List of Presidents of the United States by military service

The United States Constitution names the President of the United States the commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces. Previous service in the military is not a prerequisite for the position of president. As of the 2016 presidential election, no member of the U.S. Marine Corps or U.S. Coast Guard has yet been elected President. The most frequent military experience is Army/Army Reserve with 15 presidents, followed by State Militias at 9, Navy/Naval Reserve at 6 and the Continental Army with 2 presidents serving.

Eight presidents served during World War II, while seven served in the military during the American Civil War.

The following list outlines the military service of each president before becoming the commander in chief.

PresidentServiceRankActive Service
Donald TrumpNoneNoneNone
Barack ObamaNoneNoneNone
George W. BushTexas Air National Guard, United States Air ForceFirst LieutenantStateside service as pilot during Vietnam War (1968–1973). [1] (See George W. Bush military service controversy)
Bill ClintonNoneNoneNone
George H. W. BushUnited States Naval ReserveLieutenant (Junior Grade)Naval aviator in World War II (1942–1945). Shot down and received the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Ronald ReaganUnited States Army Reserve, United States Army Air ForcesCaptainStateside service during World War II (1942–1945); Army Reserve (1937–1942).
Jimmy CarterUnited States NavyLieutenant (navy)Served during World War II as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy. Sea duty and stateside service 1946–1953 during the Korean War.
Gerald FordUnited States Naval ReserveLieutenant CommanderWorld War II (1942–1945); combat on USS Monterey, discharged in 1946.
Richard NixonUnited States Naval ReserveCommanderWorld War II (1942–1945); earned two battle stars for service in the Pacific.
Lyndon B. JohnsonUnited States Naval ReserveCommander[2]World War II. Received Silver Star after observation mission in which aircraft he was on came under Japanese attack.[3] This was Johnson's only observation flight, and Johnson was the only individual on it to receive an award, leading many historians to conclude that Douglas MacArthur presented it to secure Johnson's political influence.[4]
John F. KennedyUnited States Naval ReserveLieutenant (navy)Served in combat during World War II. Received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal and the Purple Heart.
Dwight D. EisenhowerUnited States ArmyGeneral of the ArmyStateside service during World War I. Served as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II (1942–1945). Entire active-duty career spanned from 1915 until 1969 (excepting his two terms as president).
Harry S. Truman[5]Missouri Army National Guard,
United States Army,
United States Army Reserve
ColonelStateside National Guard service in Missouri (1905–1911); served in combat in France during World War I (1917–1918); transferred to Army Reserve and retired in 1953.
Franklin D. RooseveltNoneNoneNone; Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I.
Herbert HooverNoneNoneNone; helped guide US Marines in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion.
Calvin CoolidgeNoneNoneNone
Warren G. HardingNoneNoneNone
Woodrow WilsonNoneNoneNone
William Howard TaftConnecticut Home GuardNoneNone; United States Secretary of War 1904–1908. Enlisted in Connecticut Home Guard for World War I. Was chairman of American Red Cross executive committee during World War I. President Wilson conferred military titles on Red Cross leaders to provide them authority to carry out their wartime responsibilities, and Taft was appointed a major general.
Theodore RooseveltUnited States ArmyColonelNew York National Guard, 1882 to 1886, captain and company commander. Spanish–American War service as second in command and then commander of the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry (Rough Riders). Only U.S. President to receive the Medal of Honor (awarded posthumously in 2001). Also a Navy Civilian, as Assistant Secretary of the Navy[6]
William McKinleyUnited States ArmyBrevet MajorAmerican Civil War. Served in the 23rd Ohio Infantry under future President Rutherford B. Hayes; fought in the Battle of South Mountain, The Battle of Antietam, and in the Valley Campaigns of 1864.
Benjamin HarrisonUnited States ArmyBrigadier GeneralAmerican Civil War; Commanded an Infantry Brigade at the battles of Resaca, New Hope Church, Kennesaw Mountain, Marietta, Peachtree Creek and Atlanta; also Commanded a brigade during Sherman's March to the Sea.
Grover ClevelandNoneNoneNone. Hired a substitute to serve in his place during the American Civil War.
