was a general officer in the United States Army who led the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I. Pershing is the only person to be promoted in his own lifetime to the highest rank ever held in the United States Army—General of the Armies (a retroactive Congressional edict passed in 1976 promoted George Washington to the same rank but with higher seniority). Pershing holds the first United States officer service number (O-1). He was regarded as a mentor by the generation of American generals who led the United States Army in Europe during World War II, including George C. Marshall, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar N. Bradley, and George S. Patton.
At the start of the Spanish-American War, First Lieutenant Pershing was the regimental quartermaster for 10th Cavalry Regiment (Buffalo Soldiers) and fought with the unit on Kettle and San Juan Hill in Cuba and was cited for gallantry. (In 1919, he was awarded the Silver Citation Star for these actions, and in 1932 the award was upgraded to the Silver Star decoration.) Pershing also served with the 10th Cavalry during the siege and surrender of Santiago de Cuba.
Pershing was commissioned as a major of United States Volunteers on August 26, 1898, and assigned as an ordnance officer. He was honorably discharged from the volunteers and reverted to his permanent rank of first lieutenant on May 12, 1899. Soon after, he was again commissioned as a major of Volunteers on June 6, 1899, as an assistant adjutant general.
In March 1899, after suffering from malaria, Pershing was put in charge of the Office of Customs and Insular Affairs which oversaw occupation forces in territories gained in the Spanish-American War, including Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam.
When the Philippine-American War began, Pershing was either ordered or requested transfer to Manila. He reported on August 17, 1899, as a major of Volunteers and was assigned to the Department of Mindanao and Jolo and commanded efforts to suppress the Filipino Insurrection. On November 27, 1900, Pershing was appointed Adjutant General of his department and served in this posting until March 1, 1901. He was cited for bravery for actions on the Cagayan River while attempting to destroy a Philippine stronghold at Macajambo.
On June 30, 1901, Pershing was honorably discharged from the Volunteers and he reverted to the rank of captain in the Regular Army to which he had been promoted on February 2, 1901. He served with the 1st Cavalry Regiment in the Philippines. He later was assigned to the 15th Cavalry Regiment, serving as an intelligence officer and participating in actions against the Moros. He was cited for bravery at Lake Lanao. In June 1901, he served as Commander of Camp Vicars in Lanao, Philippines, after the previous camp commander had been promoted to brigadier general.
On 20 December 1913, he received orders to report to the 8th Brigade at San Francisco. On 20 January 1914, Pershing, with the 8th Brigade, began patrolling the Mexican Border. On 15 March 1915, Pershing led an expedition into Mexico to capture Pancho Villa. This expedition was ill-equipped and hampered by a lack of supplies due to the breakdown of the Quartermaster Corps. Although there had been talk of war on the border for years, no steps had been taken to provide for the handling of supplies for an expedition. Despite this and other hindrances, such as the lack of aid from the former Mexican government, and their refusal to allow American troops to transport troops and supplies over their railroads, Pershing organized and commanded the Mexican Punitive Expedition, a combined armed force of 10,000 men that penetrated 350 miles into Mexico. They routed Pancho Villa's revolutionaries, severely wounding the bandit himself but failing to capture him.
After a year at Fort Bliss, Pershing decided to take his family there. The arrangements were almost complete, when on the morning of August 27, 1915, he received a telegram telling him of a tragic fire in the Presidio of San Francisco, where a lacquered floor blaze had rapidly spread, resulting in the smoke inhalation deaths of his wife, Helen, and three young daughters. Only his six-year-old son Warren survived. Many who knew Pershing said he never recovered from their deaths. After the funerals at Lakeview Cemetery in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Pershing returned to Fort Bliss with his son, Warren, and his sister Mae, and resumed his duties as commanding officer.