White House Warriors – Most Presidential Hopefuls Have Served in Uniform

Future president John F. Kennedy aboard PT-109 in the Pacific during World War Two. Kennedy was just one of the 31 occupants of the White House to serve in the American armed forces.

With the results of Monday’s U.S. presidential debates still being parsed by the media, a San Diego-area newspaper has covered a little-reported aspect of the 2012 race for the Oval Office : This is the first election in 80 years in which neither of the candidates has served in the military. The last was in 1944.

The article, written by John Wilkens, actually ran last weekend in the North Country Times, a southern California daily. In the piece, the author observes: “Military service used to be a featured part of any candidate’s résumé. After all, this is a nation… that elected as its first president a Revolutionary War hero: George Washington. The Civil War propelled Ulysses S. Grant to the presidency; World War II did the same for Dwight D. Eisenhower.”

In fact, according to the piece, 31 of the 43 presidents to hold office since independence have been veterans.

Wilkens brings in a number of sources, both academics and retired military officers, who argue that this growing trend of non-serving political candidates likely reflects a wider de-militarization of U.S. society following the Vietnam War. In fact, one source points out that in 1945, as many as a tenth of the population of the United States was in the military, today it’s fewer than 1 percent. Similarly, in the 1970s, 80 percent of Congress had previously served. That has dropped steadily to 20 percent today.

Most of the sources point out that this lack of leaders with first hand knowledge of the armed forces puts the United States at a disadvantage strategically.

“I think military experience tempers a rush to judgment,” Rod Melendez, a former rear admiral turned historian, tells the North County Times. “It’s too easy to see the military as just a tool instead of being made up of people who have families.”

Other sources take on the claim however, asserting that two of America’s supposed greatest presidents, Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, never put on the uniform and one of the least effective presidents was Civil War hero Ulysses Grant.

To read the full story, click here.

Post War presidential candidates’ military resumes

By way of a refresher, I compiled this list of White House contenders and their military service (if any) dating back to the Second World War.

(R) – Republican
(D) – Democratic
(I) – Independent

2012
President Barack Obama (D) – No military service
Governor Mitt Romeny (R) – No military service

2008
Senator Barack Obama (D) – See above.
Senator John McCain (R) – A U.S. Navy pilot during the Vietnam War, McCain was shot down in 1967 and was held in the notorious Hanoi Hilton POW camp until 1973.

2004
President George W. Bush (R)  – Bush served in the Texas Air National Guard, however his service records became an election issue during the campaign.
Senator John Kerry (D) – Kerry was an officer in the U.S. Navy and commanded a swift boat during the Vietnam War. Despite an impressive military record that saw him earn a Silver Star, a series of dubious attack ads savaged his years of service.

2000
Governor George Bush (R) – See above
Vice-President Al Gore (D)  – Gore graduated from Harvard in 1970 and enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served as a war correspondent and as an officer with an engineering battalion in Vietnam.
Ralph Nader (I) – No military service

1996
President Bill Clinton (D)  – No military service
Senator Bob Dole (R) – A Second World War veteran, Dole was seriously wounded in the Italian campaign. He is the last-ever presidential candidate to serve in World War Two.

1992
Governor Bill Clinton (D) – No military service
President George H.W. Bush (R) – A U.S. Navy fighter/bomber pilot in the Pacific during the Second World War, Bush served aboard the carrier USS San Jacinto. He was once shot down in action and was rescued by an American submarine.
H. Ross Perot (I) – Perot served as a U.S. Navy officer in peacetime from 1954 to 1956

1988
Vice President George H.W. Bush – See above
Governor Michael Dukakis (D)  – The Massachusetts governor served in the U.S. Army in peacetime from 1955 to 1957.

1984
President Ronald Reagan (R)  – Reagan served in the Second World War as a public relations officer in the United States Army Air Corps.
Former Vice President Walter Mondale (D) – A corporal in the U.S. Army from 1951 to 1953, Mondale spent much of his time in the service stationed at Fort Knox.

1980
President Jimmy Carter (D) – Carter joined the U.S. Navy as from the academy in 1943 and served on both surface vessels and submarines in both the Atlantic and Pacific. The future Georgia governor and president originally planned to make a career of the navy.
Former Governor Ronald Reagan (R) – See above
Representative John Anderson (I) – The independent candidate from Illinois served in the U.S. Army during the Second World War as an artillery sergeant in the European theatre.

1976
Governor Jimmy Carter (D) – See above.
President Gerald Ford (R) – A U.S. Navy officer in the Pacific Theatre during World War Two, Ford served as an officer on the USS Monterey.

1972
President Richard Nixon (R)– A junior officer in the U.S. Navy, Nixon spent most of the war landlocked stationed at a naval air station in Iowa (of all places).
Senator George McGovern (D) – The senator from South Dakota served as a B-24 bomber pilot over Europe, completing 35 missions.

1968
Richard Nixon (R) – See above
Vice President Hubert Humphrey (D) – Tried to enlist twice in the U.S. Army during World War Two, but was deemed unfit for service due to a hernia.
Governor George Wallace (I) – Wallace was a sergeant in the 20th Bomber Command and was also a crewman on B-29s over Japan.

1964
Senator Barry Goldwater (R) – The senator ferried aircraft between the United States and India during the Second World War and piloted 165 different types of aircraft by the end of his military career.
President Lyndon Johnson (D) – Johnson was awarded the Silver Star for his part in a B-26 mission in New Guinea.

1960
Senator John F. Kennedy (D) – A bona fide war hero, Kennedy was a U.S. Navy officer in command of PT boats in the Pacific during the Second World War.
Vice President Richard Nixon (R) – See above.

1956
President Dwight D. Eisenhower (R) – Ike was the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War Two.
Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson (D) – Stevenson enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1918 and served as a Seaman Apprentice. He was in training when the First World War ended.

1952
President Dwight D. Eisenhower (R) – See above.
Governor Adlai Stevenson (D) – See above.

1948
President Harry S. Truman (D) – Before he started stopping bucks in the Oval Office, Truman fought on the Western Front in World War One as a captain of artillery.
Governor Thomas E Dewey (R) – No military service.
Governor Strom Thermond (I) – A sitting judge in his 40s at the time of America’s entry into the Second World War, Thurmond left the bench, enlisted in the army and ended up as a Lt. Col. in the 82nd Airborne on D-Day. He even piloted a glider in the invasion of France.

1944
Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) – No military Service.
Governor Thomas E Dewey (R) – No military service.

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4 comments for “White House Warriors – Most Presidential Hopefuls Have Served in Uniform

  1. 24 October, 2012 at 1:11 am

    Really cool stuff… If I can add one note on Ike, the Combat Infantry Badge is the one medal he had wanted to earn above all others.

    • 24 October, 2012 at 6:16 am

      I did not know that about Ike but it does make sense. I was surprised to learn that the 1952 and 1956 election tickets had the same presidential candidates.

  2. 24 October, 2012 at 11:33 am

    What was his downfall at that time? It was, of course, before all this silly media stuff of today’s campaign – which I have grown tired of. Sent in my ballot already! 🙂

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