President Carter while at the US Naval Academy

Presidents with Military Service

When I heard about the most recent health concerns of President Jimmy Carter, it prompted me to reflect on our Presidents and military service. After all, most of America’s presidents came to office as veterans. In fact, 26 of our 46 Presidents served in the military. Presidential Veterans often coincided with America’s military engagements. Until World War II, most of our presidents had served in the Army.

President Carter, however, served in the Navy. He received an appointment at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1943. After completing the accelerated wartime program, he graduated in June 1946 with distinction and obtained his commission as ensign.

While in service, Carter became involved with the Navy’s nuclear submarine programs and aided in the engineering and electronics repair aboard the USS Barracuda (SSK-1), which at the time was the lead ship in her class. He served as an officer in its pre-commissioning crew and during its first year of active service until he was reassigned on Oct. 16, 1952. Sources say he hoped to be the commanding officer aboard USS Seawolf, one of the first naval submarines to use nuclear power. But in 1953, he resigned from his commission after his father’s death. He felt compelled to take over the family’s peanut business and returned to Plains, Georgia. He remained in the Navy Reserves until 1961.

President Carter was among the attendees during an interview in 2006 at the Presidency Conference hosted at the Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. During an interview, he shared that when he became President, there was a significant adverse reaction to any emphasis on military capability due to the complexity of issues with the Vietnam War. As one from a military background, he says he tried to elevate military budgets and commitments to improve weaponry to a top priority level during his Presidency. He credits his selection of scientist Harold Brown, who had been a president of Cal Tech, to run the Defense Department.

“So almost all of the weaponry that has been devised since then originated in its embryonic stages during my administration under Harold Brown’s leadership. So, we made a major commitment to strengthen our military and to emphasize not just the number of ships and the number of tanks but on the technical capabilities of new weaponry,” he said.

While in the Navy, President Carter earned the American Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the China Service Medal, and the National Defense Service Medal.

Like all Presidents, Carter had troubles and triumphs, but his military service to our country is something to which our veterans can relate.

You can read the full text of the interview online at

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