General John J. Pershing was the great commander of the American forces in World War I. He led the US efforts on the western front alongside Maréchal Pétain (Commander-in-Chief of the French Army) and Field Marshal Haig (Commander of the British Expeditionary Force) and under Generalissimo Foch (Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces). In 1919 he was promoted to General of the Armies, the highest rank ever attained within a lifetime.
At the same time Charles de Gaulle finished the First World War as a captain - a world away from the top brass. It was therefore understandable that, when visiting Washington D.C. in 1944, de Gaulle was keen to meet the great American warrior. Pershing was 83, and lived in the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in the north of the nation's capital. He had only four years left to live, and had entered his dotage with a time-fogged mind.
De Gaulle arrived at the hospital on 7 July 1944 in the military dress of a French general. Something, perhaps the green army uniform, peaked kepi or the sound of French voices, stirred memories deep in Pershing's somnolent brain: