THE BEST SELLERS’ LIST- General Excellence: As 80th Pearl Harbor Day approaches, shining a spotlight on former Presidents who led during foreign wars

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By Thomas Sellers Jr.

December 7, 1941 is one of the most important and infamous dates in United States history. 

It was the first time in the modern era of this country’s history we were tested as a nation. The bombing at Pearl Harbor 80 years ago was the U.S.’s introduction into World War II. Under the leadership of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the United States joined the Allied Powers to take down the Axis Powers. 

The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service on the U.S. in Honolulu. Back in 1941, Pearl Harbor was a Territory of Hawaii. The United States was thrusted into World War II and during the war about 16,112,566 Americans served in the United States Armed Forces, with 405,399 killed and 671,278 wounded.

We learned as a nation that a president didn’t have to have military experience to lead our country during a time of war. FDR depended on his generals and military leaders to navigate WWII. 

Prior to that wartime era, several of our Commanders in Chiefs had military experience. As a child I thought that was one of the requirements to become President of the United States, prior military service. 

Out of the 46 U.S. Presidents, 29 of those men had some kind of military services. That means 17 didn’t suit up for statewide or national services. Of the 29, only 9 faced battle in a major worldwide conflict. Let’s rank those 9 former presidents. 

9. Andrew Jackson 1814-1821

U.S. Army Major General

Maybe the most infamous entry on this list, Andrew Jackson’s legacy is tainted by his treatment of the natives, policies and personal behavior. But the man was victorious during the War of 1812. General Jackson led his troops through enemy territory to victory in several battles. His wins throughout the Southern region of the country led to the procurement of millions of acres. Now that area makes up the present-day U.S. Including Florida.

8. Theodore Roosevelt

U.S. Army Colonel, 

Being a mythical political figure got this President Roosevelt on Mt. Rushmore. From the Teddy Bear to his famous quote about carrying a stick, Roosevelt is a legend. Part of his iconic retrospective is his military service. Starting his service in the Navy, Roosevelt resigned from his post and volunteered for command of the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, better known as the Rough Riders. The Rough Riders charged up Kettle Hill, outside of Santiago, Cuba, and secured a victory.

7. Gerald Ford

U.S. Naval Reserve, Lieutenant Commander

When history looks back at Gerald Ford, he was an athlete at Michigan. He was the only U.S. President neither elected to the office of president or vice president. So to really get a breakdown of Ford’s impact on our nation, visit his military service. Not waiting for the draft, Ford enlisted with the U.S. Navy when World War II was at its peak. Known for wearing many hats, Ford had a similar track record in the military as  an assistant navigator, Athletic Officer, and anti-aircraft battery officer on board Monterey.

He took part in numerous campaigns against the Japanese Navy, and earned the Asiatic-Pacific campaign medal, nine engagement stars, the Philippine Liberation Medal, two bronze stars, and the American Campaign and World War Two Victory Medals.

6. John. F Kennedy

U.S. Naval Reserve, Lieutenant

One of the most famous U.S. Presidents ever, JFK’s short life makes an entertaining movie. Part of that plot would feature the back injury he suffered but still enlisting into World War II. Kennedy managed to serve in the Pacific during the War. While at the helm of a PT-109, the boat was sliced in half by a Japanese destroyer. With pain and anguish all around him, Kennedy managed to lead his crew in a three mile swim to a nearby island. For his heroics, Kennedy received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal. Kennedy was also a Purple Heart recipient.

5. Zachary Taylor

Major General, U.S. Army

A quality of any good leader in any field is being able to do the things you ask of those under your leadership. Taylor was a frontline soldier. History praises him because during his service Taylor was  beside his soldiers. The Major General endured the same hardships of his troops. Taylor earned the nickname “Old Rough and Ready.” He participated in the Indian Wars, often protecting the Native Americans from expanding white settlement. His legend was magnified in the Mexican-American War, when with just a force of 6,000 men he defeated Santa Anna’s army of more than 20,000.

4. George H.W. Bush

U.S. Navy, Lieutenant (junior grade)

Our nation’s last “war hero” president earned more respect after his term was done in the White House. The elder Bush enlisted into the Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Bush was becoming a naval aviator at the age of 18. Before turning 20, Bush became a naval aviator, the youngest at the time. During the War, Bush flew 58 combat missions, as well as completing a mission under heavy fire. His plane was destroyed during the attack. Bush received the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, and the Presidential Unit Citation awarded San Jacinto.

3. Ulysses S. Grant

U.S. Army, General

The Civil War makes the name Ulysses Grant common knowledge throughout school. But Grant did serve in an international conflict, the Mexican-American War. But the battle between the North and South gets Grant so high on this list. 

His biggest accomplishment was in keeping the United States together during the War and during his presidency. Grant rose to the rank of General of the U.S. Army during the Civil War. Under Grant’s guidance, the Confederacy was defeated by the Union troops.

2. Dwight D. Eisenhower

U.S. Army, General of the Army

We have photos and footage of Eisenhower being a leader in uniform. Eisenhower enlisted in the Army during World War I. The youngster didn’t make it to the front lines of those battles. But Eisenhower displayed his commitment to the service by earning a Distinguished Service Medal for work at home. Then came World War II and Eisenhower worked his way through the ranks, eventually becoming the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. Under Eisenhower’s command, the Allies successfully planned and executed the Normandy invasion.

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1. George Washington

Continental Army, General and Commander in Chief

The OG of presidents and war hero Commander in Chiefs has to be No. 1 on this list. Who else has a painting of their bravery during a battle (Washington crossing the Delaware). Washington wasn’t a one-trick pony with one of the longest military careers of any elected official. Washington fought in the French and Indian Wars and was a commander of the Virginia Regiment. The American Revolution was Washington’s most famous stage. He took control of the Continental Army, and played a key role to defeating the British leading to the founding of the United States of America. 

THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for West 10 Media/Magic Valley Publishing. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to thomas@magicvalleypublishing.com.