Memorial Day: General of the Armies John J. Pershing Salutes His Fellow Soldiers

My Life before the World War, 1860–1917: A Memoir  by General of the Armies John J. Pershing Edited and with an Introduction by John T. Greenwood

In celebration of Memorial Day, below is an excerpt from the memoir of the revered General John J. Pershing (1860–1948) who was the only soldier besides George Washington to be promoted t the highest rank in the U.S. Army—General of the Armies. This excerpt includes the farewell message he wrote to the Army when he retired on his 64th birthday.

Having [more than three] years to go before reaching the age of sixty-four, when retirement from active service is compulsory, I was then appointed Chief of Staff of the army [on 13 May 1921]. There was some question whether the position was commensurate with the rank of General, which had been conferred on me by Congress, but I was keen to have it. We had never had and had not then, a sound, up-to-date organization for national defense, and it seemed to me that I could in no better way repay my country for the trust it had placed in me and the signal honors it had conferred upon me than to devote the last years of my active service to the establishment of such a system.
My sixty-fourth birthday, September 13, 1924, was a sad day for me. I was loath to sever the ties of nearly forty years’ service under the flag. My feelings were expressed in the following farewell message to the Army:
My Comrades:
No words seem adequate to express to you the conflicting emotions that I feel upon reaching the date which officially marks the termination of my active service. Our experiences together have been varied. We have withstood the same hardships and shared the same pleasures. We have faced discouragements and rejoiced over victories.
Today, the recollections that swiftly pass in review fill my heart with a deep sense of gratitude for the loyal service and warm appreciation of the sincere devotion to country of the patriotic officers and men with whom it has been my good fortune to be associated during the fleeting years of my army life. It is my proud privilege, in parting, to say of the men of all ranks who have borne arms under the flag that none have more earnestly wished peace, yet in defense of right none have ever been imbued with loftier purpose nor more completely consecrated to the maintenance of our ideals.
My esteem for them and my admiration for their achievements continue to increase with the passing of time. The inspiration of their exalted conception of citizenship and their fulfillment of its obligations should ever assure the preservation of our institutions. The glorious example of their fidelity and courage will be remembered by those who come after us.
It is with an abiding confidence in our national forces, and with the assurance of my lasting interest in their welfare, that I bid you all an affectionate farewell.

—General of the Armies John J. Pershing from his memoir, My Life Before the World War, 1860–1917


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