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CHIPS Articles: Learn about the Naval Careers of America’s Six Sailor Presidents

Learn about the Naval Careers of America’s Six Sailor Presidents
By Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division - February 13, 2015
From 1961 to 1993 the Navy could boast veterans in the nation’s highest office, with the exception of Army veteran Ronald Reagan’s 8-year term of 1981-89. John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, and James E. “Jimmy” Carter, George H.W. Bush all previously served their nation wearing Navy blue.

Interestingly, of the presidents who served between ’61 and ’93, only Reagan held office for two full terms:

  • Ford, Carter and Bush were single-term presidents;
  • Kennedy was assassinated after 1,000 days in office;
  • Johnson was elected once and chose not to seek a second term after finishing Kennedy’s term for a total of 5 years, 2 months, and
  • While Nixon was elected twice, he served less than 18 months into his second term before resigning to avoid almost certain impeachment over his role in the Watergate scandal.

Of the six presidents with sea service, five have had ships named after them: Kennedy (aircraft carrier CVA 67 as well as CVN 79 which has yet to begin construction), Johnson (Zumwalt-class destroyer PCU DDG-1002), Ford (aircraft carrier PCU CVN 78), Carter (submarine SSN 23), and Bush (aircraft carrier CVN 77).

Nixon joins the remaining 20 presidents who have not had ships named after them. Our nation’s first President, for whom President’s Day was originally named, has a record-holding eight ships named Washington, with four between 1775-76, one each in 1798 and 1814, followed by the ballistic nuclear submarine (SSBN 598), decommissioned in 1985, and aircraft carrier CVN 73 commissioned in 1992.

Abraham Lincoln pales in comparison with just three ships: a former German steamer turned transport ship (President Lincoln 1917-18), one sub (SSBN 602), decommissioned in 1981, and Nimitz-class supercarrier (CVN 72), commissioned in 1989.

To learn more about U.S. Navy history, please go to the Naval History and Heritage Command website: www.history.navy.mil/.

Kennedy with the crew of the PT-109 in 1943. Traveling to the Pacific on USS Rochambeau, Kennedy arrived at Tulagi on 14 April and took command of PT-109 on 23 April 1943. Naval History and Heritage collections.
Kennedy with the crew of the PT-109 in 1943. Traveling to the Pacific on USS Rochambeau, Kennedy arrived at Tulagi on 14 April and took command of PT-109 on 23 April 1943. Naval History and Heritage collections.

For his naval service in nine combat operations, Lieutenant Commander Ford earned the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with eight battle stars for actions in the Gilbert Islands, Bismarck Archipelago, Marshall Islands, Asiatic and Pacific carrier raids, Hollandia, Marianas, Western Carolines, Western New Guinea, and the Leyte Operation. He also received the Philippine Liberation with two bronze stars for Leyte and Mindoro, as well as the American Campaign and World War II Victory Medals. Naval History and Heritage collections.
For his naval service in nine combat operations, Lieutenant Commander Ford earned the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with eight battle stars for actions in the Gilbert Islands, Bismarck Archipelago, Marshall Islands, Asiatic and Pacific carrier raids, Hollandia, Marianas, Western Carolines, Western New Guinea, and the Leyte Operation. He also received the Philippine Liberation with two bronze stars for Leyte and Mindoro, as well as the American Campaign and World War II Victory Medals. Naval History and Heritage collections.

George Bush as a pilot, seated in an aircraft. Naval History and Heritage collections.
George Bush as a pilot, seated in an aircraft. Naval History and Heritage collections.

USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). U.S. Navy photo.
USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). U.S. Navy photo.
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