An American general instrumental in winning World War I 100 years ago brought discipline and toughness to American troops; discipline he first implemented at the University of Nebraska.
General John “Black Jack” Pershing brought discipline to a neglected cadet corps at the University of Nebraska in 1891, transferring it to the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I in 1917.
“Sometimes to the extent that people just said he’s just too tough, but I think you can argue that it was that toughness in World War I that if we had not had that there’s a real question about whether the Allies would have been able to win the war against Germany,” University of Nebraska-Lincoln Journalism Professor Barney McCoy tells Nebraska Radio Network.
McCoy immersed himself into the life of Pershing to produce the documentary “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War.”
McCoy says many Americans know little about World War I and even less about Pershing. He says Nebraskans might have a better understanding of the pivotal role he played, simply because Pershing, raised in the northern Missouri town of Laclede, made his way to the University of Nebraska, reshaping the cadet corps program, teaching classes and studying law.
It was the Great War, though, which demonstrated the value of his tough discipline and the genius of his military leadership.
McCoy says it’s incredible what Pershing accomplished in World War I. The United States entered the war late with an initial army of 220,000 soldiers and officers going to Europe in April of 1917. That force would grow to 2 million as the Allies attempted to turn back an experienced, well-armed German fighting machine.
Russia had left the war as revolution sprung up at home and the United States entered.
Pershing, according to McCoy, hoped to give his troops additional training and more experience, but events forced his hand and he led 1.2 million American troops into the 47-day decisive battle of Meuse-Argonne which pushed back the German army and led to the end of the World War I on November 11th of 1918.
McCoy says it was Pershing who made the decisions which led to victory.
“I mean we had great people stateside and Pershing was given great support, but ultimately he was the commander who was in charge of going out and putting our troops into combat and making those incredibly difficult decisions,” according to McCoy.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [1 min]