Which US presidents have been veterans?

2/17/2017

For President's Day, we take a look at the 26 Commanders in Chief who were veterans.

With President's Day upon us, we decided to look back at the military service of our commanders in chief.

Starting with the Founding Fathers, the succession of U.S. presidents has a long and storied history of veterans reaching the highest office. Of the 44 people elected to the presidency (remember, Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms), 26 of them have served in the armed forces, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. Fifteen had Army/Army Reserve experience, nine served in state militias, six came through the ranks in the Navy/Naval Reserve and two presidents were in the Continental Army. To date, no presidents have been a member of the U.S. Marine Corps or U.S. Coast Guard.

Revolutionary War-Era Presidents

Rather than enter office as a commanding general, George Washington, our first president, established an important precedent by voluntarily resigning his command as general first, the VA noted. However, after serving two terms and relinquishing the office, Washington resumed his role as senior officer of the Army until he passed away, according to the Constitution Center. During the war, the British captured a 13-year old Andrew Jackson who was serving as a messenger at the time, the source noted. These Revolutionary War-era presidents served in the armed forces:

George Washington
General and Commander in Chief, Continental Army

Thomas Jefferson
Colonel, Virginia Militia

James Madison
Colonel, Virginia Militia

James Monroe
Major, Continental Army

Andrew Jackson
Major General, U.S. Army

War of 1812 and Mexican-American War-Era Presidents

While not as well known as the other wars in this article, several presidents were veterans of these two conflicts. Although William Henry Harrison only served 30 days of his administration before dying, he was instrumental in the victory during the biggest conflict of the War of 1812, the Battle of the Thames. The following presidents served in the armed forces during this time period:

William Henry Harrison
Major General, Kentucky Militia

John Tyler
Captain, Virginia Militia

James K. Polk
Colonel, Tennessee Militia

Zachary Taylor
Major General, U.S. Army

Millard Fillmore
Major, Union Continentals (home guard)

Franklin Pierce
Brigadier General, New Hampshire Militia

James Buchanan
Private, Pennsylvania Militia

Fifteen presidents have been a member of the Army or Army Reserve.Fifteen presidents have been a member of the Army or Army Reserve.

The Civil War-Era Presidents

One of the most contentious periods in our nation's history, the Civil War saw seven presidents emerge from its battlefields, all from the Union Army, according to the VA. Before becoming commander in chief though, President Lincoln served as a captain of his militia unit during the Black Hawk War of 1832. This period also produced the second general after Washington to serve as president, Ulysses S. Grant. Other than Lincoln, these seven other presidents served during the Civil War:

Abraham Lincoln
Captain, Illinois Militia

Andrew Johnson
Brigadier General, U.S. Army (Volunteers)

Ulysses S. Grant
General, U.S. Army

Rutherford B. Hayes
Major General, U.S. Army (Volunteers)

James A. Garfield
Major General, U.S. Army (Volunteers)

Chester A. Arthur
Brigadier General, New York Militia

Benjamin Harrison
Brevet Brigadier General, U.S. Army (Volunteers)

William McKinley
Brevet Major, U.S. Army (Volunteers)

While he was commander in chief during the Civil War, Lincoln gained military experience during the Black Hawk War.

"8 presidents fought in some capacity during WWII."

Modern-Era Presidents

Up until this point, a majority of the presidents served in the Army. However, the modern era has seen a majority of the presidents come up through the ranks of the Navy/Naval Reserve. This era produced the third and final president to also hold the rank of General, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eight presidents fought in some capacity during World War II, with John F. Kennedy serving on a patrol boat in the Solomon Islands and George H.W. Bush flying 58 combat missions, according to the Constitution Center. These modern-era presidents served in the armed forces:

Theodore Roosevelt
Colonel, U.S. Army (Volunteers)

Harry S. Truman
Colonel, Army Officer Reserve Corps

Dwight D. Eisenhower
General of the Army, U.S. Army

John F. Kennedy
Lieutenant, U.S. Naval Reserve

Lyndon B. Johnson
Commander, U.S. Naval Reserve

Richard M. Nixon
Commander, U.S. Naval Reserve

Gerald R. Ford, Jr.
Lieutenant Commander, U.S. Naval Reserve

Jimmy Carter
Lieutenant, U.S. Navy

Ronald Reagan
Captain, U.S. Army

George Bush
Lieutenant (junior grade), U.S. Navy

George W. Bush
First Lieutenant, Texas Air National Guard

With more than half of the presidents having served our country in the armed forces, it's important to remember the sacrifices they made as well as the ones made every day by our brave servicemen and women this President's Day. 

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