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

Wednesday, October 3, 2018-

A romance sparked by war: General Pershing and French-Romanian artist Micheline Resco-  Two important “history moments” surfaced during my five years of research on the documentary “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War.”  It involved the romantic relationship between U.S. WWI Commander John J. Pershing and portrait artist Micheline Resco.

Resco Pershing PhotoThe two met in 1917 when Pershing arrived in France to lead U.S. troops in WWI. Resco was commissioned by the French government to paint Pershing’s portrait. Before long, budding romance swirled between the two. Petite and soft-spoken, Resco was 34-years younger than Pershing. Neither spoke the other’s language well, but confidential letters I found while researching the documentary revealed a blossoming romance. At the Jesuit Archives in St. Louis I found some of the love letters Pershing wrote Micheline in Paris during WWI. Like this one: 

The translation goes like this: 

August 29, 1917


Since I haven’t had the pleasure to see you today, I’m worried that you’re suffering, which weighs on me regularly. Please accept, mademoiselle, my respectful compliments and all the best wishes toward your swift recovery.

J.J. Pershing,

 Inside the envelope of Pershing’s letter to Resco, I found rose petals the General tucked into his now 100-year-old love letter. 

A year later while searching through some 400 boxes of Pershing’s personal records at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., I found some of Resco’s love letters to General Pershing. 

In a folded letter Resco had written to Pershing in late summer of 1917,  Micheline wrapped lilac petals and candid photos of herself.   

Michelines letter 2 to Pershing

Here is a photo of Micheline Resco’s love letter to General Pershing that the flower petals and photos were enclosed with. 

Micheline letter to Pershing
Here is the English interpretation of Micheline Resco’s love letter to General Pershing in the summer of 1917. “In a beautiful basket of lilacs that I was sent, I found this lilac with six petals. It’s a sign of good luck – I’m sending it to you with a long kiss. M.”

It was to be the beginning of 30 years of letters between Pershing and his lover Micheline who insisted on staying hidden out of sight deep in the background of Pershing’s public life both during and after WWI.

After the war, the two visited privately between Pershing’s home in America and Resco’s in France when their schedules allowed. They also wrote frequently. Often they used coded telegraphs to disguise their romantic relationship. This was especially the case as the threat of World War II loomed in the late 1930’s. By then,  Pershing was nearing the age of 80.

Coded telegram 2
Example of a coded telegram sent from General John Pershing (Beatrice) and Micheline Resco (Cheliner).
Telegraph Code Book Good example
One of the secret code books General John Pershing and Micheline Resco shared that they used to decode messages telegraphed between the couple.

Another “history moment” I encountered dismissed any doubt I may have had over the love Pershing and Resco shared for each other. At the Jesuit Archives, I found the license for the couple’s secret 1946 marriage. A Catholic priest married the couple in Pershing’s apartment at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C, 11-days shy of Pershing’s 86th birthday. Pershing Resco Marraige Certificate, John J, Folder M 7, 1-2, B

Pershing died in 1948 as his 88th birthday drew near. Before he died, Pershing asked his grown son Warren that a letter he composed years earlier be delivered to Micheline Resco. Among other words that Pershing had written, it read: 

What a beautiful love has been ours. As my companion in life, you will be with me through eternity. So, do not weep, be brave. Say not good-bye, but say good night.  In all the future, the lingering fragrance of your kisses shall be fresh on my lips.

Pershing Resco Love letter
A copy of the letter General John Pershing asked be delivered to his wife Micheline Resco after his death in 1948. Pershing had written the letter in the 1920’s, a few years after the couple had first met in France during World War I.

After his death, Pershing also left behind a small locket. Pershing’s granddaughter-in-law Sandra Pershing shared it with me in 2016 when I interviewed her for the documentary in New York City. The locket held two photos. One was of his son Warren. The other of Pershing’s wife Micheline.

Pershing Locket 20160116_110937.jpgA romance that blossomed into a love had survived a world war. It was a love that also endured through the lives of General John Pershing and portrait artist Micheline Resco. 

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

Monday, October 8, 2018-

American voices from World War I- Thankfully, the voices of U.S. veterans from several wars are archived for all to hear through the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress. The voices of two WWI veterans, in particular, caught my ear during my research on the Great War. Arnold and Clara Hoke sat for audio interviews in 1971. Clara served as a nurse during WWI in France, working in a Paris hospital tending to some of the most severely wounded U.S. soldiers. Arnold served with the 42nd Rainbow Division in WWI. He saw heavy combat against German troops in several key American battles on the Western Front.

