On September 10th of 1919, nearly a year after the official end of the First World War, veterans of World War One were honored with a parade in New York City.
The parade was hosted as a welcome home to General John J. Pershing, long with 25,000 soldiers who had served with him in the First Division of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) on the Western Front.
At first, the United States had declared neutrality when the war broke out in 1914. However, America eventually got dragged in, and finally declared war on Germany in April of 1917. By the end of the First World War in November of 1918, President Woodrow Wilson had sent more than two million American soldiers to the battlefields of Western Europe. Roughly fifty thousand soldiers died at that place called The Western Front. In late 1918, the American government started bringing the soldiers home. There still remained an occupation force of 16,000 U.S. troops that stayed until 1923, living in the town of Coblenz, Germany. They were the post war allied presence, in accordance with the Treaty of Versailles. But by September of 1919, the last living American combat soldiers had come home. This was indeed a cause for a parade.
So twenty-five thousand soldiers marched, fully armed and in full uniform, down Fifth Avenue, all the way from 107th Street to Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, to the exuberant cheers of many thousand enthusiastic spectators that lined both sides of the Avenue. The loudest cheers were for General John Pershing himself, according to the New York Times' exuberant reporters. Pershing was named the U.S. General of the Armies. Pershing had led those 25,000 soldiers to victory. John J. Pershing was actually the only person to be named U.S. General of the Armies in his own lifetime.
Said one reporter, “It was the town's first opportunity to greet the men of the 1st Division, and to let them know that it remembered their glorious part in the American army's smashing drives at Toul, at Cantigny, at Soissons, at St. Mihiel, and at the Meuse and the Argonne.”
Pershing also participated in a similar parade that traveled down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC on September 17th.
Born on a farm in Missouri in 1860, Pershing grew up with his five surviving siblings, as three of them had died in infancy. During the American Civil War, Pershing's father supported the Union. John was sworn in as a cadet at West Point in 1882. He said he did this not so much because he wanted to fight in wars, but simply because the education at West Point was better than what you could get in rural Missouri. Still, he is most noted for his service on The Western Front during the First World War. On Pershing's retirement from military service in 1924, he oversaw a commission that supervised the construction of American war memorials in France.
General John J. Pershing died in 1948, at the age of 87.