It was downright embarrassing. A highly regarded lawyer, whose clientele had included members of New York City’s highest echelon of society, had become a man you would try to avoid. To put it bluntly, he had become a drunk. You’d heard of social drinkers who became alcoholics, but until now you’d never known one personally. This man had been a trusted friend and advisor!
Naturally he had been referred to the best doctors, but somehow, no doctor had been able to help. In a seemingly short time he had become a full-blown alcoholic. Fortunately for him, he had not lost all of his contacts; some would gladly trust him again if he could straighten out. Though they would be sympathetic, they wouldn’t think of letting him touch their legal matters now. When nothing else seemed to help, someone suggested The Salvation Army, specifically a certain officer in an “industrial home”—what we now call an adult rehabilitation center. This officer was Major Wallace Winchell (no kin to Walter Winchell, the radio reporter of news and gossip some two decades later). Major Winchell had seen considerable success in his Army ministry. Why not try him, since nothing else had worked? Best of all, he was near at hand in Jersey City.
Thanks to Major Winchell’s spiritual guidance and his remarkable rapport with men struggling with alcohol, the lawyer was converted and became a changed man. Not only did he regain his reputation and much of his legal practice, but he became a valued volunteer on the staff of the attorney general in Washington, DC.
The year was 1917. When the United States declared war on Germany and the Central Powers, our government accepted an offer of services from the American Red Cross. Then the YMCA made an offer of 10,000 volunteers. Ten thousand! The Salvation Army’s National Commander Evangeline Booth (often called simply “the Commander”) foresaw a need for some of her officers to serve overseas as well, but with a different emphasis. She wired her offer to Washington, but the reply was, basically, “Thanks, but no thanks.” This response was not surprising, considering the YMCA’s almost overwhelming offer.
As for The Salvation Army, whose services the commander was offering, its people were often perceived as a bunch of religious eccentrics who persisted in preaching on the streets, banging drums and tambourines, playing horns with varying degrees of tunefulness, and accepting coins thrown onto a bass drum laid on its side for that purpose.
Consequently, she should not have been surprised at the negative response to her offer. But she didn’t accept that as the last word. She sent her property secretary, Lt. Colonel William Barker, for an interview with Joseph Tumulty, private secretary to the president.
PRESIDENT WILSON’S SECRETARY
Tumulty was talking to a man at the far end of the room when Colonel Barker entered. After Barker stated his case, they were interrupted by the other man. “Joe, give the colonel what he wants and make it good. The boys over there will need help, and when I think what Major Winchell has done for me… ” Colonel Barker then recognized a prominent lawyer — that lawyer. His conversion through the Army’s ministry had caused a sensation in New York society circles. So after telling his story to Tumulty, he said, “Now you know what The Salvation Army has done for me. Do what you can for The Salvation Army.”
Tumulty acted quickly. A letter to the American ambassador in France was speedily written, and the door to our wartime overseas service began to swing open. But the hinge was the testimony, in that crucial moment, of a lawyer who had found the Lord through the Army’s work with alcoholics!
Perhaps you think you’ve heard all you ever want to hear about The Salvation Army’s work with American doughboys overseas during World War I, and the profound effect this had on the public’s perception of us. If so you are likely to say, “That was a long, long time ago. Why tell it again now?”
An officer in a sometimes underappreciated but important branch of our work, while carrying out his “normal” ministry, was used by the Lord to do something with unexpectedly far-reaching results. The testimony of the lawyer whose life was changed resulted in that letter from the president’s secretary. It did not grant The Salvation Army authority to put any specific plan into motion, only the right to carry to U.S. military leaders the offer to place Salvationists at their disposal. Armed with that letter and sent to France, Colonel Barker was able to deal directly with American military officers. Some of those brushed off the idea as ill-advised, and had brushed him off as well. But he pressed on until he faced General John J. Pershing, a man described by one historian as “cold-eyed” and “granite-faced,” a consequence of the tragedy he had suffered two years earlier. That tragedy and its aftermath now becomes a vital part of our story.
