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Centennial of Pancho Villa raid to be commemorated March 9 at Columbus, NM site of attack

By Jeff Lowdermilk

Pershing and OfficersPancho Villa’s raid on Columbus, New Mexico initiated the Punitive Expedition into Northern Mexico, commanded by Brigadier General John J. Pershing, who was stationed at Ft. Bliss, Texas, which is just east of Columbus. The General’s aide was a young Second Lieutenant named George S. Patton, Jr., who would come to idealize General Pershing. In fact he would model his entire career after General Pershing. From the swirling dust of this relatively small event in history, would rise two of the greatest military careers in American History.Columbus, NM burns after after the Pancho Villa raid on March 9, 1916.

100 years later, the commemoration of the centennial of the Villa raid and its aftermath in Columbus will include the historic reuniting of the Pershing and Patton families. On March 9, 2016, the Columbus Historical Society will hold a memorial service to remember the citizens who were killed in the raid. The event will take place at the Society's Memorial Garden located directly behind the 1902 E.P.&S.W RR depot at the intersection of Highway 9 and Highway 11 in Columbus. The centennial activities will start at 8:00. The memorial services begin at 10:00 with guest speaker Helen Patton, granddaughter of General George Patton, singing the National Anthem, and making remarks. CAPT David Poe of the Pershing Rifles will read a message from Mrs. Sandra Pershing, step-granddaughter of General John Pershing. Patton will also read a poem her Grandfather wrote while in Mexico on the Punitive Expedition. Other activities will follow the Memorial service.


Aero Squadron in Columbus NMIn pursuit of Pancho Villa, the Punitive Expedition, unknowingly at the time, gave birth to the modern American military (except the Navy - of course). For the first time, fragile biplanes, called Jennys were used for reconnaissance and delivering dispatches, which ultimately became the U.S. Air Force. Harley Davidson motorcycles were used to scout ahead and deliver messages. Crude armored tanks where used, which were black metal boxes on top of a truck chassis. Trucks were critical to supplying the expedition with food, water, medical supplies, and gasoline. None of these things had ever been done before.

Then just thirteen months later on April, 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany and an experienced General Pershing would then be chosen to Command the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe. Thus, General Pershing would go from chasing Pancho Villa around the Mexican desert to taking on the most powerful military in the world - Germany. In France, Lt COL George S. Patton, Jr. would command the first tank battle in American history in the St. Mihiel Offensive on Sept. 12, 1918.

Pershing in Mexico squareMuch had been learned during the Punitive Expedition about logistics, the use of airplanes and maintaining long supply lines. All these valuable lessons were then transferred to the war against Germany.

Even the term Doughboy, which was used for the American Infantrymen in the First World War, came from the Punitive Expedition. As the infantry marched across the alkaline desserts of Northern Mexico, they became covered in white dust and looked as though they had been rolled in flour - doughboys!

General Pershing played a critical part in defeating Germany in WWI and would ultimately be awarded a Sixth Star and become General of the Armies. The only other American to have been awarded (posthumously) the title General of the Armies was General George Washington. (Note: General of the Army (Singular) is Five Stars.)Helen Patton -- Photo by Jeff Loudermilk

General Patton would become the master of tank warfare and command the US 3rd Army during the Second World War and liberate some 12,000 towns and villages across France, Luxembourg, and Belgium. He would be awarded a Fourth Star before his untimely death in Dec. 1945.

Helen Patton is the granddaughter of General George S. Patton Jr. and the daughter of Major General George S. Patton IV, the decorated Vietnam War hero. A native of Hamilton, Mass., Patton lives in Reims, France. She is the founder of the Patton Foundation in the United States and the Patton Stiftung Sustainable Trust in Saarbrucken, Germany. She works tirelessly to keep the memory of the World War II generation alive and helps soldiers, veterans, and their families.

Jeff Lowdermilk is a writer and photographer. His book HONORING THE DOUGHBOYS: Following My Grandfather’s World War I Diary, was published in 2014.