europe’s Western Front and helped force a surrender by Germany in late 1918.

During the hunt for Pancho Villa and later in WWI, Pershing regularly wrote letters to Warren back in Lincoln, describing how dearly he missed and loved his son.

In the years after WWI, Pershing was a frequent visitor to Lincoln. He owned a home there, spent time with his sisters and friends, was touted as a potential University of Nebraska chancellor, and explored the possibility he might run for the U.S. presidency. Pershing later decided his chances were slim for a White House run and steered clear of elected politics.

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John J. Pershing during one of his frequent family visits to his Lincoln, Nebraska home during his 71st birthday in 1931.

Pershing also enjoyed fishing and hunting with friends in rural Nebraska. It was an opportunity to break free of the busy life he led in Washington, D.C. and where Pershing spent most of his life until his death at age 87 in 1948.

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The Nebraska National Guard Museum, Seward, Nebraska.

My sincere thanks to Jerry Meyer and Cody Cade at the Nebraska National Guard Museum for helping coordinate and screen today’s showing of “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” in Seward.

The museum is a treasure for Nebraska and a “must see” stop for anyone of any age interested in military history.