This weekend took the “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” documentary tour on the road to Laclede, Missouri, the birthplace of General John J. Pershing.
My thanks to the Missouri State Parks and Missouri Department of Natural Resources for hosting my visit to the Gen. John J. Pershing Boyhood Home State Historic Site.
On Saturday the site hosted a solemn Blessing of Poppies Ceremony. For centuries poppies have symbolized the battlefield sacrifices of soldiers. They were immortalized in this famous WWI poem by British Lt. Col. John McCrae.
In Flanders Fields
By John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row by row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard among the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If yea break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Soil collected from the eight American WWI cemeteries in Europe, where more than one million U.S. soldiers fought, was blessed and transferred to a new WWI Commemorative Garden being built at the Pershing Boyhood Home site.
The sacred soil was cast into the garden where the first poppies have been sown and are now in bloom. The finished garden will be dedicated this September as part of General Pershing’s 158th birthday weekend.
As the visiting crowd looked on Saturday, VFW members and a military color guard fired a cannon volley, followed by a 21-gun salute, and the playing of “Taps” in honor of the roughly 117,000 Americans who died in service to their country during the Great War.
Native Americans from the Cherokee Nation and Muscogee Nation, whose members also fought and died in WWI also spoke and sang at the memorial dedication event.
On Sunday, another group of more than 100 people attended a free viewing of “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War,” the award-winning documentary on Pershing’s life, at the Reel Time Cinema in neighboring Brookfield, Missouri.
Afterward, audience members asked me questions about Pershing’s pivotal role as commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe and America’s critical decision to enter WWI in April 1917. At the time, victory was far from certain for America and its French and British allies.
Ultimately, America’s involvement in the war gave the Allies a numerical and tactical advantage that helped turn the battle tide, forced a German surrender, and brought an end to the fighting on November 11, 1918.
It was an honor to screen my documentary on General Pershing’s life in the place where America’s only active-duty six-star general was born and raised.
A special thanks to Denzil Heaney, administrator of the Pershing Boyhood Home State Historic Site, the many volunteers who helped plan and staff this weekend’s events, and the many veterans and active duty military members who have served their country in the past and still today.