June 28 was a special screening night for “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” at the Metropolitan Club in Washington, D.C. Special because John Pershing was a member of the club a century ago as has been almost every U.S. president since Abraham Lincoln. Pershing used the private club in 1917 to interview candidates for his WWI command staff before sailing for France.
Founded during the Civil War, the Metropolitan Club is conveniently located at 17th and H streets, just two blocks from the White House. It gave Pershing quick, confidential access to President Woodrow Wilson and Secretary of War Newton Baker when needed as America entered WWI in April 1917 as an ally with France and Britain against Germany.
My thanks to Ambassador (Ret.) Theodore Sedgwick from the U.S. WWI Centennial Commission and Walker Noland for inviting me to screen the Pershing documentary at the Metropolitan Club. David Hamon from the WWICC also attended the screening and dinner and was a pleasure to meet.
The WWI Centennial Commission is seeking public donations to build a memorial in Washington, D.C. to those who served and those who were wounded and died serving America in WWI.
After the documentary, I answered questions from several club members before joining them for more conversation at dinner with wife Joanne in the Metropolitan Club’s elegant dining room.
During that discussion, I learned from members that former Lincoln attorney Charles Dawes was also a member of the Metropolitan Club. Dawes first met Pershing in the 1890’s when Pershing commanded the cadet corps at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln while earning a law degree. Dawes, at the time, was a young lawyer.
When Pershing earned his bachelor of laws degree at UNL he toyed with the idea of leaving the Army to become a lawyer. Dawes advised Pershing to forget it. “Better lawyers than either you or I can ever hope to be are starving in Nebraska. I’d try the Army for a while yet. Your pay may be small, but it comes very regularly,” said Dawes.
Dawes was on General Pershing’s command staff in France as the general purchasing agent during the Great War. After the war, Dawes was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize and became President Calvin Coolidge’s vice president. Dawes and Pershing frequently socialized together. They remained friends for life until Pershing’s death in 1948.