Did you know...? Some presidents were war heroes

by Laurie Pearson, Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow
Stripes Okinawa

Many of the men who have served as President of the United States also

served in the military, and some of those are considered “war heroes” for

their courageous acts. In light of President’s Day, these are just a few of their stories.

George Washington

First president of the United States: 1789 –1797

General and Commander in Chief, Continental Army: 1775-1783

Washington was commissioned as lieutenant colonel in 1754 and fought in the French and Indian War. The next year, as an aide to Gen. Edward Braddock, he “escaped injury although four bullets ripped his coat and two horses were shot from under him.” From 1759 until the outbreak of the American Revolution, he lived on his plantation with his wife, Martha. “But like his fellow planters, Washington felt himself exploited by British merchants and hampered by British regulations.” In 1775 he was elected Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, whereupon he took command of his troops and “embarked upon a war that was to last six grueling years.” One of his war strategies was to give the impression

of falling back slowly, then striking in an unexpected manner with his men. In 1781, with the aid of French allies, Washington and the Continental Army soldiers forced Gen. Charles Cornwallis to surrender at Yorktown. Once a new Constitution was ratified the Electoral College

elected Washington to be the first President, thus making him the nation’s Founding Father. He served two terms. At his Farewell Address, he urged his countrymen to beware of focusing too much on political parties and geographical distinctions.

Ulysses S. Grant

18th President of the United States: 1869 – 1877

General, U.S. Army: 1866-1869

Grant served under Generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott in the Army during the Mexican-American War. Leading his company into battle,

he was credited for his bravery under fire. In 1861, when Confederate troops attacked Fort Sumter, South Carolina, Grant volunteered his services to the military again. Under scrutiny, he was assigned to command “an unruly 21st Illinois volunteer regiment.” He used lessons learned from Taylor and Scott and had his regiment ready for battle in short order. From 1862 to the end of the Civil War, his regiment was successful in myriad battles to include “the earliest significant Union victories of the American Civil War.” He earned the nickname “Unconditional Surrender Grant.” His military objectives were to take down Confederate armies, rather than claim territories. With that in mind, he “set out to track down and destroy Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. From “March 1864 to April 1865, Grant doggedly hunted for Lee in the forests of Virginia,” all while causing

innumerable casualties on Lee’s soldiers. On April 9, 1865, Lee met Grant to surrender and sign a peace agreement, thereby bringing the Civil War to an end. In 1868 he was elected as President at the age of 46.

Hallmarks of his presidency are the ratification of the 15th Amendment and the establishment of the National Park Service.

Theodore Roosevelt

26th President of the United States: 1901 – 1909

Colonel, U.S. Army (Volunteers): 1898

After his younger years were riddled with illnesses and asthma, his father encouraged Roosevelt to develop a physical regimen to include boxing and weightlifting. He worked in law then politics until February 14, 1884, when both his mother and wife died on the same day. He took a 2-year break in the Badlands of the Dakota Territory where he worked through his grief while living as a cowboy and cattle rancher. He returned to politics in 1886 and re-married to a childhood friend. He took interest in the Spanish-American War and left his political position to gather and lead a volunteer cavalry called The Rough Riders. He led a charge at the Battle of San Juan then returned to govern New York as a war hero nominated for the Medal of Honor. He was hailed as one of the most conspicuous heroes of the war. He was later nominated as Vice President to President William McKinley. Upon McKinley’s assassination “Teedie” or “Teddy” Roosevelt became the youngest President in American history at the age of 42. He fought against biased trusts and focused on foreign

affairs during his term in office. He received the Nobel Peace Prize for mediations he conducted during the Russo-Japanese war. Some of his most “effective achievements were in conservation.” He increased national forests, public lands and irrigation systems. He left the Presidency in 1909 going on an African safari, but decided to run

again in 1912. While campaigning, a fanatic shot him in the chest. He recovered but “his words at that time would have been applicable at the time of his death in 1919: ‘No man has had a happier life than I have led; a happier life in every way.”

Harry S. Truman

33rd President of the United States: 1945 – 1953

Colonel, Army Officer Reserve Corps: 1919-1945

Although two years over the draft age limit, when World War I broke out, Truman volunteered for duty and helped organize his National Guard regiment. They were called to serve in the 129th Field Artillery. He was promoted to captain in France and assigned to Battery D, known for unruly soldiers. He earned the respect of those serving with him and was able to lead them through the campaign at Meuse-Argonne. After the war, he returned home, married his childhood sweetheart and began

a family America was in an economic decline and he lost his business in 1922. He then progressed through politics, first as a judge, then senator. In 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected as President for his fourth term with Truman as his Vice President. Weeks later, Roosevelt died of a stroke and Truman was sworn in as President. In his first six months in office, “he announced the Germans’ surrender, dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – ending World War II – and signed the charter

ratifying the United Nations. In 1948, during the Cold War, Russians blockaded western segments of Berlin, so Truman provided airlift to supply Berlin until the Russians relented. He also helped establish the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, in 1949. Truman introduced the “Fair Deal” program at the 1949 State of the Union Address which included universal health care, increased minimum wage, and increased funding for education, which met with mixed success. While racial discrimination was banned in hiring processes for federal government, the military was desegregated, and minimum wage did increase, national health insurance and additional education funds were rejected. When Communist North Korea attacked South Korea in 1950, Truman saw it as a challenge from Soviets and if “left unchecked” would escalate to another world war, so he quickly committed United States military to the aid of South Korea. The mission there quickly changed from a plan to eradicate communists, to simply containing and preserving independence for South Korea. “Truman kept the war a limited one, rather than risk a

major conflict with China and perhaps Russia.” Rather than run for office again, he retired in 1952.

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