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Missouri Honors General And His Jumping Jacks

John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing was a general officer in the United States Army who led the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I.
Credit Wikimedia Commons
John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing was a general officer in the United States Army who led the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I.

The Show-Me State is designating the jumping jack as its official exercise in honor of the U.S. Army's second highest-ranked general.

Gen. John Pershing, who was from Laclede, Missouri, is credited with inventing the exercise while training cadets at West Point before WWI.

Gov. Jay Nixon signed Senate Bill 669 bill Thursday, which was sponsored by State Rep. Pat Conway of St. Joseph.

"Although jumping jacks is well and good – and it is good for students to do it and children to pick it up – this was more the point of honoring the general for his efforts of what he did a hundred years ago," said Conway.

Conway’s father served under Gen. Pershing during the war, he said.

During his service, Gen. Pershing was promoted to the highest rank ever held in the U.S. Army as General of Armies.  In 1976, Congress passed a retroactive edict which promoted George Washington to the same rank but with higher seniority.

Honoring Pershing’s signature exercise in Missouri took more than six years, said Conway.  

The effort began at Pershing Elementary School in St. Joseph, where students and teachers first took an interest in honoring the namesake of their school after the 4 th grade’s field trip to Jefferson City.

Along the way, the class visited Pershing’s birthplace in Laclede where the students learned about the origin of the exercise.

“They wanted to know if there was a state symbol for exercise,” said 4 th grade teacher Kristy Lorenz. “We said ‘no, not that we knew of’ and they said ‘well, that would be a great one to have: jumping jacks could honor Gen. Pershing and be an appropriate state symbol’,” she said.

Each year, successive 4 th grade classes at Pershing Elementary School lobbied to change the law with the help of Rep. Conway.

The measure will officially become state law on Aug. 28.

Missouri isn't the first state to take such action. In 2008, Maryland designated walking as the state' official exercise.

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Leahy anchors St. Louis Public Radio's weekday afternoon newscasts and produces news on local and regional issues. He previously produced and reported news for WERS 88.9 FM in Boston and is a former correspondent for the Boston Globe’s online news section, "Your Town." He holds a master's degree in print and multimedia journalism from Emerson College in Boston.
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