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US Presidents that Never Served in the Military

US soldiers in action with US flag in background

US Presidents With No Prior Military Experience

It might be easy to assume that the President of the United States must have previously served in the military due to the title of commander in chief.

However, the reality is that military service isn’t a requirement for holding the highest office in the United States. Therefore, a significantly large number of American Presidents did not serve in any capacity.

The US Constitution states that only a civilian can have control of the armed forces and does not allow a sitting general to hold the Office of the President. However, a former military member can hold the office, and several members did. 

The number of sitting presidents who served in the military is 31, while 16 presidents have not. This article outlines five recent US Presidents who never served in the military. 

Donald J. Trump

In 1968 when Donald Trump graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, he was in good health. At this time, the United States was experiencing one of the bloodiest years of the Vietnam War. He was 22 years old, with a height of 6 feet and 2 inches, and an athlete. 

Despite fitting the bill for military service, Trump acquired four education deferments during his school days. Initial deferment came on 28th July 1964, a few weeks before he started his studies at Fordham. Later, he received other suspensions during junior, sophomore, and senior years in college.

When he was set to graduate, he was diagnosed with bone spurs making him land a fifth military deferment. This would see him stay out of the Vietnam War, as he was rendered unfit for the service. After college, President Trump didn’t join the army. Instead, he joined his father in business. 

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt served as US president from 1933 to 1945, which included the troubling years of World War II. Amazingly, FDR is the only President to have been elected four times. 

Before becoming the President of the United States, Roosevelt served as New York Governor from 1929 to 1932. He also served as the assistant secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1920. However, he wasn’t active in service.

Photo of Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt served as US President during Word War II.

All the same, it is noted that Roosevelt had a long commitment to the Navy. He played a significant role in establishing the council of National Defense and the US Navy Reserve. He wanted to serve as a naval officer, but he was declined by the Wilson administration, who asked him to serve as the Assistant Secretary.

President Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton served as President from 1993 to 2001. Before holding the nation’s most prestigious office, he served as a Governor of Arkansas two times. However, he never served in the military. 

Clinton acquired educational deferments from 1963 to 1968 to attend Georgetown. Also, after graduating, he received a Rhodes Scholarship to study in Oxford. In 1968 the law that allowed deferments for law and graduate school was changed, and he received a draft notice.

Photo of President Clinton
Bill Clinton avoided military service through several educational deferments.

However, Clinton joined the ROTC program at the University of Arkansas law school. This allowed him to return to Oxford to finish his master’s degree. 

In 1969 when returning from England, the President introduced the draft lottery. Clinton then took chances with the lottery to find an alternative service if he got a low number. 

President Barack Obama

Barack Hussein Obama was the first African American President in United States history. He served two terms in the White House, from 2009-2017.
Photo of President Obama
Barack Hussein Obama.
He did not serve in the military. Obama had a background in law before moving into politics and winning a seat in the Illinois Senate in 1996. He would go on to serve in the United States Senate from 2005-2008 and win the 2008 presidential election.

President Joe Biden

Joe Biden was never in uniform. He received deferments during his undergraduate days at the University of Delaware. In addition, he received postponement for three years while in law school at Syracuse University. 

In 1968 his education deferments expired. However, he applied for deferment, claiming that he had asthma when he was a teenager and did not experience combat during the Vietnam War.

The above presidents utilized the years they would have spent on the battlefield to acquire higher education and begin careers that would lead to the White House. Their career ambitions may not have been achieved if they had instead joined the military.

12 Responses

  1. Just a FYI, You failed too mention President Barack Obama?


    President Barack Obama was the first U.S African-American President and he served two terms, from 2009 to 2017. He was the President of Harvard Law Review but did not partake in the military

  2. Donald J. Trump never served in the United States Armed Services. He did, at the age of 13, attend a private military school (New York Military Academy); not to be confused with any battle or service to his country. Trump was a five time Draft Avoider. His first four deferments were in order to obtain an education at Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania where he graduated in 1968 with a BS. The Vietnam War was fought from Nov 1, 1955 – Apr 30, 1975. His fifth draft deferment from Vietnam was due to bone spurs shortly after graduating. He is the first president in history to never have served the United States of America in any military, civil or political office before becoming the least politically experienced American President in history.

    1. And yet Donald J Trump was the most effective US President of our times, leading the US to one of the best economies in history (especially for minorities), and a more peaceful world.

    1. No recent Democrat US President has served in the military:
      Biden: Nope.
      Obama: Nope.
      Clinton: Nope.

      The last Democrat with military service was elected in 1976 – Jimmy Carter.

  3. Does the spotty National Guard attendance of George W Bush count as “serving in the military”?

  4. Yes, but none of them except Donald J. Trump used the hilarious excuse of unfitness to serve in the military due to bone spurs !
    Lol, but anyways it’s was expected from him as you can see his trouble with the law and how he used the law in his favor for self service.

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