Military Service And Our Presidents

Bob Jones
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Wednesday - June 18, 2008
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Army Capt. Harry Truman
Army Capt. Harry Truman

If Barack Obama lives up to the current polls and is our president next Jan. 20, he’d be one of only 12 American leaders - Bill Clinton being the most recent - never to have served a day of military service.

And one of the few (along with Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush) to not have seen combat in wartime.

We’ve tended to want presidents to be wartime military vets. Our first, George Washington, ranks at the top of the list as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. Dwight Eisenhower ranks No. 2 as General of the Army in World War II.

Twenty-four of our presidents have served in uniform in wartime. Many of them you probably don’t think of that way. Yep, Abe Lincoln saw serious combat in the Black Hawk Indian war of 1832. Harry Truman? You bet. Captain and combat artilleryman in World War I. Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford did in WWII.

Navy Lt. Jimmy Carter
Navy Lt. Jimmy Carter

I’m not sure it matters if a president has done military service or been in combat but it’s certainly a niche of vulnerability for Obama in this contest. John McCain is a retired Navy captain, a former POW, from a family of two admirals and is likely to get the lion’s share of the military-minded vote.

Obama might pick up votes by selecting Virginia Sen. James Webb (combat Marine in Vietnam, Secretary of the Navy) as his vice president. Or perhaps the Hillary supporter and former presidential candidate Gen. Wesley Clark.

Who besides Clinton and Obama had no military experience? John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, Grover Cleveland, William Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Ford
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Ford

Ronald Reagan was called up for Army cavalry duty and switched to the Army Air Force, but was quickly sidelined because of poor eyesight and transferred to a stateside motion picture unit.

James Madison, James Polk and Millard Fillmore were cast aside by the Army for medical reasons after being briefly called into uniform.

After we elected Spanish-American war hero Theodore Roosevelt in 1900, we went through six presidents who had never been in the military. Then it was Harry Truman’s turn. By that time, he was an Army Reserve colonel and militarily ready for his “you’re fired” encounter with Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

After Truman, we never elected a president who didn’t have some military experience, even as slight as Reagan’s. Not until Bill Clinton came along. That it took so long for the University of Hawaii to release the names of those with air-hotel-food freebies for the Sugar Bowl is a disgrace to the idea of public accountability.

A smart UH president or chancellor would have stepped up and said, “We’re a public facility, release that information right now.”

Army Air Force Lt. Ronald Reagan
Army Air Force Lt. Ronald Reagan

That didn’t happen and you know why? The UH administration got bullied by the Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA). Was there some great secret? No, it was just HGEA doing its usual “we don’t have to tell the public anything about our members salaries, firings, perks - nothing.” It’s all private.

No, it’s not. We’re the employers. UH president David McClain and chancellor Virginia Henshaw should have said that right off the bat. They caved to the HGEA until the moment it was a given they’d lose in court.

The UH keeps asking us for more money and generally we’re inclined to give it. We want a first-class university.

But we wanted to know how the UH spent more than $2 million of that Sugar Bowl money and why two precious seats on charter flights were saved for U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono and her husband.

We wanted to know and we were entitled to know.

Why did the UH administration ever think otherwise?


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