Veterans in the Nation's Highest Office
Here is a list of our presidents and their service history:
- George Washington: Revolutionary War (Continental Army - General of the Armies)
- Thomas Jefferson: Pre-Revolutionary War Era (Virginia Militia - Colonel)
- James Madison: Revolutionary War (Virginia Militia - Colonel)
- James Monroe: Revolutionary War (Continental Army - Major)
- Andrew Jackson: War of 1812 (Army - Major General)
- William Henry Harrison: Indian campaigns (Army - Major General)
- John Tyler: War of 1812 (Army - Captain)
- James Polk: Pre-Civil War Era (Tennessee Militia - Colonel)
- Zachary Taylor: War of 1812, Black Hawk War, Second Seminole War, Mexican-American War (Army - Major General)
- Franklin Pierce: Mexican War (Army - Brigadier General)
- James Buchanan: War of 1812 (Army - Private)
- Abraham Lincoln: Black Hawk War (Indian Wars) (Army - Private)
- Andrew Johnson: Civil War (Army- Brigadier General)
- Ulysses S. Grant: Mexican War and Civil War (Army - General of the Army)
- Rutherford B. Hayes: Civil War (Army - Major General)
- James A. Garfield: Civil War (Army - Major General)
- Chester A. Arthur: Civil War (Army - Major General)
- Benjamin Harrison: Civil War (Army - Major General)
- William McKinley: Civil War (Continental Army - Major)
- Theodore Roosevelt: Spanish American War (Army - Colonel)
- Harry Truman: World War I (Army - Colonel)
- Dwight Eisenhower: World War I and World War II (Army - General of the Armies)
- John F. Kennedy: World War II (Navy - Lieutenant)
- Lyndon B. Johnson: World War II (Navy - Commander)
- Richard Nixon: World War II (Navy - Commander)
- Gerald Ford: World War II (Navy - Lieutenant Commander)
- Jimmy Carter: Cold War era (Navy - Lieutenant)
- Ronald Reagan: World War II (Air Force - Captain)
- George H.W. Bush: World War II (Navy - Lieutenant, Junior Grade)
- George W. Bush: Vietnam War era (Air Force Reserve - First Lieutenant)
It is important to note than in our early history, especially in the Southern states, military service in the militia was required with "gentleman" often serving in admin. capacities (See Jefferson, Madison). Additionally, militia service, now equivalent with National Guard or Reserve service, accounts for some of the service time seen in this list.
Officially, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs recognizes 26 Presidents for their military service, but like with all "veteran" definitions, the lines can get fuzzy as military branches combined into their current state.
Presidential Military Trivia
President Theodore Roosevelt is the only President to receive the Medal of Honor. He was originally passed over for the award citing a lack of evidence, but was bestowed the honor posthumously. President Bill Clinton awarded the medal in 2001.
George Washington's likeness appears on the Purple Heart, but it was created by then Secretary of War Douglas MacArthur in 1932. Washington started the idea for a "Medal of Merit" but was forbidden from creating them. In General Order 3, MacArthur stated in his order that he was reviving the ideals of Washington.
Only one President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, obtained the actual rank of 5-Star General. Washington and U.S. Grant also held the grade of "General of the Army," but did not receive a 5th star as organizationally, it was not recognized at the time.
The only President to serve exclusively in the enlisted ranks is James Buchanan. Lincoln also received his military discharge as a Private, but served briefly as an officer (Captain).
Seven Presidents each served in the American Civil War and World War II.
Andrew Jackson is the only President with Prisoner of War status.