General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing is the highest ranked military officer buried here at Arlington National Cemetery, and the second highest ranked military officer in United States history. He was appointed General of the Armies, which indicates command over all branches of US armed services, on September 3, 1919. He is the only person to receive the rank while living. The only other person to hold this rank is Lieutenant General George Washington who received it nearly 200 years after his service in 1976. General of the Armies rank is equivalent to a six-star General status, though no insignia has ever been created.
Pershing was the president and first captain of the West Point class of 1886. He served in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War. In 1897, Pershing returned to West Point as an instructor. The cadets, who disliked him because he was rigid and strict, gave him the nickname “Black Jack” because he served with the African-American Tenth Cavalry. The nickname, meant to be callous, stuck with Pershing for the rest of his life.
Pershing quickly rose to the rank of general. In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson selected Pershing to command the American Expeditionary Forces during the Great War. Pershing’s willingness to integrate into Allied operations helped bring about the armistice with Germany. After the war, Pershing served as Army Chief of Staff from 1921 to 1924. He was mentor to a generation of U.S. Army generals including George S. Patton, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George C. Marshall and Omar Bradley, all of who led the United States through World War II.
This year is the 100th anniversary of America’s entrance in World War I. Visit the Welcome Center to view a special exhibition on the Great War. After that, ride the guided tram tour to learn more about General Pershing and other WWI notables.
Amanda Varnam Arlington National Cemetery Narrator, driver, trainer and dispatcher.