Saturday, August 29, 2015

Commemoration of General Pershing's Most Tragic Loss

John J. Pershing, 1903
General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing is remembered today primarily for his military successes, but his greatest loss came not on a battlefield but at home.  In 1913 Pershing took command of the 8th Brigade at the Presidio in San Francisco.  He and his family — his wife, Frances, and their children — moved there.  Early in 1914, however, Pershing was deployed to Fort Bliss, Texas due to border problems between the United States and Mexico.

Pershing family, c. 1911
After almost a year in Texas, Pershing decided to bring his family out there.  Arrangements had not yet been completed when a fire struck the Pershing home on the Presidio, on August 27, 1915.  Frances Pershing and the three Pershing daughters, Helen, 9, Anne, 7, and Mary, 3, died in the fire.  Only Pershing's son, Warren, 6, survived.

Thursday, August 27, 2015, was the 100th anniversary of the fire and the Pershing deaths.  A memorial event was held at Pershing Square at the Presidio in honor of General Pershing's loss.  About 60 people attended the ceremony.

Captain David A. Poe of the Pershing Rifles spoke at the memorial ceremony and discussed how much Pershing inspired the men he commanded.  He was a hard taskmaster, but those who learned from him respected him deeply.  Diane Rooney of the World War One Historical Association then read the poem "Remember" (1862), by Christina Rossetti:

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more, day by day,
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

After the laying of wreaths at the site and a moment of silence, additional presentations took place in the Presidio Officers' Club.  The most significant in context of the memorial was that of Major General Alfred Valenzuela, U.S. Army (retired), who spoke about how important families are to members of the military.  Support from family members helps service members make it through the often difficult work they do to protect and serve our country.

A timely discovery at the memorial ceremony was that the ongoing Presidio archaeological project recently found what is believed to be part of the foundation of the Pershing home.

The event was organized by the World War One Historical Association working with the World War One Centennial Commission, the Pershing Rifles,, the Presidio Trust, and the National Park Service.  Additional support came from the American Battle Monuments Commission, the office of the Honorable Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House of Representatives, and the ROTC Santa Clara Color Guard.

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