(WASHINGTON) — For the first time since 1944, the two primary candidates for president have no military background.
Neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney enlisted in the armed forces, although both of them have histories that run tangent with the military.
Obama, for example, is related to a number of veterans, including an uncle who helped free Holocaust survivors from Auschwitz. The president, 50, has spoken about his family’s military service but has said in speeches to soldiers that he can’t know their battle experiences like they do. He often mentions his Kansas-born grandfather Stanley Dunham, who helped raise him, nearly every time he speaks to veterans, especially in connection with D-Day. As an Army Sgt. Dunham was stationed near the channel and crossed a few weeks after the surprise attack.
Romney, meanwhile, received a draft deferment because of his status as a Mormon minister of religion while he was a missionary in France. The former Massachusetts governor, 65, later signed up with the Selective Service, but his draft number was too high for him to be called into service.
It has been more than six decades since a presidential election didn’t involve a veteran. Sen. John McCain was a prisoner of war as a Navy aviator; former President George W. Bush was in the Air National Guard and Sen. John Kerry served in Vietnam; Al Gore was in the Army; Bill Clinton never served but Bob Dole did; and every president from George H.W. Bush to Harry Truman was in a branch of the military.
Franklin Roosevelt didn’t serve, but he was the assistant secretary of the Navy. His main opponent in 1944, Thomas Dewey, wasn’t in the military either.
It’s becoming increasingly likely that the United States will never have a president who served in theVietnam War, an event that is mostly history, not a memory, for the modern candidate.
Obama has tried to make up for his lack of service by starting campaigns from the White House for military families. The first lady has also made helping military families one of her chief causes.
Obama clearly has room to gain. A Gallup poll released today, Memorial Day, reported that veterans support Romney over Obama by 58 percent to 34 percent. People who aren’t veterans give Obama a 4-point lead over Romney, the survey said.
Obama is scheduled to speak today about service at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
In a statement this morning, Romney said he’s celebrating Memorial Day with McCain, Obama’s 2008 opponent who has a decorated military record.
“A lot of young Americans are risking their lives in distant battlefields today,” Romney said in his statement. “Memorial Day is a day to give thanks to them, and to remember all of America’s soldiers who have laid down their lives to defend our country.”
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