In The Hunt for Pancho Villa 1916-1917 (3)

In The Hunt for Pancho Villa 1916-1917 (3)

However, local residents of Parral insist to this day that their mayor had Pancho Villa’s body shifted in the graveyard a meter or so to the right of the marked grave and replaced with another body to prevent any more of Pancho Villa’s remains from being taken. It was the headless decoy body, they insist, that was later taken to Mexico City. Whether Pancho Villa’s body is still in the ground at Parral or not, his tall, stately tombstone remains in place and people still come to place flowers on the grave. So, even in death, Pancho Villa remains elusive.22

On April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. Pershing received orders to organize a division with himself in command and to take the formation to France as the first American unit to fight alongside the Allies. He submitted a list of officers whom he wanted on his staff and included Lieutenant Patton’s name. However, several days later, Pershing was appointed the commander-in-chief of the American Expeditionary Force, which included all troops to be sent to France.23

Therefore, with a small headquarters party, Pershing went overseas at once as a symbol of reassurance and promise to the war-weary Allies, who had fought immense battles of attrition for the past three years. Although the Americans entrance into the war was a great psychological boost to them, the United States was unprepared to join in the massive clash of arms on the Western Front. Positioning units along the Mexican border and pursuing Villa had been a small start toward mobilization, but now the U. S. Army had to raise, equip, and train a much larger force. The War Department planned to ship Pershing 2,000,000 partially trained troops. He was tasked to bring them to combat readiness over there.24

As for the Georgia units that had gone to the Mexican Border, some were retained in Federal Service; others returned to Georgia. Nevertheless, on July 3, 1917, the entire National Guard of the United States was mobilized for World War I. In August, 1917, the Georgia National Guard units were reorganized with most of the units being assigned to the 31st Infantry Division with the exception of the Coast Artillery units which were assigned to Savannah Coastal Defense. However, there was one special new battalion to be organized from Georgia.25

Requests from National Guard officers and Governors for early acceptance of their state units to go to war against Germany poured into the War Department. The clamor became so general and so insistent that the Secretary of War conceived the idea of forming a composite Division to include troops from every State in the Union. That was the origin of the famous 42d (Rainbow) Division, which was later to distinguish itself in many important engagements of World War I. In August, 1917, companies B, C, and F of the 2nd Georgia Infantry were reorganized as the 151st Machine Gun Battalion and assigned to the 42d Division. When the 42d Infantry Division arrived in France in November, 1917, there were National Guard units from 26 States and from the District of Columbia in its ranks. Almost a year later, on September 16, 1918, the 31st Infantry Division consisting of National Guard units from Georgia, Alabama, and Florida departed for France and joined the American Expeditionary Force on October 3 1918.26

As for the legend or myth of Pancho Villa today, conservative Mexicans may insist he was nothing more than a self-serving bloodthirsty bandit. However, to most Mexicans his memory has been embellished through songs and stories and he is now generally remembered as a Mexican “Robinhood” figure. Of all the Mexican revolutionary leaders, he is probably the best known and remembered for his victories in the constitutionalist revolution and for being the only foreign military leader to have “successfully” invaded continental U.S. territory.

As for Americans, the massive mobilization of U.S. forces in 1916 and the pursuit of Pancho Villa in Mexico are scarcely noted in our history books and thus, not read about in school. However, it is important to Georgians because it was the first mobilization and deployment of Nation Guard Units for Federal service and an end to the old militia system of recruiting volunteer units of rank amateurs for Federal service as it was done for the Mexican War of 1846-1848. It was also the forerunner of the total force policy so important to our defense preparedness today. If alive today, Pancho Villa would probably claim credit for teaching General Pershing and the gringos from the north how to organize for a fight.
How did Pancho Villa die...

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