2008 Presidential Candidates'
Military Service

In the 2008 Presidential Election, is the candidates' military service important? Of the major contenders, only John McCain has a background that includes military service.

Does military service matter as we elect a new Commander-in-Chief to lead our country through this war against terrorism?

One of our readers, participating in our discussion about the election, has this to say:

McCain's "naval background is touted but it's largely irrelevant, considering the multi-generational rifle fight we're engaged in. Recall that Lincoln, Wilson and FDR had no military service." (Read the rest of his comments.)

Since this reader is the much-published author and well-respected military historian Barrett Tillman, whose books are meticulously well-researched, we'll accept that he knows what he's talking about with regard to the military service of Lincoln, Wilson, and FDR.

Thus far, we haven't seen a Lincoln, Wilson, or FDR emerge from this field of candidates. And we'll have to take exception to his comment that McCain's military background is irrelevant.

In a time of war (and we are in a time of war, despite the fact that many Americans choose to have their heads in the sand about that), we'd much rather have a Commander-in-Chief who at least understands how the military works (if such is capable of understanding).

The theory is the same as that which requires the Commanding Officer of an aircraft carrier to be an aviator. It's the best way for him to understand what the ship needs to do in order for the pilots to safely land their aircraft on that moving postage stamp in the water. Understanding the pilots' needs from first-hand knowledge makes the CO better equipped to meet those needs.

And for those who are non-military, let's look at it this way: Would any of you advocate sending a rookie coach, who had never played a single game of football (but who had watched some games), to lead a team in the Super Bowl? Knowing that the members of the losing team would be killed some time after the game? How many of you want to volunteer for that team?

We understand that the war is not the only issue that will face the next President. But if the right decisions are not made about this war, decisions about the economy and immigration and health care will make very little difference.

There's no doubt that McCain has a strong military background and is steeped in military tradition. His father and grandfather before him graduated from the US Naval Academy, and both attained the rank of four-star Admiral. Both are buried at Arlington.

McCain's grandfather, John S. McCain, Sr., served nine months shy of 40 years in the US Navy. During World War II, he participated in the Marianas campaign, the Battles of the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf, and the Battle of Okinawa. Admiral McCain died on September 6, 1945, after arriving home in Coronado, California, just 4 days after attending the Japanese surrender ceremony at the insistence of Admiral "Bull" Halsey.

McCain's father, John S. McCain, Jr., served 41 years in the US Navy, and was a submarine commander in the Pacific during World War II. During the Vietnam War, Admiral McCain served as Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command from 1968 to 1972. He retired in 1972, the year before Senator McCain was released from the infamous "Hanoi Hilton."

The Senator graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1958, and served 23 years in the US Navy before retiring as a Captain in 1981, the year his father died. His nearly six years as a POW in North Vietnam is widely known. Less well known is that he had narrowly escaped death in the horrendous fire aboard the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal earlier in 1967. Following that close call, he volunteered to be reassigned to another squadron that was on its way to Vietnam. He was shot down over Hanoi while flying a bombing raid in the A-4 Skyhawk, but managed to deliver his bombs to the target before being forced to eject.

And the tradition continues: Senator McCain has one son who is a US Navy veteran, one son who is a US Marine with service in Iraq, and one son who is a Midshipman at the US Naval Academy.

McCain certainly comes from a heritage of military service. As a prisoner of war, McCain earned the respect of his fellow POWs when he refused the "early release" offered by his captors. He knew that by accepting such a "favor," he would become a propaganda pawn of the communist North Vietnamese. So he refused to go home ahead of those who were captured before him, and remained at the notorious Hao Lo Prison until "all" US POWs were released in 1973.

We can't imagine the horror that was the Hanoi Hilton. But we can tell you that a visit to the exhibit at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, where there is a mock-up of a prison cell and personal items brought home by some of the POWs is a moving experience. It brought a profound sense of sadness at the miserable life those men endured. We were surprised to feel tears running down our face as we read the descriptions of the items and the living conditions.

Again, because we haven't had the experience, we can only surmise, but we would think that a man's true character would show through in those most adverse of circumstances. And the endorsement and support of McCain's fellow POWs tells us a lot about the character they saw. You can read some of their endorsements here and here.

Colonel Bud Day, our nation's most highly decorated officer, as well as the most decorated since General Douglass MacArthur, has this to say:

"Having stood side-by-side with John McCain on the battlefield, I know that he has the character and will to lead this great country. John McCain is the Commander-In-Chief our military needs during this generational struggle against global terrorism."

Colonel George "Bud" Day is a veteran of more than 35 years military service. He served 30 months in the South Pacific during WW II as an enlisted member with the US Marine Corps, served as an Army reservist and Army guardsman between WW II and Korea, and was commissioned a 2d Lt in the USAF in 1950. Colonel Day spent over five years as a Prisoner of War in Vietnam. He has been awarded every significant combat decoration available from the US Air Force and is the nation's most highly decorated officer, as well as the most decorated since General Douglass MacArthur. He holds nearly seventy military decorations and awards, of which more than fifty are for combat. Those include our nation's highest - the Medal of Honor, the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star, the Air Medal, the Purple Heart, and the POW Medal.