Arnold and Clare Hoke

Arnold and Clara didn’t meet and marry until 1922. They recorded their WWI stories when Clara Hoke was 78 and Arnold Hoke was 79.

Arnold hoke 3
Arnold and Clara Hoke- Photographed by Anna Hyde Dunlap Hoke in San Diego, California in the 1960’s.

Clara Lewandoske Hoke had been a nurse for four years when the U.S. entered World War I. She wasted little time in enlisting in the war effort. As she recalled in her 1971 self-interview, she was assigned to combat field hospitals during the war and a huge hospital facility in Paris. There she spent time working in the “Jaw Ward,” whose facially disfigured patients were a grim reminder of the effects of the war’s high-powered weaponry.

Listen below to Clara’s description of the time WWI U.S. Commander General John J. Pershing came to visit the hospital where she worked and why “Black Jack” Pershing’s visit was so memorable to her.

In 1917, Arnold Hoke arrived in France with the 42nd Rainbow Division. Like many other U.S. soldiers, Hoke experienced trench warfare with little knowledge of what to expect and initially without a weapon. By the spring of 1918, Hoke was promoted to Sergeant and saw combat in the Aisne-Marne Offensives, the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

Arnold Rainbow Division
A French instructor introduces National Guard Soldiers of the 42nd Rainbow? Division to life in the trenches during World War I. Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps

Listen below as Arnold Hoke describes hunkering down in the basement of an abandoned farmhouse during the battle of the Meuse-Argonne, unaware that it had been booby-trapped with explosives by retreating German troops.

Clara Hoke said German air raids and bombing attacks against Paris were fairly routine during her WWI days as a nurse. Listen below as she describes one German bombing attack and anti-aircraft fire that came dangerously close to the hospital ward where she worked in Paris.

Arnold Paris Bombing
A photograph captures the sky above Paris, France during a German bombing attack during WWI in 1918. Photo: Public Domain
Arnold hoke 6
Arnold Hoke was a member of the 42nd Rainbow Division in WWI. Photo: Library of Congress

Arnold Hoke died in 1971, three months after creating the audio recordings of his WWI memories. His straightforward descriptions of life during WWI included stories of fellow soldiers lost, as well as the randomness of those who lived and those who died. His audio recollections make for memorable lessons on the costs of war.

Listen below as Hoke describes a German artillery attack on his fellow soldiers who were eating dinner in a grove of trees when the enemy shells struck during the battle of the Meuse-Argonne.

Arnold Rainbow Division 151st_Field_Artillery_in_the_field
During WWI, Secretary of War Newton C. Baker and Major Douglas McArthur devised a plan to combine National Guard units from around the country into one large division. Twenty-six states and Washington D.C. provided units for what became known as the Rainbow Division. Commanded by Colonel George E. Leach, the Minnesota 151st Field Artillery, part of the Rainbow Division, served in France from October 18, 1917, to November 11, 1918. They saw combat in Lorraine, Champagne, Chateau-Thierry, and Meuse-Argonne. On November 11, 1918 (Armistice Day), the 151st was near Sedan. Photo: Minnesota History Center

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2018 –

A soldier’s diary- A Texas farm lad of German descent, Hillie Franz served in the 7th Division and fought the Germans in World War I. While serving in France, he found a nearly unused German ledger book and, in spite of his lack of formal education (Franz’s spelling was often phonetic at best), he decided to record his experiences in the book.

dIARY page 1
Photos: Library of Congress

It’s a century-old book that comes alive again in the Library of Congress’ Veterans War Project. Franz saw his first combat during the Meuse-Argonne battle in which more than 1-million U.S. troops forced a German retreat that along with separate French and British offensive drives ended WWI. What Franz’s account lacks in literacy it more than makes up for in capturing the chaos of the infantryman’s life in wartime. 

Diary Sept 27

Diary Hillie John Franz 2
Hillie J. Franz while serving in WWI in France in 1918. Photos: Library of Congress

Diary oct 3   Diary oct 14

Diary Nov 8

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

Tuesday, October 30, 2018 –

Battle of Belleau Wood: Leo Bailey’s memories – Sergeant Leo Joseph Bailey was wounded at Belleau Wood in World War I while diving for his dugout during an artillery attack. He spent the next two months recuperating from an artillery shrapnel wound to his right arm in various hospitals. Despite his injury, he later looked back fondly on this period.

