21 facts you didn’t know about presidents and the military


By J.G. Noll

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(Photo: Wikimedia)

There is no Constitutional requirement for presidents to have served in the military, although a majority of the 45 have, in some capacity. Here are some of the strangest, most interesting, and downright intriguing facts about the Commanders-in-Chief and their relationships to the military:

1. James Buchanan is the only president to serve as enlisted and never become an officer. (He served in the Pennsylvania Militia during the War of 1812.)

2. Only two presidents were five-star generals: George Washington and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

3. 24 presidents served in wartime.

4. Teddy Roosevelt is the only president to be a Medal of Honor recipient. It was awarded posthumously in 2001, 103 years after his charge up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War. During his lifetime, Roosevelt believed he deserved the honor: “I am entitled to the Medal of Honor and I want it.”

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5. Teddy Roosevelt’s son, Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt, was awarded the Medal of Honor, making them one of two father-son pairs to both lay claim to the award. (The other duo is Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who fought in WW II, and his father Gen. Arthur MacArthur, who fought in the Civil War.)

6. During WWI, Franklin Delano Roosevelt tried to resign his post as Assistant Secretary of the Navy so he could fight. His resignation was not accepted.

7. William McKinley served under Rutherford B. Hayes in the 23rd Ohio Infantry during the Civil War. Both became presidents later in life.

8. Grover Cleveland skipped out on the draft during the Civil War by paying another man $150 to take his place.

9. John Quincy Adams was not in the military, but reportedly witnessed two battles during the Revolutionary War by happenstance: the Battle of Bunker Hill and a naval battle between a British ship and a ship he and his father were on.

 

10. During WWII, Lyndon B. Johnson boarded a B-26 bomber and was preparing for take-off, when he had to use the bathroom so badly that he disembarked the plane. They didn’t wait for him. The plane crashed, and Johnson was the only surviving member of the crew.

11. Richard Nixon learned to play poker in the Navy with the specific goal of earning extra cash. The money he earned funded his first congressional campaign.

12. After his victory at Shiloh, Northerners sent Ulysses S. Grant more than 10,000 boxes of cigars.

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13. Rutherford B. Hayes was wounded four times in the Civil War. He is the only president to be wounded at all during the war.

14. George Washington can never be outranked. Legislation passed in 1976 explains that “it is considered fitting and proper that no officer of the United States Army should outrank Lieutenant General George Washington on the Army list.”

15.  George H. W. Bush’s plane was shot down in the Pacific during WWII and he was later rescued by a submarine.

16. Worried that the US might be invaded by the French, John Adams named George Washington Commander-in-Chief of the US Military in 1798. Washington served mostly as an adviser and, even though he was in advanced years, he was annoyed that he couldn’t do more.

17. Ulysses S. Grant couldn’t stand the sight of blood.

18. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s made his beloved dog, Fala, an honorary Army private during WWII.

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19. Lyndon B. Johnson served in WWII as an elected congressman. He returned to the States when Roosevelt insisted that all currently serving members of Congress leave active duty.

20. Before WWII, most presidents had served in the Army. Since WWII, the majority of presidents served with the Navy.

21. George Washington is the only sitting president to lead troops into battle. In 1794, he led a militia into Western Pennsylvania during the Whisky Rebellion.

 
J.G. Noll is the Editor of Military One Click and a veteran’s spouse. She can be reached at joanna@militaryoneclick.com.