Why Is Pershing’s Story Important Today?

Today, confusion, fear, depression, anger and existential angst lead people all over this troubled world to send out clarion calls for leadership. Seeking a safe and humane path through the mayhem, they cry out for a man or woman who can lead with a firm, effective and inclusive hand.

A new, feature-length documentary film, The Pershing Project (working title) will provide a sterling example of such a leader, the great American hero, John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing, who changed the world nearly 100 years ago, and whose visionary leadership, teachings, and examples are relevant today. A ‘soldier’s soldier,’ his life is modern legend.

The filmmakers' goal is to discover through the archaeology of documentary film, the real Jack Pershing. What were his origins? Who influenced him? What were the qualities that made him such a leader? How was this man's character formed that he could accomplish so much in such a short period of time?

The Heart of The Story

In his lifetime, Pershing was respectfully called the "Iron General." And yet, within the breast of this stalwart and courageous leader beat the tender heart of a lover, a man with true and thoughtful emotions, a truly great and loving man.  While poring through the 190,000 plus items in The Pershing Papers at the Library of Congress, the film research team discovered a cache of love letters sent between Jack Pershing and his wife, Helen 'Frankie’ Pershing.

This loving and steady communication was the backbone of their eight plus years of marriage, a marriage during which they had four children, but were frequently separated by Pershing's fast-growing career as a military leader posted around the world.  Touching love letters available today in the Library of Congress add another dimension to Pershing’s story and insight into his character.

The great love of Jack and Frances Pershing ended suddenly in the most horrendous tragedy imaginable.

Young Pershing Rifles Help Tell The Story

We are introduced to Pershing’s story by Sandra Pershing, his granddaughter-in-law and the last to carry his name. Ms. Pershing brings her particular focus on family life and history to the film.


David Poe is a historian with significant knowledge of Pershing's life and times and he will help viewers learn and understand the significance of Pershing's life and achievements. David is also an honored member of the National Society of Pershing Rifles.  As he puts it, “Pershing’s legacy is alive, well, and growing on college and high school campuses around the country, in a program Pershing founded in 1891 at the University of Nebraska and known nationwide as the National Society of Pershing Rifles (or P/R).

“Pershing took on a disheartened drill team, named it “Company A,” trained the men with the discipline of a fighting unit, and won national drill competitions. After Pershing moved on (to teach at West Point), the drill team began to call themselves ‘The Pershing Rifles.’”  In 1967 a related program at the high school level called the ‘Black Jacks’ was founded.  This growing cadre of elite young 'leaders-in-training' gives us an insider’s view of how Pershing's leadership can help the world today and tomorrow.

Former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin B. Powell started his legendary military career as a Pershing Rifleman at Pershing Rifles Company A-8,  City College of New York.

The Style of the Film

The film will be made in ‘cinema verite’ style. Using scene work in which the camera is not acknowledged, the story is allowed to emerge in a naturalistic, organic manner enabling viewers to experience the emotional power of “Black Jack” Pershing’s life. Pershing is a man unknown to many Americans today, though his character and teachings continue to influence generations of citizens and soldiers.


* The documentary will display letters, archival footage, photographs, re-enactments and live-action footage, that will move back and forth between past and present, integrating all these elements. Films and photographs of key incidents and military campaigns during Pershing's long career are available through the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the United States Army, West Point, World War I Centennial Commission, American Battle Monument Commission, the University of Nebraska, and America's WWI Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, among others.

Support the Film

Interested in supporting the Pershing Project?  Donors who make a tax-deductible charitable contribution to the Pershing Foundation in support of the documentary will be listed in the film's credits.  To learn more click here.

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