June 14, 1917: Pershing Arrives in France

Friday, June 16, AD 2017

On June 14, 1917 General John J. Pershing and 190 of his staff, military and civilians, arrived in France.  The first American combat troops would land on June 26, 1917.  America would not have a full division in France until the arrival of the last elements of the First Division in October 1917.  Eventually two million doughboys would serve in France but the buildup was initially a slow process.  No doubt many Allied leaders were wondering if the Americans would arrive in time to turn the balance against a Germany that was in the process of winning the War in the East.  Perilous times for America and its allies a century ago.  We forget today what a monumental task it was to raise an army of millions, train and equip it and to ship it across the Atlantic, and to do this from a starting stop in about a year’s time.  No wonder that some Allied leaders were skeptical, as Winston Churchill noted after Pearl Harbor:

Silly people — and there were many, not only in enemy countries — might discount the force of the United States. Some said they were soft, others that they would never be united. They would fool around at a distance. They would never come to grips. They would never stand blood-letting. Their democracy and system of recurrent elections would paralyze their war effort. They would be just a vague blur on the horizon to friend or foe. Now we should see the weakness of this numerous but remote, wealthy, and talkative people. But I had studied the American Civil War, fought out to the last desperate inch. American blood flowed in my veins. I thought of a remark which Edward Grey had made to me more than thirty years before — that the United States is like “a gigantic boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it there is no limit to the power it can generate.”

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