General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing spent several years in Lincoln, but it had a great impact on his life, according to a new documentary about the military figure, ‘Black Jack Pershing: Love and War.’
The West Point graduate came to lead the Military Cadet program at the University of Nebraska in the mid-to-late 1890s.
“He got the loyalty of those cadets he worked with and he really, I think, enjoyed that camaraderie and the respect that came from that,” Barney McCoy, UNL professor of Journalism, tells Nebraska Radio Network. “I think that really changed his mind about the military and the possibilities of being a commander.”
McCoy has spent the past five years working on the documentary that airs on NET, Nebraska’s PBS station.
He admits to not knowing much about Pershing before he was contacted about making the documentary.
“He had been a cadet commander,” McCoy explains. “I knew that he had gotten a law degree here. I knew that there was a Pershing Auditorium in Lincoln, Nebraska, and that was about the extent of my knowledge.”
He reviewed Pershing’s personal letters, archival material, and conducted expert interviews around the country for the project.
“Here is a guy who was born in the age of horse and buggy, and died at the beginning of the nuclear age.”
McCoy wants viewers to appreciate Pershing’s role in World War I and the significance it has in American history.
He also wants people to learn about the personal side of the strict, military leader.
“His private persona was just that. It was very private. It was very tender,” McCoy says. “He was a prodigious letter writer. In letters that he wrote his wife and, later on, the portrait artist that he met in France during World War I, all that tenderness comes out.”
Pershing’s wife and three daughters died in a house fire when he was at the U.S.-Mexico border, and only his son survived.
Despite the personal loss, the documentary tells of Pershing’s rise through the military to become general of the armies.
The one-hour program will debut at 9 p.m. CT on Saturday, Nov. 11 on NET. It also airs on NET Sunday, Nov. 12, at 4 p.m. CT and Friday, Nov. 17, at 8 p.m. CT.
There will be a sneak preview and discussion of “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” on Wednesday Nov. 8, at 7 p.m. at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center, 313 N. 13th St., Lincoln.
AUDIO: Mike Loizzo reports [:42]