Major Bernard C. Pittman
212th (Winnipeg Americans) Battalion
Ability not age is the dominating factor in promotions over there. Major Bishop of the Canadian aviation corps, the most brilliant aviator in the British army is 18 years old. There is a brigadier general in the British army who is 28. This general enlisted from civil life as a private and worked his way to the top.
This war has proven that only young men and those of good physical ability can stand the strain of battle. Look at the order of General Pershing sending home all brigadier generals over 45 years of age.
(Pittman’s speech, Ellensburg Daily Record, 23 Jan 1918, 1)
Bernard Cleveland Pittman was born on 21 March 1887 in Independence, Missouri. In late 1915, the young National Guardsman travelled to Winnipeg to join the 101st Battalion and offered to raise an all-American company. After the formation of the 97th American Legion he went to Toronto to became the battalion junior major. When a regional American battalion was formed in the west, Pittman headed back to Winnipeg to take command of the 212nd.
In May 1916, Pittman handed over authority to forty-eight year old Robert James Bates, a Spanish-American War veteran and general in the Michigan National Guard. Pittman became the battalion second-in-command. Despite Pittman’s various initiatives to drum up volunteer enthusiasm such as a “Winnipeg Stampede” in July 1916, the 212th struggled to fill its ranks. By August, all of the American Legion battalions were folded into the 97th.
When the American Legion was broken up in England, Pittman joined reverted to fight in the trenches. Anticipating America’s entry into the war, he wrote to Teddy Roosevelt offering to volunteer in the former president’s proposed infantry division. Pittman remained on the front until he suffered shell shock during Vimy Ridge.
On convalescence leave in Washington State, Pittman delivered a series of lectures to Red Cross workers about his experiences in France. He related one anecdote about the Americans who were already fighting overseas:
In a hospital where I was recovering from shell shock at the battle of Vimy Ridge, an English officer made some slighting remark about guessing that perhaps after a time Americans would come into war. Finally I called out “How many American officers in this war?” It turned out that 17 out of the 19 officers in that ward were American citizens.