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Which US Presidents Were War Veterans?

A portrait of George Washington, the first president of the United States and a veteran of the American Revolution.
A portrait of Harry S Truman, the only president to serve in World War I combat, on a postage stamp.
Teddy Roosevelt fought as a colonel in the Spanish-American War.
Andrew Jackson served in the American Revolution and the War of 1812, making him one of four presidents to serve in more than one war.
Richard Nixon served in World War II.
Abraham Lincoln served in the militia during the Black Hawk War.
General Andrew Jackson led the way to victory at the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812.
Over half of all US presidents served in the military, but only twenty-four of those served in combat.
President John F. Kennedy served in the United States Navy during World War II.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a veteran of World War II.
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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Images By: Georgios Kollidas, Mark Markau, Pearson Art Photo, David Gilder, Tommy Japan, Wendy Kaveney, Timothy Tolle, Sborisov, City Of Boston Archives, Kevin Puget
  • Last Modified Date: 26 September 2014
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Over half of all United States presidents served in the armed forces in some capacity. Some presidents served in the military during war time but saw no action, so it is unclear exactly how many presidents can really be considered war veterans. There are 24 presidents who are confirmed to have served in combat, and six presidents were in the military but saw no action. There are 12 US presidents who have no military experience at all.

An example of a president who was in the military but saw no action was George W. Bush. He was a member of the Air National Guard during the Vietnam War but did not fight in combat. He spent much of his tenure in Houston, Texas, and therefore it is debatable whether he can be considered a war veteran. Other presidents who are not considered war veterans, though they did serve in the military, include James Madison, James Polk, Millard Filmore, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan. Reagan was kept from service because of his poor eyesight.

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While Abraham Lincoln is one president who makes the list, his service in the militia during the Black Hawk War was unremarkable and insubstantial. Seven United States presidents served during the Civil War, which was overseen by President Lincoln. Theodore Roosevelt gained fame for his role in the Spanish-American War. No president other than Harry Truman served in combat during World War I; although Dwight Eisenhower was in the Army at the time, he was never posted outside the US. There are six US presidents who are war veterans of World War II: Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and George H.W. Bush.

Five US presidents are veterans of the War of 1812: Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor and James Buchanan. Four US presidents served in more than one war: Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, and Ulysses S. Grant. Three presidents served in the American Revolution: Andrew Jackson, James Monroe, and George Washington, who was the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army.

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anon313165
Post 8

I am a combat veteran and even a character in a movie is based upon me, and I think that no one should be able to send our sons and daughters into that kind of life altering and often life ending horror and hell if they have not been on the front line themselves.

If you have experienced that hell, you might be less likely to send someone else than someone who has never seen it other than on TV or video games or through reports from advisers. I respect the position that strategically, a non-frontline combat veteran or non-veteran can study strategy and war techniques and/or take advise from great strategists, but they cannot truly know what it is like. I think only those who know are fit to send people to war or declare war (like all the non-veterans in Congress who voted for OEF and OIF, etc).

profess
Post 7

Does anyone know if any Presidents suffered from PTSD?

whiteplane
Post 6

I can understand why service in war would be a mark in someone's favor, but I don't think a lack of service should count against them. War is a complicated thing and we can't expect every person to go rushing off to the front of it.

Furthermore, I don't think a lack of service says anything about a person's ability to lead, even in times of war. The presidency is about reason, judgement, and well advised council. A smart man or woman could manage that as well as any veteran.

anon278488
Post 5

Can anyone list the presidents who did not serve in the military?

thumbtack
Post 3

@GraniteChief: I think it is too idealized to expect in this time and age that every US president is capable or has actually served in the wartime situation.

It is my hope that at some point in time we won't have any US presidents who have served in war because we have been able to eliminate war completely. While this may seem like an idealized concept and one that is not possible, I think that we will someday be able to reduce the numbers of wars.

As the numbers of wars decrease, that means the number of soldiers who are qualified to lead our country into the next generation will become less and less available. This lack of candidate qualification will then lead us to force ourselves to picking a military base background leader who may not be the best choice for our country at the time.

GraniteChief
Post 2

While it is impressive that over half of the United States presidents have served in some fashion in the military I don't think that that number is high enough. the power of the United States president to wage war on any part of the world means they need take absolute caution in truly understand what it means to be a soldier.

If you can send young men and women and even old men to give their lives fighting for the freedom of their nation and you also must understand what that feeling is like in the strife that war can bring.

Only when you see your fellow soldiers die can you truly understand what it means to make the final decision to start a war.

anon41713
Post 1

I would like to know how many years have been served by presidents when the congress was dominated by their own party.

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