In his memoir, found in the Library of Congress, Bailey recalls the Battle of Belleau Wood, or “Belleau Woods,” as he called it in his memoir. In the video below, I have narrated and added video support to illustrate Bailey’s WWI story.

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

Tuesday, November 6, 2018 –

Race to Sedan, France – After 42 punishing, deadly days of fighting American troops finally gained the upper hand against the Germans in early November 1918 in the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne. There, more than 1.2 million U.S. troops fought the largest American battle ever. It was bigger than the World War II Battle of the Bulge (500,000 U.S. soldiers), or the WWII Normandy Invasion in which 156,000 Americans participated.

U.S. troops fighting in the WWI Battle of the Meuse-Argonne in France. Photo: Library of Congress.

By the Meuse-Argonne battle’s end, 26,277 Americans were killed and 95,786 wounded.  The final American objective of World War I was the rugged region around French town of Sedan. It was a final furious U.S. push to cut off the entire German 2nd Army and sever the enemy railroads that supplied and transported German troops.

Sedan was also an important objective for the French. It had been the site of a major French defeat by the Germans during the Franco Prussian War. For those reasons, Sedan was targeted for recapture by the Fourth French Army.

American Expeditionary Forces commander, General John J. Pershing wrote about Sedan in his diary on November the 5th and his desire to see General Theodore Dickman’s U.S. Army’s I Corps be the first U.S. troops to free Sedan.

Nov 5

After almost a month-and-a-half of fighting, U.S. troops had finally forced the Germans from the trenches. The doughboys were now chasing them into a hasty retreat back toward the Meuse River and into Germany.

On November 6, General Pershing’s diary showed his desire for U.S. troops to beat French troops to Sedan. He suggested French General Paul Maistre, whose troops were fighting on the right flank of the American troops, would approve.

Nov 6

General Dickman would have other Allied competition in the glory race to free Sedan of its 4-year German occupation. 1st Division commander General Charles Summerall also ordered his troops to be the first to recapture Sedan. Soon they crossed into the advance line of Dickman’s I Corps troops. In the ensuing chaos, the U.S. troops opened fire on each other. A furious General Dickman called for General Summerall to be court-martialed. Cooler heads ultimately prevailed. The May 1922 edition of the Saturday Evening Post finishes this post.


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

Sunday, November 11, 2018 –

Armistice Day, World War I: It arrived on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. The war ended after 4-years of fighting including an estimated 11,000 lives killed in the last day of fighting.  Henry Gunther was among them, the last American soldier to die. And then, it was over. 

From the battlefields of France, Belgium and beyond men who were once enemies shook hands, swapped cigarettes, sang songs and danced. From Paris to London, Washington, and New York, armistice celebrations unfolded. The suffering of war replaced by rejoicing. In the video below watch scenes of the WWI armistice countdown and subsequent celebration. 

The armistice meant both sides of the war agreed to stop fighting. It was a defeat for Germany, but not a surrender. The Allies and Germany agreed to the following:

  • Germany would accept blame for the war with reparations paid for all damages
  • Occupied lands in Belgium, Luxembourg, and France–plus Alsace-Lorraine would be evacuated by Germany within 14 days
  • German forces must also withdraw from Austria-Hungary, Romania, and Turkey 
  • The Allies would occupy Germany west of the Rhine River
  • Germany would surrender 10 battleships, 6 battlecruisers, 8 cruisers, and 160 submarines
  • Germany would be stripped of heavy armaments, including 5,000 artillery, 25,000 machine guns, and 2,000 airplanes
  • 5,000 locomotives, 150,000 railway cars, and 5,000 trucks would be confiscated from Germany
  • The Allied naval blockade would continue
Men of U.S. 64th Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, celebrate the news of the Armistice, November 11, 1918. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

2018-11-11_1209Armistice Day brought relief, celebrations, and joy for millions of people. It also brought a permanent loss of innocence for those countries, including America, and lives, including Americans, who were forever changed by WWI.  An estimated 9-million soldiers died in the fighting. Millions more were wounded, gassed and permanently scarred in the war.  On 11/11/1918, the bloodiest, most miserable conflict in history until that time was finally over.    

Doughboys WWI-Photo-1 (2)


World War I, the “war to end all wars” wasn’t. World War II would follow 22-years later. History would revisit mankind with another terrible lesson. Millions of lives again would be lost in battle. “It is not enough to win a war; it is more important to organize the peace.” – Aristotle

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