Presidents that Served in the Military
While there are many Presidents that served in the military, a few stand apart from the rest as among the greatest men this country has ever seen – men who understand the true cost of freedom.
Throughout the history of the United States, it is a commonly understood belief that the presidents that served in the military have learned both the cost of freedom and how to respect that cost. They have fought for America and its interests, watching brothers in arms fall under a hail of bullets, and putting years of their lives to saving the nation against every dire threat thrown at it.
While there are many presidents that served in the military, a few stand apart from the rest as among the greatest men this country has ever seen – men who understand the true cost of freedom.
The first president of the United States stood firm as the face of the Revolution. When the Revolutionary War was just a small rebellion, George Washington stood at the forefront, a fixed point that could not be broken. In the process, he set the standards for presidents that served in the military.
Starting off as part of the militia during the French and Indian War, Washington was, in no small way, in part responsible for spurring on conflicts when, during a diplomatic meeting, fighting broke out, and he and his militia walked away. The French called Washington "Town Destroyer."
Washington learned much fighting Britain's adversary, the French. He learned the British war strategy, their customs, their mindsets. Though he did not imagine he would turn his gun on his partners-in-arms, he learned their tactics, and how the British could fall.
Washington proved so great in the French and Indian War that he was declared Commander in Chief of all forces raised in defense of His Majesty's Colony Virginia. With this new authority bestowed upon Washington by the crown, Washington threw the French back to Europe and crushed their forces in his homeland.
But any dream Washington had for peace was dashed when the Revolutionary War broke out.
Washington did not seek to be general of the American army. John Adams, a fellow future president of the United States, insisted he take the title. Washington ended up refusing a salary, seeing it as his patriotic duty to serve the government.
Washington spent the first several years of the war struggling to maintain a foothold – his troops were underfed, weak, and undertrained. It wasn't until he adopted his knowledge of British forces in a new, creative way that the war turned around.
Christmas Day, the British were unprepared. Celebrating. It was on this day that Washington took his troops across the Delaware River, and, as the British slept in Trenton and Princeton, sacked the cities, spilling British blood under a hail of bullets.
Washington exploited the British regimen's orderly war conduct by launching a guerrilla war against them, picking British off little by little. Washington's large-scale war against the British led to the remarkable – incredible – victory over the British.
It seems only natural that the Americans wanted Washington to lead as President. Washington accepted, becoming the first of many presidents that served in the military.
Andrew Jackson was the single worst president in American History, though, in all fairness, some would say President Donald Trump is making a good case to usurp that title. Still, when it comes to serving the military, Jackson has few rivals. Jackson won the presidency due to his legacy as a war hero. That does not make him a good politician.
During the Revolutionary War, Andrew Jackson was but a child. The British killed his brother and captured him and his brother as hostages. During captivity, Jackson was brutally beaten, leaving scars across his face. His other brother died, and, shortly after, Jackson's mother died.
By the age of fourteen, Jackson had a lot of reason to hate the British. And he would get his chance to exact revenge by the time he had grown to manhood, by the time the War of 1812 broke out.
Jackson assembled an army of volunteers, and, ignoring orders to stop, led his forces against the British. He assembled a larger and larger force, becoming known for his refusal to surrender and sheer toughness. "Old Hickory," they called him.
Following the defeat of a Native American faction allied with the British, Jackson was named Major General of the United States military, but that could not suppress his rage. Jackson pushed against the British – and Spain, too, because he suspected the Spanish were in league with the British. It didn't really matter who – everyone outside of America was Jackson's enemy, and his forces would fire bullets into their bodies until their flesh had become bloody smears in the dirt.
But Jackson's greatest victory? The Battle of New Orleans. Jackson learned that British soldiers were plotting to sack the city, and, refusing to see any American children scarred up by British authorities – as he had been – he and his men rushed to the aid of New Orleans.
Employing the aid of every single person in the city – including smugglers – Jackson warded off the thousands of British coming for the city. Nearly 2,000 British soldiers died. Jackson barely lost 50.
It was only thanks to this incredible victory that the American people thought it would be a good idea to place this clearly unstable man in charge of the country. Yeah, when we look at presidents that served in the military, we ought to be wary about how stable these people are in war. It might be an omen for things to come.
Few people remember Zachary Taylor for his accomplishments as president. He barely lasted a year before dying in office. But Zachary Taylor, as one of the presidents that served in the military, did more for this country than many might realize, standing front and center against some of the most brutal threats thrown against young America.
Taylor served for 40 years in the military, stepping down only to become president. He first became a captain in the War of 1812. At the time, the British and Native Americans had laid to waste most of America's forces.
