Articles

These remarkable photos show the physical toll a war takes on the Commander-In-Chief

Statistically, the American Presidency is the deadliest job in the world. Over 18 percent of those who've held the job have died in office.  It's also arguably the most stressful in the world. Don't think so? Well, check out these paintings and photos of America's wartime Presidents before and after their wars:


George Washington – Revolutionary War

Even in a painting, the toll a war takes on the Commander-In-Chief is evident. The first painting was made in 1772. The second was just after the Revolution in 1783. Wigs notwithstanding, the differences between the two men are stark.

Thomas Jefferson – War with the Barbary Pirates

Sure Jefferson was already well-aged by the time he ran for president. He had to go against many of his core beliefs to defend the rights of Americans abroad and to rescue captured U.S. sailors.

James Madison – War of 1812

Unlike earlier engravings of Madison, the portrait on the right was painted to highlight the toll the War of 1812 (then derisively called "Mr. Madison's War") took on the president.

James K. Polk – Mexican-American War

The left painting of Polk was done in 1846, just before the start of the war. The daguerreotype on the right was taken just before the end of his presidency. Even though the war had been over for a year, President Polk's health never recovered from the stress.

Abraham Lincoln – Civil War

The 1860 photo on the left was taken just before Lincoln's inauguration. On the right, an 1865 photo reveals the strain of leading the Union in the Civil War for four years.

William McKinley – Spanish-American War

The Spanish-American War lasted just a few weeks of 1898. McKinley was President from 1897 until his assassination in 1901. Still, the two photos of the him before and toward the end of his term show that even in 1900, just being the American President takes its toll.

Woodrow Wilson – World War I

President Wilson famously "kept us out of war" in his first term, but events in his second led to the formation of the American Expeditionary Force and U.S. entry into the Great War. Toward the end of his term, while pushing for the Treaty of Versailles, he became unresponsive and suffered a stroke. He was incapacitated for much of 1919.

Franklin D. Roosevelt – World War II

FDR served four consecutive terms, guiding America through the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and World War II. It could be argued that he gave his life to the cause. The photo on the left shows Roosevelt as a presidential candidate in 1932, the one on the right was taken the day before his death in 1945.

Harry S. Truman – Korean War

President Truman was 61 when he took office after Roosevelt's death. He finished WWII and served as President for most of the Korean War, but except for a few more age lines (aka wrinkles), the job didn't seem to take as much out of the Missouri native. He lived to be 88 and was present when LBJ signed Medicare into law.

Lyndon B. Johnson – Vietnam War

LBJ was in his 60s when he took over for the assassinated President John F. Kennedy in 1963 but just like many before him, the wartime Presidency did a number on him. The photo on the left is from LBJ's "midnight address," where he discussed the Gulf of Tonkin incident that would lead America to war in Vietnam. The second is LBJ in 1972, five months before he died. After he left office in 1969, he went into a self-destructive spiral.

Richard Nixon – Vietnam War

Granted, Nixon had a lot more to worry about than just Vietnam, but five years in the White House still aged the President considerably.

Ronald Reagan – Cold War

President Reagan lived and worked the Cold War for every day of his 1981-1989 term. In his 1980 campaign poster, pictured left, he uses a slogan that is all too familiar for 2016's presidential election. On the right, in a 1988 photo at the White House, the man who took office in his seventies is significantly more gray but sports the exact same smile.

George H.W. Bush – Panama, Gulf War

Bush 41 came into the office past middle age as well. But the elder Bush had a lot of experience in Washington and in international affairs. He handled the invasion of Panama and the Gulf War so well, it seems like he's the only one who actually looked better after the Presidency.

George W. Bush – Global War on Terror

The present-day brings us to presidents who spent almost their entire terms at war. President Bush was in office only a few months before the September 11, 2001 attacks altered his plan to preside over the United States. The resulting War on Terror lasted until well after his successor took over. The photo below shows President-elect Bush in 2000 and former President Bush in 2009, after 8 years of war.

Barack Obama – Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, War on ISIL

President Obama spent his entire presidency managing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He campaigned on ending the war in Iraq, then ended up having to send U.S. troops back to fight the Islamic State terrorist organization that rose up there. The War in Afghanistan will be inherited by his successor as well. The photos below show Obama on the campaign trail in late 2008 and at the March 2016 Chief of Missions conference.

 

History

This pilot shot down an enemy fighter at Pearl Harbor in his pajamas

Comfort is important when doing a hard job. If it's hot on the work site, it's important to stay cool. If it's hazardous, proper protection needs to be worn. And comfort is apparently key when the Japanese sneak attack the Navy. Just ask Lt. Phil Rasmussen, who was one of four pilots who managed to get off the ground to fight the Japanese in the air.

Rasmussen, like many other American GIs in Hawaii that day, was still asleep when the Japanese launched the attack at 0755. The Army Air Forces 2nd Lieutenant was still groggy and in his pajamas when the attacking wave of enemy fighters swarmed Wheeler Field and destroyed many of the Army's aircraft on the ground.

Damaged aircraft on Hickam Field, Hawaii, after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

There were still a number of outdated Curtiss P-36A Hawk fighters that were relatively untouched by the attack. Lieutenant Rasmussen strapped on a .45 pistol and ran out to the flightline, still in his pajamas, determined to meet the sucker-punching Japanese onslaught.

By the time the attack ended, Wheeler and Hickam Fields were both devastated. Bellows Field also took a lot of damage, its living quarters, mess halls, and chapels strafed by Japanese Zeros. American troops threw back everything they could muster – from anti-aircraft guns to their sidearms. But Rasmussen and a handful of other daring American pilots managed to get in the air, ready to take the fight right back to Japan in the Hawks if they had to. They took off under fire, but were still airborne.

Pearl Harbor pilots Harry Brown, Phil Rasmussen, Ken Taylor, George Welch, and Lewis Sanders.

They made it as far as Kaneohe Bay.

The four brave pilots were led by radio to Kaneohe, where they engaged 11 enemy fighters in a vicious dogfight. Even in his obsolete old fighter, Rasmussen proved that technology is no match for good ol' martial skills and courage under fire. He managed to shoot down one of the 11, but was double-teamed by two attacking Zeros.

Gunfire and 20mm shells shattered his canopy, destroyed his radio, and took out his hydraulic lines and rudder cables. He was forced out of the fighting, escaping into nearby clouds and making his way back to Wheeler Field. When he landed, he did it without brakes, a rudder, or a tailwheel.

There were 500 bullet holes in the P-36A's fuselage.

Skillz.

Lieutenant Rasmussen earned the Silver Star for his boldness and would survive the war, getting his second kill in 1943. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1965, but will live on in the Museum of the United States Air Force, forever immortalized as he hops into an outdated aircraft in his pajamas.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

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