Fox News recently published a piece about the candidates and military service written by Lt. Col. Bill Cowan, a retired US Marine, FOX News Channel contributor and internationally-acknowledged expert in the areas of terrorism, homeland security, intelligence and military special operations.

Here's what Lt. Col. Cowan had to say:

Military Service and the Presidential Candidates

By Lt. Col. Bill Cowan

"It’s unlikely that we’ll be pulling out of Iraq soon in the manner some are calling for. Instead, despite the political haggling, we’ll still be in the middle of the mix.

Our troops, tired as they are, will for the most part want to stay and finish the job. Our enemies, resilient as they appear to be, will be hoping for a repeat of Vietnam, Beirut, and Somalia — America pulling out with its tail between its legs.

Whomever is elected and whatever decisions he or she makes after taking office may to some degree depend on their military experience. Or will it?

Of the six major candidates currently in the race — McCain, Giuliani, Romney, Clinton, Obama, and Edwards — only one has personal military experience — John McCain.

Giuliani and Romney, both eligible for the draft during the Vietnam era, received deferments, which were quite appropriate for their personal circumstances at the time. Interestingly enough is that many Americans equate deferments as a means of specifically avoiding service in Vietnam. In the ten years of the war, less than 500,000 draftees actually served in Vietnam — over three-fourths of all draftees saw duty elsewhere.

By the time Obama and Edwards were eligible for military service, the draft had ended and they chose other paths besides the military. As for Hillary, women were only a very small percentage of the force when she might have joined, and she too went in a different direction.

How then does military experience, or lack thereof, play out in the upcoming elections?

First, it’s important to remember that Iraq is only the ongoing centerpiece of this long war on terror in which we’re engaged. To be sure, since 9/11 the war hasn’t hit us again at home. But at some point it will.

In the interim, we’ll play out what’s happening in Iraq, we’ll try to tidy up the battlefield in Afghanistan, and we’ll likely become more pro-active in regions where al-Qaeda and supportive terrorist groups are building their capacity and capabilities.

All eyes will be on our new commander in chief as the decisions are made about what to do and how to do it. With or without military experience, the new president will be the one who is ultimately responsible.

And with or without military experience, how he or she does will depend to a very large degree on where he or she seeks or gets advice. It will be the backgrounds and experience of the president’s advisors which become important, not just the president’s. And what kind of advice they’re able to provide will be critical to how our military is able to fare on the new battlefields in which we will find ourselves engaged.

Although our conventional forces have performed exceptionally in Iraq and Afghanistan, the larger war on terror isn’t about tanks, artillery, aircraft carriers, or jet planes. It’s about the employment of our unconventional forces to train, prepare, and equip foreign forces to engage terrorists within their own countries, and of our elite special operations forces to take down terrorists, their training camps, and their support mechanisms — wherever they may be.

If the new president fails to hear the message from the unconventional military mindset and experience, he/she will be doomed to deploying conventional forces into countries, regions, and warfare for which they are ill-suited and ill-prepared.

Like Iraq, we could once again find ourselves in a difficult situation without a clear plan for either victory or withdrawal. And like Vietnam, Beirut, and Somalia, we could find an American public that is tired of the battle and an American Congress clamoring to bring the troops home.

In the final analysis, whomever becomes our next president will have to surround him/herself with smart, capable, and qualified people. And if he/she wants to succeed at defending the homeland by keeping the battle away from our own shores, the new president will have to employ our nation’s military might in manners that are appropriate, judicious, and productive.

We can’t afford to lose, and we can’t afford to squander our forces. More importantly, we can’t afford to sit by idly while our enemies plan our demise. We’ll certainly be expecting a lot from that new president."

-- Lt. Col. Bill Cowan is a retired US Marine, a FOX News Channel contributor and internationally-acknowledged expert in the areas of terrorism, homeland security, intelligence and military special operations. He spent 11 years doing undercover operations in Lebanon against Hezbollah and Syria. Read his impressive bio here.

What do you think? Is military service of the Presidential candidates necessary, preferable, or irrelevant?

Senator Joe Lieberman urges non-partisanship and explains why this election is so critical, and why we must vote as Americans, not Republicans, Democrats, or Independents. He has now endorsed John McCain.

Senator John McCain speaks with the voice of experience.

Senator Hillary Clinton is a polarizing candidate. Most people either love her or hate her. Very few are ambivalent about her.

Who is Barack Obama?

To find out which candidate's views are closest to your own, take the survey at the Minnesota Public Radio site. You can also view the cumulative data and the candidates' positions on the major issues by clicking on the tabs. The issues covered include: the war in Iraq, Iran and nuclear power, immigration reform, tax cuts, collapse of the mortgage industry, education, social security, and health care, among others.

Regardless of which candidate you support, the most important thing is to VOTE!

Links to the candidates' campaign sites.

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