General Pershing was inspiration for film cast member joining USAF, becoming pilot
By Dayle Davidson Hartnett, Ph.D., Producer, and W. Joseph Hartnett, Director, Pershing's Paths of Glory
Special to the Doughboy Foundation web site
Roberto Duran, a Captain in the United States Air Force, is currently flying for Air Force Special Operations Command, and living at Duke Field, Florida, in the northern panhandle of Florida.
After Duran graduated and before he was commissioned, he auditioned for and was cast in Pershing’s Paths of Glory, a documentary film which features Pershing Rifles, a Pershing Angel, and Blackjacks who travel and mark incidents in the life of General John J. Pershing, the great World War I Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces.
Duran, a Pershing Rifleman from Texas and college graduate from Louisiana State University, was a serious, stabilizing force among the diverse group of high energy, military cadets still in secondary school.
He enjoyed interacting with Kevin Collins-Nelson, his stalwart counterpart also a college graduate and Pershing Rifleman from California who had graduated from Shaw University. They had long conversations and talked about everything, especially their shared experiences in the Pershing Rifles.
Duran joined the cast to experience in person the places where Pershing’s victories and achievements occurred, as well as to be a witness to the aftermath of the serious consequences of WWI. Clearly visible in both France today and in WWI home museums, are the trenches, unearthed, unexploded bombs and soldiers’ personal belongings.
The dynamics of history combined with a different culture helped him contrast life then with the current, modern Air Force. Impressive to him was the expansiveness of the military cemeteries in France and the number of immigrants who had fought, died, and were buried after fighting for the United States.
Duran, who has an ongoing interest in history, was influenced by his military memorabilia collector father, Raul, and by his relationship with his grandfather, Julian, who fought in World War Two. He felt that what was accomplished in WWI shaped Western Europe and our international reputation.
He also felt that the French were much better educated on the details of the war. It was extraordinary to see how monumental Pershing’s military responsibilities were and what his leadership really entailed. Pershing signified America, and his success enhanced America’s honor and reputation worldwide.
The war had stagnated to a point where it almost seemed like it was going to go on forever, and the United States’ entry into the war really turned the tide.
Pershing was very self-aware of his role in winning the war, and he also tried to advise American leaders by supporting policy which would make sure a war of this magnitude never happened again.
The sheer number of casualties buried in the military cemeteries haunted him. One strong memory Duran had was seeing the grave of a Hungarian immigrant who was killed in the war. This young man may have been in the United States briefly before he was handed a uniform and told to go back to Europe and fight in France, not even for Hungary or his new home.
Most of the trench warfare battles were horrible. As many men died from dysentery, influenza, and unsanitary conditions, as died from being shot and killed from across the trenches.
Pershing believed American decisions mattered. He really connected to his own troops, and that is why he felt it imperative that American commanders command American troops. That is also why he developed expansive, beautiful military cemeteries and memorials throughout Europe.
Duran suggests that Pershing’s leadership traits need to be emulated today. Pershing was a leader who knew the feelings of the people he was leading, and he attempted to be mindful of ways to minimize personal damage, injury, and death.
The members of the documentary cast reunited at a reception hosted by Ms. Pershing, a premier showing, and a question/answer session from the audience that had given the documentary a standing ovation at the American Film Institute in Silver Spring MD. The documentary program emcee was General Freddy Valenzuela. The post-film panel discussion was moderated by COL (Ret) Jack Lichtenstein, a director of The Pershing Foundation.
The cast confidently answered questions about Pershing’s life and WWI, even difficult ones about social justice and the tremendous loss of so many lives. They were more mature, formally dressed versions of their film selves. But again, this personable, knowledgeable group picked up where they had left off, all enjoying each other’s company.
It is impressive what Captain Duran has achieved. He is a role model for the others, just as Pershing was an inspiration for his joining the Air Force and becoming a pilot. He plans to make flying his career and we wish him well in that endeavor.
Pershing's Paths of Glory is currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime, or for sale on Amazon as a DVD. DVDs with the Public Performance Rights (PPR) option are available for educational institutions.