Gen John J Pershing dies at 87uly 15 1948

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Gen. John J. Pershing, commander of the U.S. forces in Europe, arrives in France with a group of American officers, on June 13, 1917. AP Photo

On this day in 1948, Gen. John Joseph Black Jack Pershing died of coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he had lived since 1944. After a state funeral, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, near the graves of the soldiers he commanded in Europe during World War I. He was 87.

Pershing is the sole person Congress promoted in his lifetime to general of the armies, the highest rank in the U.S. Army. (In 1976, Congress retroactively promoted George Washington to the same rank.)

Invited by Congress to select his own insignia, Pershing chose to wear four gold stars to distinguish himself from the four silver stars worn by officers who held the rank of general. After the creation of the new five-star general of the army rank during World War II, Pershings rank of general of the armies was unofficially bumped up to a six-star general. Pershing died, however, before Congress could act on the upgraded insignia.

After graduating from West Point in 1886, Pershing took command of the 6th Cavalry Regiment in the West, where he participated in the Apache and Sioux campaigns. He was promoted to first lieutenant of the 10th Cavalry Regiment in Montana, one of several segregated regiments formed after passage of an 1866 law authorizing the Army to form regiments of black soldiers. The law stipulated that the units be commanded by white officers. Pershing often expressed his admiration for the black soldiers under his command, earning him the nickname Black Jack.

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt, impressed by Pershings ability, asked the Army general staff to promote Pershing to colonel. At the time, promotions were largely based on seniority, not merit. The general staff refused, angering Roosevelt, who as president could name and promote only generals or admirals. Roosevelt asked Congress to give Pershing a diplomatic posting. He was duly stationed as a military attach in Tokyo in 1905.

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That same year, Pershing married Helen Frances Warren, the daughter of Sen. Francis Warren (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Military Affairs Committee and the recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service in the Civil War. In 1915, while he was stationed at Fort Bliss in Texas, Pershing learned that his wife and three young daughters had died in a home fire at the Presidio in San Francisco. Only his 6-year-old son, Francis Warren, survived.

On April 6, 1917, the United States joined Britain, France and Russia to fight in World War I. After being interviewed by President Woodrow Wilson, Pershing was installed on May 10 as the commander of the American Expeditionary Force.

As the AEF commander, Pershing was responsible for the organization, training, and supply of a combined professional and draft Army and National Guard force that eventually grew from 27,000 untrained men to a force totaling over 2 million soldiers.

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