GENERAL PERSHING REMEMBERS
Back in 1915 John J. Pershing, after completing a second tour of duty in the Philippines, was living in San Francisco with his wife and four children when he was hurriedly called by President Woodrow Wilson to halt the depredations of the elusive Mexican bandit, Pancho Villa, who had the audacity to make a surprise raid on a U.S. Army cavalry garrison at Columbus, New Mexico. Hardly had Pershing arrived in El Paso, Texas, where his troops were assembling, when he received tragic news. His wife and three daughters were burned to death in a fire in their quarters back in San Francisco. Only his son, Warren, survived. When Pershing rushed back, The Salvation Army’s provincial officer, Colonel Henry Lee, went to see him personally, demonstrating great personal concern and sympathy, as did other Salvationists. This caring attitude was in sharp contrast to that of the respectable members of Bay Area churches, who somehow ignored the incident, failing to offer even perfunctory condolences to one who was essentially an outsider. Often in those days, American military personnel and their “Army wives” and “Army brats” were not highly thought of in the settled communities where they temporarily resided. They would move in, stay for a time, then suddenly move out again at the behest of military leadership. Pershing never forgot the Army’s kindness, which touched him deeply.
For the U.S., the Pancho Villa affair had been less than a resounding success. The renegade had not been caught, although his bandits had ceased their depredations. However, a more serious problem had arisen; the government of Mexico did not take kindly to having American troops trespassing in their country, even commandeering a locomotive for the pursuit of the bandit. In fact, Mexico considered America’s intrusion to be an act of war. Finally, President Woodrow Wilson decided there were matters weightier than risking a full-blown war with our neighbor to the south, so early in February 1917 Pershing, by then a major-general, and his troops, were recalled.
Three months later, Pershing was in France with a staff of 31 officers hand-picked by him, commanding an as–yet non–existent expeditionary force. The presidential directive was very specific, stipulating that “the forces of the United States are to be a separate and distinct component of the combined forces, the identity of which must be preserved… you will exercise full discretion in determining the manner of cooperation.”
The conscription and training of an American army was still in its early stages. The French, British and Italians were not looking for an American army as an entity; they wanted a manpower pool, insisting that we turn over the American soldiers to them as replacements for use in their own severely depleted fighting forces. But Pershing was determined to carry out his directive from the president.
When Colonel Barker was admitted to the room where Pershing was in conference, he saw the general confronted by representatives of the three Allied nations who were behaving like a swarm of angry bees. It hardly seemed a propitious moment to present his offer. Imagine: Here was this Salvationist offering to place civilian men and women side–by–side with American troops, probably even in combat zones! Perhaps, after all these years, it’s hard to fully grasp the situation. It must have seemed like a scene from a comic opera. In the midst of this tense dispute involving four major nations came this man from a smallish and little understood religious group, bearing nothing but a letter. So what did Pershing do? Did he brush him off, like some of his subordinate officers had done? No. He welcomed him warmly, and before they were through, accepted his offer! What the others probably did not know about, at least at the time, was Pershing’s experience in San Francisco two years earlier, and the unusual kindness of the Salvationists. He knew that these were his kind of people, just what he would need for keeping up the spirits of his troops.
Have you ever heard of Wallace Winchell and Henry Lee? Well, now you have. They were what we might call “ordinary Salvation Army officers,” one from New Jersey, the other from California, just doing what the Lord called them to do. But their thoughtful acts of kindness, carried out with compassion as well as patience and persistence (especially the latter in the case of the alcoholic), led ultimately to an audience with an ambassador, followed by free access to military officers who perhaps shrugged their shoulders as they shunted “this guy from The Salvation Army” on to the general himself. Imagine their surprise at the outcome, since they had no clue regarding Pershing’s feelings of gratitude toward the Army. And it all happened because of two caring officers, living some 3,000 miles apart, who probably didn’t even know each other!
By Major Paul Marshall