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 in the US 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 15 presidents have not. This article outlines the US Presidents who never served in the army. 

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 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. 

President George W. Bush

In 1968 when George W. Bush graduated from Yale, he enlisted in the Texas Air National Guard as a pilot for six years through family connections. President Johnson had made it clear that he would not send the Guard to Vietnam and would rely on active forces to solve the conflict.

Photo of George W. Bush with Pope Benedict
George W. Bush enlisted in the Texas Air National Guard to avoid service in Vietnam.

It was difficult for individuals like George W. Bush to join the National Guard in 1968. Having been afforded the opportunity, Bush would lose his pilot certification in 1972 after failing to take a mandatory physical examination. 

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.

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