Chester A. ArthurNew York State MilitiaBrigadier GeneralJudge Advocate General, Second Brigade of the New York Militia. Served as Engineer-in-Chief on the Governor's staff, Quartermaster General and Inspector General of the New York Militia before and during the American Civil War. Declined appointment as commander of the 9th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment and command of four New York City regiments organized as the Metropolitan Brigade when Governor requested he remain Quartermaster General.
James GarfieldUnited States ArmyMajor GeneralAmerican Civil War (1861–1863; commanded an Ohio Infantry Brigade at the Battles of Shiloh and Corinth; served as Chief of Staff for General William Rosecrans at the Battle of Chickamauga; left the army to serve in the United States House of Representatives).
Rutherford B. HayesUnited States ArmyMajor GeneralAmerican Civil War. Served in the 23rd Ohio Infantry and commanded future President William McKinley; wounded at the Battle of South Mountain; also served at the Battle of Antietam and in the Valley Campaigns of 1864.
Ulysses S. GrantUnited States ArmyGeneral of the ArmyMexican–American War and American Civil War; served 1843–54 and 1861–68.
Andrew JohnsonUnited States ArmyBrigadier GeneralServed in Tennessee Militia in 1830s. American Civil War; served as Military Governor of Tennessee in 1862.
Abraham LincolnIllinois State MilitiaCaptainBlack Hawk War (served three months in 1832); see Abraham Lincoln in the Black Hawk War.
James BuchananPennsylvania State MilitiaPrivateWar of 1812
Franklin PierceUnited States ArmyBrigadier GeneralNew Hampshire Militia, 1831–46; Mexican–American War; commanded Infantry Brigade at Battle of Contreras (where his leg was injured), Battle of Churubusco, and the Assault on Mexico City.
Millard FillmoreNew York State MilitiaMajorServed in New York Militia in 1820s and 1830s; Organized Union Continentals home guard unit in Buffalo, New York during the American Civil War.
Zachary TaylorUnited States ArmyMajor GeneralWar of 1812, Black Hawk War, Second Seminole War, Mexican–American War; entire career spanned from 1808 until 1848.
James K. PolkTennessee State MilitiaColonelJoined cavalry unit in Tennessee Militia as a Captain. Subsequently appointed a Colonel on the staff of Governor William Carroll.
John TylerVirginia militiaCaptainWar of 1812.
William Henry HarrisonUnited States ArmyMajor GeneralNorthwest Indian War, War of 1812.
Martin Van BurenNoneNoneNone.
Andrew JacksonTennessee State Militia, Continental Army, United States ArmyMajor GeneralAmerican Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Creek War, First Seminole War.
John Quincy AdamsNoneNoneNone
James MonroeContinental ArmyMajorAmerican Revolutionary War; depicted holding the American flag behind General George Washington in the famous painting Washington Crossing the Delaware; wounded at the Battle of Trenton, depicted in the painting The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, December 26, 1776 by John Trumbull.
James MadisonVirginia militiaColonelAmerican Revolutionary War, did not see action, War of 1812, was the only U.S. President to command troops in the field at the Battle of Bladensburg
Thomas JeffersonVirginia militiaColonelCommander of Albemarle County Militia at start of American Revolution, did not see action.
John AdamsNoneNoneAdams served as chairman of the Continental Congress's Board of War (1776–77), making him the simultaneous equivalent of today's Secretary of Defense and Chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee; was a semi-participant in a naval engagement between a British and US ship during the American Revolution.
George WashingtonVirginia militia, Virginia Regiment, Continental Army, United States ArmyLieutenant General[7]French and Indian War, American Revolutionary War.


  1. Lechliter, Gerald A. (2004). "President George W. Bush's Military Service: A Critical Analysis" (PDF). New York Times. New York, NY.
  2. President Lyndon B. Johnson's Military Service Archived 2013-02-17 at Lyndon Baines Johnson Library & Museum
  3. Allen, Natalie (July 6, 2001). "CNN Live Today: The Truth Behind LBJ's Silver Star". CNN. Atlanta, GA. Retrieved June 7, 2018. Caro: The thing about the mission that convinces me that it was attacked is that five members of the crew are quoted saying that it is attacked. And they never denied the quotes. They had plenty of opportunity to do so. So what we have is five people on the same plane saying the same thing.
  4. Langguth, A. J. Our Vietnam: The War 1954-1975. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. pp. 129–130. ISBN 978-0-7432-1244-1.
  5. "Military Personnel File of Harry S. Truman". Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. Retrieved 1 January 2009.
  7. Posthumous promotion to General of the Armies on March 13, 1978, with effective date from July 4, 1976
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