After the death of Frederick Funston on February 19, 1917, it was inevitable that the newly promoted Major General John J. (Blackjack) Pershing would command the American Expeditionary Force that would be sent to France. It must have seemed somewhat dizzying to him. Nineteen years before he had been an overage thirty-eight year old First Lieutenant who would be lucky to make Major before retirement. In 1893 he obtained a law degree in case he decided to leave the Army, fed up by the slow promotions offered by the minuscule peace time Army.
The Spanish-American War and Theodore Roosevelt made him. At the battle of San Juan Hill he made a lifelong friend of Theodore Roosevelt. Under fire he was as “cool as a bowl of cracked ice”, as one observer noted. Rising to the temporary rank of Major of Volunteers he gained a reputation as a good combat officer in both Cuba and the Philippines and would serve as Adjutant General of the Philippines Department.
After the Spanish-American War he reverted to the regular army rank of Captain. In 1905 Captain Pershing was promoted to Brigadier General Pershing by President Roosevelt over the heads of 835 officers more senior than him. Surprisingly there was not much animosity over this, Pershing enjoying a reputation of extreme professional competence in the Army, a soldier’s soldier.