Los Angeles is filled with memorials and tributes to those who lost their lives 100 years ago in “The War to End All Wars,” as World War I came to be called.
One such tribute is the 115-feet tall flagpole sitting on the corner of Orange Grove and Colorado boulevards. Designed by Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue and built by Lee Lawrie, the pole was erected in 1928. Another is Victory Boulevard, named for the doughboys that lost their lives. It begins in Glendale and stretches for 23 miles to Woodland Hills.
In Los Angeles, there’s the LA Memorial Coliseum, which was commissioned to be built in 1921 as a memorial to those who died in the war, then rededicated in 1946 by then-Governor and future US Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren to include World War II veterans, according to the LA Daily News. And in downtown LA there’s Pershing Square, an existing developed space that was renamed on Nov. 8, 1918 — three days before Germany signed the armistice that formally ended the fighting on the Western Front.
This latter event was in honor of tall and dashing US Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing, leader of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in Europe during the war.
After the war, many schools and streets around the country would be named or renamed in honor of the quiet, solitary 57-year-old widower who mentored some of the greatest military leaders of the 20th century before retiring from the Army in 1924 at the age of 64. Among his protégés were President Dwight Eisenhower, former Supreme Allied Commander in World War II; George Marshall, Secretary of State and himself General of the Army in the second global conflict; Gen. Douglas MacArthur; Gen. Omar Bradley; and Gen. George S. Patton, who lived with his family in San Marino.
It was Pershing’s association with Patton, the son of the first mayor of San Marino, and grandson of Benjamin “Don Benito” Wilson of San Gabriel, the second mayor of Los Angeles, that would lead the general to a new love — Patton’s sister.
Born in Missouri in 1860, Pershing remembered how Confederate bushwhackers hunted his father, who flew the Union flag above the family’s store. As a young man, Pershing taught African-American students before entering the US Military Academy at West Point in 1882. Three years later, he became one of the first white officers to command African-American soldiers in the 10th Cavalry. His nickname “Black Jack,” which came to signify his toughness, originated from his command of the segregated regiment.
Pershing led Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry in Montana in 1886 — today costumed horseback riding actors portray the Buffalo Soldiers each year in the Rose Parade — and again in the Spanish-American War in the late 1890s. In fact, Pershing often praised black soldiers to others, “an unusual thing to do at the time,” as one historian understated the blatant racism exhibited toward blacks in all areas of society, including the military.
Throughout much of the first dozen years of the 20th century, Pershing and his family were stationed in the Philippines, where he led American troops in putting down the Moro (Muslim) revolt in the country’s Moro Province. There he served as military governor until 1913, when he and his wife Frances returned home to the United States with their young brood in tow.
In 1915, Pershing’s wife and their three young daughters, ages 3, 7, and 8, tragically died in a fire at the Presidio in San Francisco. By the time of the fire, Pershing had been sent from San Francisco to Fort Bliss, Texas, to patrol the Mexican border against a rumored invasion by Mexican revolutionary Gen. Francisco “Pancho” Villa. Pershing’s 5-year-old son, Warren, survived the fire, but was later cared for by Pershing’s sisters who lived in Nebraska, according to a blog created by Bernard “Barney” McCoy, a communications professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and creator of the documentary “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War,”
Patton, who was assigned to Fort Bliss along with the general, introduced Pershing to his younger sister, Anne Wilson “Nita” Patton, while she was visiting her brother in Texas in early 1917. Two years after the fatal fire, the two fell in love and were engaged to be married.
But President Woodrow Wilson had other plans for the general, calling upon Pershing to lead American forces against Germany. Pershing obeyed without question and shipped off to Paris in November 1917.
It’s said Pershing had a number of romantic liaisons in France, but apparently none made quite the impression left by 21-year-old Micheline Resco, a Romanian artist living in Paris who was commissioned by the French government to paint the general’s portrait. After that encounter, Resco and Pershing remained lovers for the following three decades.
Needless to say, Pershing’s engagement to Nita Patton was called off in 1918, with him publicly lamenting how he let her get away, and her never marrying.
CODE FOR LOVE
In 1932, at age 72, Pershing’s two-volume memoir, “My Experience in the World War,” won that’s year’s Pulitzer Prize for History. But just as he was prolific on the subject of combat, he was equally creative when it came to writing romantic letters to Resco, many of them in code.
According to a story appearing in the The New York Times Book Section in 1986, Resco and Pershing were separated six to eight months a year, and the couple kept in touch by letter and cablegram.
“A discreet man, Pershing usually wrote his letters on plain paper or hotel or shipboard stationery, and sent his cables in code,” The Times reported.
“A sample went like this: CHELINER, AURORA, VELOURS, BEATRICE,” the story explains.
“CHELINER was the code name for Micheline. AURORA meant ‘my beloved one, my own dear one’; VELOURS, ‘take good care of yourself, my treasure.’ The cables were signed with a common first name like BEATRICE, as in this case, which meant ‘May God protect you, my treasure; I pray for you every minute.’ Other commonly used names were BERNARD (write more often), CLAUDE (answer by cable), MIREILLE (millions of kisses), PATRICIA (don’t forget all that I have said about love), ROSEMARY (my adored, my life, my love).”
BEGINNING TO END
By the mid-1940s, failing health had forced the octogenarian general into convalescence at Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington, DC. It was there, in 1946, that he finally wed Resco. By this time, she was 52; he was nearing 86. It was not immediately known what their living arrangements would be, if any different at all, with her residing in New York City and Washington. What is known is they were married by a Catholic priest right there on the hospital grounds.
Pershing, who lived in a wood-paneled apartment on the hospital campus, died nearly two years later, at the age of 87. Resco, who stayed in touch by letters with many members of Pershing’s family, died in 1968 at the age of 74.
In the end, it’s astonishing to think that this man of war, who unlike others of his time sought equality for black soldiers in battle, seemed to devote as much time in his life to the pursuit of love and pleasing his partners as he did to vanquishing our nation’s enemies.