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Gen. John J. Pershing

The American Legion awarded its second Distinguished Service Medal to Pershing, who commanded the American Expeditionary Force in World War I.

A staunch backer of the Legion's founding just three years earlier, he told delegates at the 1922 national convention, "I never wear any other decoration than the Distinguished Service Medal, and I would rather have it than all the decorations that could possibly be bestowed by all the kings and potentates of the earth."

Pershing, a celebrated war hero who shared his six-star general ranking with only George Washington, seemed more comfortable as a common soldier. He pushed hard for the creation of the Legion at the Paris caucus in 1919, but resisted every effort to make him commander. He was content to be remain a member of George Washington Post 1 in Washington, D.C.

"I am therefore compelled to deny myself the opportunity for an honor that might well crown the career of any soldier," Pershing told a cheering crowd at the 1926 convention. "I am not a candidate for the office (of national commander). I shall be content to serve in the ranks." However, Legionnaires did name him an honorary national commander.

Pershing never forgot his ties to the organization, saying in one interview, "The American Legion? They are my comrades in service to the last man. I mean it. I've put in practice what I preach." The General of the Armies quickly produced his membership card and quipped, "And I've paid my dues, too!"

When Pershing died July 15, 1948, at 88, President Truman said he embodied "all those soldierly qualities that are essential to a great captain: brilliant leadership, steadfast courage, tireless energy, unswerving loyalty and constant devotion to duty."

For the funeral procession, some 300,000 people lined the streets to Arlington National Cemetery, where the "common soldier" was laid to rest beneath a simple headstone, among the soldiers he commanded in Europe.

For more on Pershing, click here (www.pershingmuseum.com).

 

View more Distinguished Service Medal recipients

 

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