Tag Archives: John J. Pershing

General Pershing’s Teeth

After graduation from the Louisville College of Dentistry, Edward Wallace Barr (1887-1962) joined his father’s practice in his home town of Bowling Green, Kentucky.  When the U.S. entered World War I, however, Barr was commissioned a lieutenant in the Army Dental Corps and sent to France.  As a member of the Sixth Heavy Artillery, he was considered the first dentist to “go into the trenches,” but in November 1917 was put in charge of the dental offices at the general headquarters of the American Expeditionary Forces in Chaumont, France.  There, his patients included Commanding General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing.

E. Wallace Barr's Army ID

E. Wallace Barr’s Army ID

As his appointment book showed, Dr. Barr treated many servicemen until his discharge early in 1919, but perhaps it was only General Pershing who merited a discussion between Barr and Pershing’s former dentist, Colonel Ross T. Oliver of the Chief Surgeon’s Office.  “I am glad you found that upper bridge in good condition,” he wrote Barr.  As to the gum disease affecting the General’s lower molars, “that condition has existed for a number of years.”  His recall of one particularly troublesome tooth that had “such a loss of substance that we could easily run an instrument through the bifurcation” suggested, nevertheless, that Pershing could look forward to many more happy hours in the dentist’s chair.

Records and correspondence relating to E. Wallace Barr’s service in the U.S. Army Dental Corps are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more collections about medical professionals, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“I have seen enough”

Verdun, 1918

Verdun, 1918

In May 1918, Simpson County, Kentucky native James Knox Polk Lambert (1864-1960) left his Chicago law practice to volunteer with the YMCA in ministering to American soldiers fighting overseas.  During his 15-month tour in England and France, Lambert witnessed the transformation of Europe: a last-ditch German offensive, the Armistice, the wild celebrations following successful negotiation of a peace treaty, and the appalling destruction left behind by the war.  He kept a diary of his activities, and reflected on his experiences in a lengthier journal.  Both are now part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.

After the U.S. entered the war, the YMCA was charged with bolstering the welfare and morale of American soldiers with entertainment, educational, religious and other programs.  The end of hostilities, however, did not signal the end of the YMCA’s mandate.  Millions of weary servicemen now turned their eyes toward home, and James Lambert and his colleagues faced the daunting task of keeping them emotionally, spiritually and recreationally occupied as they endured the logistic and bureaucratic trials of mass demobilization.

In addition to the ruin the war brought to the French countryside, Lambert was most struck by the ferocious impatience of the soldiers awaiting repatriation.  “The months of January, February and March [1919],” he wrote, “were marked by the most intense agitation of the boys to go home.”  He found most soldiers he encountered “in the grip of that mania,” unreconciled to the fact that, even at an exit rate of 300,000 men per month, it would take 7 months to get everyone home.  Some of the men, observed Lambert, were obsessed with a rumor that the government was secretly plotting to keep them in the Army for life; so high was the level of anxiety that General John J. Pershing, Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, actually feared a mutiny.  When Lambert suggested that the men spend their time sightseeing and enjoying some postwar tourism courtesy of the YMCA, the reply was predictable: “I have seen enough.  I never want to see this country again.”  For all he had seen, however, James Lambert’s experiences at the close of the Great War marked the beginning of a lifelong fascination with European history and culture.

Touring the battlefields

Touring the battlefields

Click here to access a finding aid for the James Lambert Collection.  For other collections about World War I, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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