American Portraits

John J. Pershing: Honoring the Fallen

In this lesson, students will learn about the life and actions of John Pershing. They will learn through his actions how he sought to ensure the respect of his soldiers and the sacrifices they made on behalf of their country. Through this example, students will learn how they can be more respectful in their own lives.

Founding Principles

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Narrative

John Pershing was born in rural Missouri in 1860. His father, a businessman, served as a sutler during the Civil War that embroiled the nation after John’s birth. By 1882, John Pershing was looking for a way to escape rural Missouri and to challenge himself academically. He found a solution to both of these issues by attending the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can John Pershing’s respectful acts toward the men he served with inspire you to be more respectful in your own life?

Virtue Defined

Respect is civility flowing from personal humility.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn about the life and actions of John Pershing. They will learn through his actions how he sought to ensure the respect of his soldiers and the sacrifices they made on behalf of their country. Through this example, students will learn how they can be more respectful in their own lives.

Objectives

  • Students will analyze the actions of John Pershing and the American Battle Monuments Commission.
  • Students will understand why respect is essential in order to follow one’s purpose.
  • Students will apply their knowledge of respect to their own lives.

Background

America has fought and won two world wars. They are considered “world wars” because combat operations spanned the entire globe. From the Philippines and North Africa to the rolling fields of France and Belgium and Great Britain, the wars left great scars upon the land and under the sea. They also left their mark on thousands of American families who lost fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters in the conflicts.

Honoring our fallen soldiers has always been an essential part of the healing process of the United States in the months and years following a conflict. The Civil War saw the creation of a great national cemetery outside the nation’s capital, intended for those who dedicated at least a portion of their lives to the service of their nation. Another famous Civil War cemetery was dedicated in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania by President Lincoln. In his now immortal speech given at the dedication, he stated:

“We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”

This mentality of how to properly honor those who served in the U.S. military would continue into the twentieth century. The First World War was America’s first major involvement in a European war. The commander of the American Expeditionary Force during this conflict, John Pershing, felt this same obligation to remember to those who had fought and given their last full measure of devotion to the cause of freedom.

Vocabulary

  • Consecrate
  • Hallow
  • Mentality
  • Sutler
  • Embroil
  • Rigorous
  • Escort
  • Campaign
  • Quartermaster
  • Gallantry
  • Regiment
  • Armistice
  • Civilian

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

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Questions

Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • Who was John Pershing?
  • What was John Pershing’s role during World War I and its aftermath?
  • How did John Pershing’s identity affect his purpose?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

  • Smith, Gene. Until the Last Trumpet Sounds: The Life of General of the Armies John J. Pershing (Wiley, New York, 1998) ISBN 978-0-471-24693-0
  • “Pershing Museum and Leadership Archives.” Pershing Museum and Leadership Archives. http://www.pershingmuseum.com/
  • “American Battle Monuments Commission.” American Battle Monuments Commission. http://www.abmc.gov/

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