But with the advent of the two World Wars, that quickly changed. Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy touted their military leadership as part of their campaign narratives. The military service of Gerald Ford and Lyndon Johnson was expected; neither drew attention to it in during their tenures. Ford was a lieutenant on the aircraft carrier USS Monterey and participated in the Pacific Theater. Johnson was a commissioned officer in the Naval Reserve while still in Congress. He even earned a Silver Star. Ronald Reagan never left the United States but he produced training films for the Army Air Force.
More recently, Bill Clinton avoided the draft during the Vietnam War. In both of his campaigns, his lack of service played a role as both George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole had served in World War II.
Still, Issues of military service flare up in presidential campaigns. George W. Bush saw his Texas Air National Guard service questioned in 2000 and 2004. Sen. John Kerry's swift boat command was central to his history and sparked attacks from conservatives during the 2004 campaign.
Perhaps most striking was the absence of Republican primary candidates this election with military service - of the nine candidates running, only Rep. Ron Paul and Texas Gov. Rick Perrys erved. The change is all the more remarkable since Republican Party nominated a candidate in 2008, Sen. John McCain, very much defined by his Navy service.
CORRECTION: McCain served in the Navy, not the Air Force. We apologize for the error.