Rural Missouri - September 2013 - (Page 28)
ost people do not know
what a treasure there is in
Laclede, the little north
Missouri town of 345
people, says Jana Keune, a site interpreter at the Gen. John J. Pershing
Boyhood Home State Historic Site.
“Visitors are always impressed to
learn he was one of only two American six-star generals,” Jana says of
Gen. Pershing. “The other was George
Washington, who received the rank
posthumously in 1976 during the
nation’s bicentennial celebration.”
Located on a quiet residential
block, the site includes Pershing’s
1858 Gothic Revival boyhood home,
where he lived from the age of six
until adulthood, and the relocated
and restored 1870s-era one-room
Prairie Mound schoolhouse, where he
taught for two years before enrolling
at West Point.
Prominently displayed on the
grounds is a bronze statue of the
general. Several surrounding granite
monuments form a Wall of Honor in
tribute to Americans who have served
in combat from the Spanish-American
War through today’s conﬂicts.
Both the home and school are
open for tours and contain exhibits
that relate the story of Pershing’s
career. Among items currently on view
are Pershing’s West Point class ring
and a jeweled ceremonial scabbard
presented to Pershing by the mayor of
London at the end of World War I.
Soon, visitors will have considerably more to see, or a reason to return.
The Pershing Park Memorial Association, an ardent, 70-plus-year supporter
of the site, has initiated a campaign
to raise $600,000 to convert a recently
purchased building a block away
into an expanded museum that will
increase exhibit space from 1,000 to
more than 7,800 square feet. Already,
the museum’s board has contributed
$22,000 to kick-start the expansion.
“We have thousands of items and
presently no place to display them,”
says Denzil Heaney, site administrator.
The new museum will feature interactive displays that will trace Pershing’s remarkable career. Exhibits will
cover his time at West Point (18821886), his involvement in the Indian
Wars (1886-1891), the Spanish-American War (1898), his service in the
Philippine Insurrection (1900-1903),
the time spent as an observer during
the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905),
his nine-month pursuit of Pancho
Villa into Mexico during the Punitive Expedition (1916-1917) and his
service in France during World War I
Also covered will be how Pershing
mentored the most famous names of
the World War II generation, including George C. Marshall, Dwight D.
Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, George S.
Patton and Douglas MacArthur.
Pershing honorably retired from
the Army in 1924 at age 64. He died
on July 15, 1948.
The new museum will feature a
ﬂexible theater space for lectures and
conferences. It also will allow for
special temporary exhibits. A ﬁreand tornado-safe archives room will
display letters, diaries, photographs,
photo courtesy of the Library of Congress
by Jim Winnerman
New museum will give visitors more to
see at Missouri general’s birthplace
portraits and commemorative gifts
presented to Gen. Pershing. Admission won’t be charged.
Once opened, the
Pershing Park Memorial
Association has plans to
transfer the museum and
its operation to Missouri
State Parks, a division of
the Missouri Department
of Natural Resources. The
transfer is expected to take
place at a dedication ceremony in 2018 on the 100th anniversary
of the end of World War I.
“When Pershing entered the Army,
we were ﬁghting on horseback using
Napoleonic tactics. He served in the
cavalry and there were 140,000 men
in uniform,” Denzil says. “When he
left the battleﬁeld in 1918, he was
commanding 2 million men with
2 million more on their way to
the front. Horses had been
replaced by trucks, tanks
and airplanes. Imagine
the challenges he had to
adjust to throughout his
career as a leader.”
He adds, “At the end
of World War I, he said no one else
should ever again have the same
amount of power or rank of General
of the Armies of the United States.
n conjunction with the Pershing Days celebration, Sept.
12-15 in Laclede, the Pershing Park Memorial Association
will have an open house from 5 to 8 p.m. on Sept. 14 at
the group’s building on the town square. Food and wine
will be available, along with a silent auction fundraiser to raise
money for the new museum. For more information, contact
Rick Scruggs at 660-895-5072 or email@example.com. More
information on donating to the museum and a video on Gen.
Pershing’s life can be found at www.pershingmuseum.com.
That belief led to the formation of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
Approximately 10,000 people visit
the Laclede site each year, with about
2,500 coming from outside Missouri.
“We get people from all over the
world,” Denzil says. “For some, this is
In 2008, the last living World War
I veteran visited the site prior to his
death in 2011. “Frank Buckles was
108 at the time, and he had three last
wishes,” Jana says. “He wanted to see
his boyhood home in Bethany, Mo.,
the National World War I Memorial in
Kansas City and the home of his commanding general. It was an honor to
give him a tour.”
Many visitors arrive with stories
told by a family member who had
served under Pershing somewhere.
Museum staff help ﬁll in details of
what was happening at the time.
“Personal family accounts also help us
add to Pershing’s history,” Denzil says.
“We really love those visits.”
Jana says many visitors arrive with
a family belief that they are somehow related to Pershing but do not
know the exact connection. “We have
extensive genealogy charts, and most
of the time we can uncover the relationship,” she says.
Retired Circuit Court Judge Robert
Devoy, who still lives nearby, met Pershing in the 1930s when his dad took
him to see the general arrive for a ceremony honoring his service.
“He arrived in Brookﬁeld aboard
the Burlington Zephyr,” Devoy
recalls. “It seemed at the time it was
his private train. My grandfather was
a schoolmate of his and when we
were introduced to Gen. Pershing, he
smiled and shook my hand.”
Pershing seemed to favor young
people. “Whenever you see photos
of him with youngsters, he is smiling
and relaxed,” Devoy says. “In other
photos he is more stern-faced.”
Pershing’s ability to inspire youth
still exists. The Pershing Riﬂes is a
national military fraternal organization for college students founded by
then 2nd Lt. Pershing in 1894 at the
University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It
now has 200 active chapters.
Also, fourth-grade classes from
the Pershing Elementary School in
St. Joseph visit Laclede every year to
learn about Pershing. “He invented
the jumping jack to help his troops
get in shape,” Jana says. “The students
are intent on getting the calisthenic
recognized as the ofﬁcial exercise of
An important part of the mission
of the site is to educate young people
about Pershing’s life to ensure coming generations know about what he
accomplished. Tours for the many
school groups that arrive include commentary on choices Pershing made
that led to him becoming so important to U.S. history.
“Pershing totally saved Europe in
World War I when the British and
French armies began to falter,” Denzil
says. “If it was not for his leadership,
the world might be quite a different
place. It is our duty to keep the memory of what General Pershing accomplished alive.”
Winnerman is a freelance writer who
lives in Fulton.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - September 2013
Rural Missouri - September 2013
Scorching the border
Blasts from the past
Out of the Way Eats
Mowing down the competition
Hearth and Home
A place for Pershing
Rural Missouri - September 2013