U.S. presidents wear many hats; including being the head honcho of America’s armed forces, but not every president has actually gone to war or shed blood on the battlefield.
Here are 10 U.S. Presidents who have – and their nicknames for future use in pub quiz tournaments.
1. Dwight D. Eisenhower- “Ike”
Perhaps one of the most notable General-President combos since General Washington, General Dwight D. Eisenhower led the U.S. to victory in WWII.
He was also the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and successfully planned and executed the Normandy invasion – arguably one of the most valiant military moments in U.S. history and a turning point in the war against the Nazis.
2.Theodore Roosevelt –“The Bull Moose”
Whether it was climbing the Matterhorn, being the U.S. President, or serving in the military, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt took just about anything he did to the next level.
His time leading the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry was no different. Known as “the Rough Riders,” Roosevelt led his cavalry in a literal uphill battle – the Battle of San Juan Hill. The battle brought widespread recognition to Teddy when it proved to be the decisive battle of the Spanish American War.
3.George H.W. Bush – “Skin”
Reagan’s War on Drugs and the First Iraq War weren’t the only wars George H.W. Bush was known for. He also fought in WWII.
Nicknamed “Skin” because he was so lanky, Bush piloted one of four Grumman TBM Avenger aircrafts (collectively, his squadron is referred to as “The Avengers”) that attacked Japanese artillery installations on Chichijima.
During the attack Bush’s aircraft was hit by flak, setting fire to his engine. Despite the fire, he completed his attack and successfully bombed his targets. After flying away from the island, Bush and another crew member bailed out of the aircraft.
After waiting for four hours in the ocean, Bush was saved by the USS Finback. Unfortunately, his crew member was not so lucky.
During his service, Bush received three Air Medals, a Distinguished Flying Cross and the Presidential Unit Citation.
Here’s one of Bush’s saviors, Cdr. Paul P. Cook, USN (Retired), recounting the story at the National Museum of the Pacific War:
4. Zachary Taylor – “Old Rough and Ready”
Here’s a president you don’t hear about every day: Zachary Taylor.
He was a Major General in the US Army who became famous in the Mexican-American War when his force of only 6,000 men defeated Santa Ana’s army of over 20,000.
Before his time in the Mexican-American War, he also fought in the Indian War, most often protecting Native Americans from the expanding white settlements.
His reputation for always serving alongside his soldiers and enduring the same hardships as them, earned him the nickname “Old Rough and Ready.”
5.Ulysses S. Grant – “Unconditional Surrender Grant”
Like Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant also got his experience in the Mexican-American War, but his true valor was demonstrated during the Civil War.
Despite some early setbacks, the Union forces eventually defeated the Confederacy and restored the Union under General Grant.
During the victories over Forts Henry and Donelson in Tennesse, General Grant stated to the surrendering general that he would “accept no less than unconditional and immediate surrender.”
6. James Garfield – “Boatman Jim”
James Garfield was an enthusiastic abolitionist. He believed that the institution of slavery should be dismantled immediately and prevented from spreading into the newly settled West.
Working on the docks in Ohio earned him the nickname, “Boatman Jim,” although it meant he had virtually no combat experience when he enlisted in the Union Army.
However, he quickly proved to be an effective leader, known for his ability to rally union troops and raise morale amongst soldiers who were exhausted from extensive fighting.
7. Gerald Ford- “Mr. Nice Guy”
President Ford didn’t wait for the draft, he enlisted with the U.S Navy at the height of WWII.
President Ford was later known for his clean-cut, non-partisan image, earning his nickname – but he was no nice guy in WWII. He was awarded nine engagement stars, the Asiatic-Pacific campaign medal, the Philippine Liberation Medal, two bronze stars and both the American Campaign and World War II Victory Medals.
You could decorate a Christmas tree with all those ornaments.
8. William Henry Harrison – “Old Tippecanoe”
William Henry Harrison was born into a prestigious family, and after shortly pursuing a life in the medical field, he turned to a military career early in life. After joining the military at the lowest officer’s rank, he made an impact and moved up the ranks as a leader quickly.
