John Joseph Pershing was an American Army general who is probably most noted for his role in the First World War as the leader of the Allied Expeditionary Force. Pershing's long and colorful career was highly distinguished, with numerous domestic and international citations and medals being awarded to him for his role in various military actions. Pershing is widely regarded as one of the most notable generals in American history, and many of the noted military figures of the Second World War looked to General Pershing as a mentor.
Pershing was born in 1860. Initially, he trained as a school teacher, but at the age of 22, he decided to train at West Point, rapidly rising in the ranks even before he entered the field of battle. By 1898, he had become a recognizable figure in the Spanish American War, and he was promoted to Captain in 1901 for his service. In 1906, John Joseph Pershing became a Brigadier General, and when the First World War broke out, he had a prime opportunity to distinguish himself.
As a commander, General Pershing was very forceful, and he had a strong independent streak, sometimes pulling rank or going beyond his job duties to accomplish his goals in the way he saw fit. While his style of command ultimately helped to win the First World War, he was also heavily criticized as a commander, with some people suggesting that he didn't always make the wisest choices. At times, Pershing put soldiers in direct danger, despite available alternatives.
Even with his brash, aggressive style of command, Pershing attracted admiration, and in 1919, he was awarded the rank of General of the Army of the United States. He was the only living American to have held a rank that high; while Washington was named General of the Army, the award was posthumous. Pershing didn't retire on his laurels, either, continuing to play an active role in military strategy and military education until his death in 1948.
In the First World War, the media dubbed John Joseph Pershing “Black Jack Pershing,” in a reference to his service with the Buffalo Soldiers, a primarily black military unit. The original version of this nickname was less polite, including a racial epithet rather than “Black.” This nickname only increased the mythology of John Joseph Pershing, making him a household name even before his Pulitzer Prizewinning book, My Experiences in the World War, published in 1932.