Under the blaze of red coat fire, the young nation's military had crumbled. Zachary Taylor – a nobody – won the first land battle of the war for America by defending Fort Harrison, shooting down countless British soldiers in order to stand the ground. He fought the long fight of the war, struggling to hold ground against the sea of British soldiers, and, a year after it was all over, America was still there. Thanks in part to Taylor.
Taylor rose in the ranks. He fought against countless Native American uprisings against the US. By the time he became Brigadier General, he longed for the quiet life. For retirement.
Too bad the war wasn't done with him just yet.
The Mexican-American War broke out. Though President Polk tried to negotiate peace, Zachary Taylor had no time to wait for negotiations, not while the Mexican forces fought to reclaim the soil America had purchased from them. He held ground against the larger Mexican army, cleaving through their forces with a hail of bullets.
And then brought the fight to Mexico.
Taylor captured the City of Monterey, an impregnable city that God himself could not sack, after a three-day siege. Land fell under Taylor's march, until the whole of Mexico converged upon Taylor, to stop him.
He brought 6,000 of his troops southward, up against Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna. Santa Anna had a gargantuan army, outnumbering Taylor's men four to one. Taylor, rather than retreat, used a superior defensive strategy to eradicate Santa Anna's forces in the Battle of Buena Vista.
The war effectively ended at Buena Vista.
After he finished winning the war, Taylor won an easy victory: become president.
Ulysses S. Grant
President Ulysses S. Grant made a more famous war general than a president. He stood at America's side when it was most fragmented and broken.
A West Point graduate, Ulysses S. Grant first served under Zachary Taylor, playing a crucial role in capturing Monterey. Yet he always remained critical of the Mexican-American War, even as he led his cavalry to victory. He believed that the Civil War that followed was a moral punishment for their aggression against Mexico.
But when war broke, Grant raised an army of volunteers against the forces of the South. The idea of the South seceding did not disturb Grant nearly as much as the idea of them attacking and killing Americans.
When leading his army into Confederate territory, Grant and his army of volunteers offered the Confederates at Fort Donelson a chance to peacefully surrender. He made an offer for unconditional surrender after his forces spent a whole day slaughtering their forces – and whoever still drew breath accepted it. From then on, his soldiers named him Unconditional Surrender Grant.
Seeing this victory, President Abraham Lincoln promoted Grant to the position of Major General of the United States Army.
From there, Grant fought the war for the Union, fighting battle after battle to eradicate the Confederate threat. He never gave an inch under the bombardment of an entire nation, with the fate of the country resting on his shoulders. Countless bloody battles were fought, resulting in countless Union soldiers dying.
But for every man shot down, Grant saw to it that countless more Confederates met their end. He always offered unconditional surrender. His negotiations merely took several tons of ammunition before the Confederates accepted.
And yet Grant's rival, Robert E. Lee, persisted on.
By 1864, Grant answered directly to President Lincoln as Lieutenant General of the United States Army.
Less than a year later, the war ended when General Ulysses S. Grant marched into Richmond, the Confederate capital. Robert E. Lee, Grant's rival in the war, attempted one final strike, but, seeing he was beaten, accepted unconditional surrender.
Holy Hell, Teddy. Of all the presidents and presidential candidates that served in the military, fewer men kicked ass like Teddy Roosevelt. After serving in the New York National Guard, Roosevelt was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy due in part to Roosevelt's extensive research into the military. In this position, Roosevelt built up the Navy's forces, essentially ignoring whatever his superiors said for the betterment of the country's military might.
Come the Spanish-American War, the Navy became incredibly important to combating the forces of the fading Spanish Empire. But Roosevelt wanted to see combat! So he resigned as secretary and created his own, special unit: The First United States Volunteer Cavalry. Otherwise known as The Rough Riders.
The unit consisted mostly of college athletes, cowboys, ranchers, and outdoorsmen of all sorts. The kind of men who could fight the forces of the forest on their own. Roosevelt's National Guard training and Navy studies came in handy training them, but his ingenious studies of war aided him in the battles ahead..
His forces plowed through Cuba, decimating every Spanish base with minimal casualties. The Spanish did not expect Roosevelt's forces, nor, once they saw them coming, could they stop them. Ultimately, Roosevelt's Rough Riders helped sack Santiago, thus crushing the Spanish Empire's hold of Cuba, Guam, and the Philippines. Roosevelt took these lands as spoils of war for America, but not as states, but rather affiliated territories.
