29 American Presidents Who Served in the Military

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U.S. President John F. Kennedy, during his time in the Navy (image: John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)
U.S. President John F. Kennedy, during his time in the Navy (image: John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

Serving in the military isn't a prerequisite for becoming president. Nonetheless, out of the 45 presidents of the United States, 29 had some military experience in their background, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs. This seems fitting, given that the president is the commander-in-chief of America's military.

Military service has also come up as a political issue over time. The military service of both George W. Bush and John Kerry received heavily scrutiny during the 2004 presidential campaign.

And, while observers have pointed out that US President Donald Trump has a fondness for military trappings and parades — even sparking anger by referring to his staff as "my generals," Business Insider's Mark Abadi reported — the medical deferment that kept him out of the Vietnam War is a source of controversy.

These are the presidents who served in the armed forces in some capacity, from the modern day to the American Revolution:

1. George W. Bush

President George W. Bush greets rescue workers, firefighters and military personnel, Sept. 12, 2001, while surveying damage caused by the previous day’s terrorist attacks on the Pentagon. (Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library)

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Service: Texas Air National Guard

Rank: First Lieutenant

Conflict: Stateside during the Vietnam War

2. George H. W. Bush

George H. W. BushImage: U.S. Navy

Service: United States Naval Reserve

Rank: Lieutenant (junior grade)

Conflict: World War II

Awards: Distinguished Flying Cross

3. Ronald Reagan

Ronald ReaganImage: Wikimedia Commons

Service: United States Army Reserve, United States Army Air Corps

Rank: Captain

Conflict: Stateside during World War II

4. Jimmy Carter

Jimmy CarterImage: Wikimedia Commons

Service: United States Navy

Rank: Lieutenant

Conflict: World War II and Korea

5. Gerald Ford

Service: United States Naval Reserve

Rank: Lieutenant Commander

Conflict: World War II

6. Richard Nixon

Richard NixonImage: Wikimedia Commons

Service: United States Naval Reserve

Rank: Commander

Conflict: World War II

Awards: Two Service Stars

7. Lyndon B. Johnson

Service: United States Naval Reserve

Rank: Commander

Conflict: World War II

Awards: Silver Star

8. John F. Kennedy

Service: United States Navy

Rank: Lieutenant

Conflict: World War II

Awards: Navy and Marine Corps Medal and a Purple Heart

9. Dwight D. Eisenhower

(National Archives)

Service: United States Army

Rank: Army General during World War I, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II

Conflict: World War I and World War II

10. Harry S. Truman

Harry S. TrumanImage: Wikimedia Commons

Service: Army Officer Reserve Corps

Rank: Colonel

Conflict: World War I

11. Theodore Roosevelt

Service: United States Army

Rank: Colonel

Conflict: Spanish-American War

Awards: Medal of Honor (Roosevelt is the only US president to have received this award)

12. William McKinley

William McKinley, 1865

Service: United States Army

Rank: Brevet Major

Conflict: American Civil War

13. Benjamin Harrison

Benjamin HarrisonImage: Wikimedia Commons

Service: United States Army

Rank: Brigadier General

Conflict: American Civil War

14. Chester A. Arthur

President Chester A. Arthur
President Chester A. Arthur

Service: New York State Militia

Rank: Brigadier General

Conflict: American Civil War

15. James Garfield

James Garfield as a brigadier general during the Civil War.

Service: United States Army

Rank: Major General

Conflict: American Civil War

16. Rutherford B. Hayes

Rutherford B. HayesImage: Wikimedia Commons

Service: United States Army

Rank: Major General

Conflict: American Civil War

17. Ulysses S. Grant

"On to Richmond" by the artist Mort Kunstler. The painting depicts Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant on the field during the Battle of the Wilderness, Virginia, May 5-7, 1864. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army War College/Megan Clugh)

Service: United States Army

Rank: General of the Army

Conflict: Mexican-American War and American Civil War

18. Andrew Johnson

President Andrew Johnson
President Andrew Johnson

Service: United States Army

Rank: Brigadier General

Conflict: American Civil War

19. Abraham Lincoln

President Abraham Lincoln

Service: Illinois State Militia

Rank: Captain

Conflict: Black Hawk War

20. James Buchanan

James BuchananImage: Wikimedia Commons

Service: Pennsylvania State Militia

Rank: Private

Conflict: War of 1812

21. Franklin Pierce

President Franklin Pierce
President Franklin Pierce (Mathew Brady)

Service: United States Army

Rank: Brigadier General

Conflict: Mexican-American War

22. Millard Fillmore

President Millard Fillmore
President Millard Fillmore

Service: New York State Militia

Rank: Major

Conflict: American Civil War

23. Zachary Taylor

President Zachary Taylor
President Zachary Taylor

Service: United States Army

Rank: Major General

Conflict: War of 1812, Black Hawk War, Second Seminole War, Mexican-American War

24. James K. Polk

President James K. Polk
President James K. Polk

Service: Tennessee State Militia

Rank: Colonel

Conflict: Did not see war service

25. John Tyler

John Tyler
President John Tyler (George Peter Alexander Healy)

Service: Virginia Militia

Rank: Captain

Conflict: War of 1812

26. William Henry Harrison

Portrait of William Henry Harrison by Rembrandt Peale

Service: United States Army

Rank: Major General

Conflict: Northwest Indian War and the War of 1812

27. Andrew Jackson

Andrew JacksonImage: Wikimedia Commons

Service: United States Army

Rank: Major General

Conflict: American Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Creek War, and the First Seminole War

28. James Monroe

Service: Continental Army

Rank: Major

Conflict: American Revolutionary War

29. George Washington

George Washington Crossing the Delaware
Washington Crossing the Delaware (Emanuel Leutze)

Service: Virginia militia, Continental Army, United States Army

Rank: General

Conflict: French and Indian War and American Revolutionary War

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