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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.