The Spanish Empire laid broken at Roosevelt's feet. Once the greatest force in the world – now a pulverized mess.
It was thanks to the Rough Riders that the Spanish American War ended in absolute victory.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Of all the presidents that served in the military, Eisenhower's accomplishments are oddly overlooked. Most presidents served in the military. Few stood as generals.
But Dwight Eisenhower stood as the Supreme Allied Commander against the Axis Powers, effectively crushing Adolf Hitler and his legion's forces.
Eisenhower started the good fight in World War I. Though he never served on the front lines of the war, he earned a distinguished rank for his work on the home front. Time and time again, he hoped to be deployed but remained at home, where he advised generals.
It is here where he learned the inner workings of the military, and here where he became the military genius needed to win the war against the Nazis.
Following the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor, Eisenhower, already distinguished for assisting the military during the peace time between World Wars, was given the task of supervising the military. This led to his promotion to Lieutenant General, where he started overseeing the efforts to liberate North Africa from Italy.
His victory in Africa led to him being named the Supreme Allied Commander. He had freed North Africa but had to end the battle in Europe.
Working alongside other generals, he determined the best solution to stop Hitler would be to invade France through a thin line of beaches. This decision would lead to the most pivotal battle of World War II: D-Day. The Battle of Normandy.
Eisenhower oversaw the war effort, waging war against Hitler, throwing down and shattering his defensive front, until troops marched through Berlin to find Hitler's dead body.
Eisenhower's superior strategies won the war.
But he alone was not the only brave president that served in the military during those dark days...
John F Kennedy
JFK, the 35th President of the United States, served in WWII. His chronic back pain did not stop him from serving on the Pacific Front. He spent training for years before making it to the war front.
Though JFK had many experiences in the Pacific, his greatest moment came aboard the PT-109. A Japanese destroyer the Amagiri rammed the PT-109, splitting the ship in half. With people already dead and the ship sinking into the Pacific, John F. Kennedy led the survivors three miles through the water to the nearest island, dragging a badly burned crew member in a life jacket by his teeth to the island.
For his heroism in the face of utter devastation, JFK was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for Bravery.
You might forget that Gerald Ford was elected President of the United States, but the American military can never forget the war efforts of this President, a president who served his country at its most dire moment: World War II.
Enlisting before they could ever draft him, Ford joined the United States Navy and trained to do just about everything you can do on a Navy battleship, from first aid to gunnery to navigational skills. Ford served upon the USS Monterey, a ship that sped into the Pacific War Front against the legions of Japanese soldiers. On the sea, The Monterey was unstoppable, blowing every Japanese ship into the depths of the sea. And Ford himself stood behind the guns, plowing through iron hulls and seaborne destroyers. In the Battle of the Philippines, Ford shined.
Only God himself could sink the ship, seeing as how a typhoon eventually dealt heavy damage to the Monterey. It was only by sheer skill that Ford didn't get thrown into the sea, and by sheer chance that the aircraft aboard the Monterey, tossed up into the air by the Monterey, did not crash down upon him.
They did crash into the ship, though, turning Ford's sea vessel into an inferno of molten metal and flame. It was in part to Ford's fast thinking – along with a coordinated effort of the Monterey's crew – that the ship survived the typhoon, and made it to shore shortly after.
For his services, Ford was awarded numerous medals. He earned more acclaim for his military services than anything he did as president.
George H W Bush
Little known fact: George H.W. Bush was the youngest naval aviator of his time. Enlisting at 18, he qualified as a naval aviator at the age of 19. Already, it was clear that Bush was geared for greatness – maybe even one day serving as President of the United States?
Of all the presidents that served in the military, Bush was one both one of the youngest and most diehard. Bush set to the air and fought in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, a battle of bullets and broken plane wings that sent countless boys hurdling into the shark infested depths of the sea. But not George Bush. Due to his skill, he evaded the hail of bullets that mowed down other pilots, and emerged victorious above the sea of broken planes, ready to fight another day.
But the great battle was hardly Bush's brightest moment. No, that came when he and three other pilots flew to destroy the Japanese installments on Chichijima. His mission? Bomb the facility. But the squad did not expect intense anti-aircraft fire.
Bush's plane struck, his engine roared into a great fire, lighting his whole plane aflame! He completed his mission, blowing up the facility with a series of bombs. He and one other pilot managed to escape, but only barely. Bush would try to find to find his companions on the flight, but, to his horror, they had already been captured, their livers ripped out in a brutal, sadistic execution.
For his valiant efforts in the war, Bush received the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, and the Presidential Unit Citation awarded to San Jacinto.