A Special Contribution Courtesy of Gene Smith

Excerpted from; Chapter III, Until the Last Trumpet Sounds by Gene Smith. Reprinted by permission of the Author. Available from John Wiley & Sons, Inc.




..."I tell you one thing, Pershing said, "I'm going to jump right down the throat of the next man who asks me if I think the Americans will really fight. Fight? Americans?"

      He banged his fist down on the table. He was at breakfast with some one from the long ago. She had written upon his arrival in France. "Dear General Pershing, My father was Chancellor Canfield of the University of Nebraska, and when I was a little girl I was in your class in geometry and you gave me some fencing lessons." Little Dorothy Canfield had grown up to be the eminent author Dorothy Canfield Fisher. Her husband was driving ambulances for the French wounded and she was working with their war-blinded. They had lived abroad for many years. Her former teacher had come to France just in time, she wrote him. There was a limit to what flesh and endurance could stand. "Thank God you are here!"

      They sat together and she saw that what long ago when he was the lieut[enant] had been "an irresistible, friendly smile" was veiled, and that "none of the charm of his humorous comradely familiarity was to be seen." He seemed to her hard, intent, stern, like a doctor called to a sickroom. He made no claims of what he would accomplish, and said that until he got more firsthand information he could by no means be sure that he or anyone else could beat the Germans. When she said the sight of him made her again the little girl of great faith and that now she felt the war was over, he replied, "Child, it's just begun!" She was reminded that morning at breakfast of her dead father and the home people she had not seen for long years. "He was all my country come to France, purposeful, not overconfident, fully aware, and determined.

...He would not scatter the men starting to come over in droves now, feed them into the winds bit by bit for foreign armies...he would not fight until his troops were ready. When he had a massive and cohesive force trained to smash through the Germans and send them running and destroy them as they ran -- then he would strike. The British and French, he said, were too wedded to trench warfare. That spoke of defensive warfare. It was foreign to American nature, tradition, inheritance. Who believed in that weren't going to get their hands on his soldiers. They might appeal to Washington, they might eventually secure his relief from command. It was not unlikely. Indeed, not a single commander-in-chief of any of the great European armies had held that position when the war began. So it might be that Pershing under Wilson, like McClellan under Lincoln, would form an army to be fought to victory by a successor, Grant in McClellan's case, someone else in Pershing's.

...The commander in chief's second-floor office was bare of any decorations. His desk was very plain, the seats in the room severe. Nothing but maps were on the walls. He kept a window open even in poor weather, and the temperature seemed twenty degrees colder in his room that elsewhere, or so people said.

...Fewer than 5 percent of the AEF's eventual officer corps were regulars, with ninety-nine out of one hundred lieutenants and captains newly commissioned and entirely without military experience, but they were going to look and act like soldiers. So would the enlisted me. High choke collars would stay buttoned at all times. Leggings would be pipe-clayed and neatly wound. Everybody would be closely shaved, every day.

...He seemed to his legions, cold, hard-bitten, unreasonable, petty, rigid. A great Locomobile would appear and the commander in chief emerged seeking the slightest sign of sloppy housekeeping in billets and to take harsh notice of muddy shoes or headgear not set right, to critically regard how men moved about and held themselves...The men found him forbidding and menacing. Most soldiers were afraid of him and were sometimes too nervous to answer coherently when questioned about the quality of their meals...He was never at pains to be jovial, the commander affectionately pinching the adolescent enlisted men's cheek. Anyone standing in ranks who turned to look at him was lashed out at and the mans' sergeant was told to take him out in the company street and keep him standing at attention with eyes front for half an hour. He arrived at a hospital to find the doctors lined up at the entrance as if, thought the junior officer Laurence Stallings, they expected a visit from the chairman of the board on Founder's Day. "Go back to you posts and stand at attention." Pershing said. He had hard eyes and set thin lips, Stallings thought, 'The Iron Commander.'

      "They will never call him 'Papa' Pershing...He can read a man's soul through his boots or his buttons," wrote Heywood Broun.

...At a divisional review where [First Division Commander William] Sibert's troops marched raggedly over poorly selected, uneven ground, Pershing erupted. Besides the matter of the undistinguished marching, he rasped in his harshly cold manner, officers offered insufficiently pertinent observations regarding a practice attack on an entrenched enemy.

      It was all very unpleasant. " He just scarified us," remembered one of the First's officers. The outfit showed little evidence of proper training, Pershing said. Poor use had been made of its time. He grilled officers, got faltering replies, turned to go. The officer who remembered being scarified was perhaps not so much so, for he began to say something. Pershing turned away. The officer reached out put his hand on the commander in chief's arm. "General Pershing, there's something to be said here." "What have you got to say?" The officer, "mad all over," he remembered, poured out a torrent. The lookers-on were "horrified." But Pershing listened and in future visits took him to one side to ask how things were going. The officer never held anything back. "You could talk to him as if you were discussing somebody in the next country. He never held it against you for an instant. I never saw another commander I could do that with. It was one of his great strengths that he could listen to things." Here is someone, Pershing decided, who had grasp. It was George C. Marshall, Jr.

... "When you stumbled on a lost American doughboy in a God-forsaken Lorraine hamlet, his bearing, the set of his tunic, his salute, all authentically recalled the general who sat in Chaumont." He was hard and relentless, his soldiers uniformly believed, ruthless, inexorable, inflexible, stifling. And the last remove from lovable.

...{But] he was his Army.

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