In 1811, at the battle of Tippecanoe in Indiana, Harrison’s forces fought off followers of the powerful Shawnee leader Tecumseh. Although the U.S. suffered significant troop losses and the battle’s outcome was inconclusive, Harrison still became known as the “hero of Tippecanoe.”
Later when he ran for president as the Whig Party candidate, his nickname morphed into the campaign song known as “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” Folk music critic Irwin Silber wrote, “firmly established the power of singing as a campaign device.”
9. George Washington – “The American Cinncinnatus”
The O.G. of American badass presidents, General Washington led the Continental Army against the King’s Men during the Revolutionary War, leading to the foundation the United States.
Like the famous Roman, Cinncinnatus, after Washington won the war and saw his duties as complete, he returned to being a private citizen instead of seeking power and riches. He sought to decline offers of power and position to “return to his home and plough.”
10. John F. Kennedy- “Shafty”
Long before his presidency, Kennedy never took no for an answer.
Due to his health conditions and “frail physique,” Kennedy was originally denied entrance to the U.S. Navy and Army. Disappointed with his failure, he spent the next summer rigorously training – think “Rocky” but without the raw eggs.
Then, with some help from his massively-wealthy father, he was made an officer in the U.S. Navy and given command of a number of ships throughout his service – most famously, PT-109, a torpedo boat ordered to head off Japanese barge traffic in the Solomon Islands. However, this wasn’t the position Kennedy wanted, constantly complaining that he got “shafted” out of a position with more action – coining his nickname.
In July 1943, according to the official Navy report, Kennedy and the crew of PT 109 were ordered into combat near the Solomon Islands. In the middle of the night on August 2, their boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer and caught fire. Several of Kennedy’s shipmates were blown overboard into a sea of burning oil. Kennedy dove in to rescue three of the crew and in the process swallowed some of the toxic mixture. (Kennedy would later blame this for chronic stomach problems.)
For 12 hours, Kennedy and his crew clung to the wrecked hull, before he ordered them to abandon ship. Kennedy and the other good swimmers placed the injured on a makeshift raft, and then took turns pushing and towing the raft four miles to safety on a nearby island.
For six days, Kennedy and his crew waited on the island for rescue. They survived by drinking coconut milk and rainwater until native islanders discovered the sailors and offered food and shelter. The natives agreed to deliver a message to the naval base in New Zealand, which Kennedy scrawled on the husk of a coconut. It read, “Nauru Is. Native knows posit. He can pilot. 11 alive need small boat.”
On June 12, 1944 while recuperating from back surgery, Kennedy was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps medal for courage endurance and excellent leadership.
Bonus: John McCain
John McCain never made it to the presidency, so therefore he can’t technically be on the list – but his war story is just so good, we had to at least give him an honorable mention.
Sit back kids – this one you won’t forget.
While piloting a bombing run over Hanoi in North Vietnam, McCain was shot down behind enemy lines. Upon ejecting from the aircraft, McCain fractured both arms and a leg and nearly drowned in the Truc Bach Lake.
He was captured shortly after the crash and North Vietnamese guerrillas smashed both his shoulders with rifle butts and stabbed him with a bayonet.
After learning he was the son of a top admiral, the North Vietnamese showed him some mercy and gave him marginal care to prevent him from dying – though he was no doubt close to it.
He spent six weeks as a POW at a remote prison known as the “Hanoi Hilton,” before being transferred to a different camp on the outskirts of Hanoi. Two other Americans who witnessed the incident thought he wouldn’t last a week.
By this time McCain had lost 50 pounds and his hair had already turned white – however his stay was not over. In 1968, he was placed in solitary confinement for two years.
After his father was named commander of all U.S. forces in Vietnam, the North Vietnamese offered McCain early release for propaganda purposes. McCain declined unless every soldier captured before him was released as well. The North Vietnamese declined, and McCain was mercilessly punished for refusing to comply with their demands.
In 1968 McCain began being severely tortured, receiving beatings multiple times a week, in addition to horrendous episodes of more gruesome types of torture. We will spare you the details.
After five and a half years of being a POW, John McCain was finally released on March 14, 1973 after the Paris Peace Accords.. He suffers from some of the injuries he sustained to this day.