We, as Americans tend to think we elect military men to the presidency. Looking over the elections of my life, this really doesn't seem to be the case.
1964. Barry Goldwater had served as a pilot in Burma, among other places, and remained a member of the Air Force reserve after the war. LBJ served in the navy for a total of 7 months (Dec 10, 1941 to July 16th, 1942) He got the Silver star for being in a plane (as an observer, not the pilot) that had engine trouble and had to turn back when attacked by 8 fighters. Note that the plane was not hit. Also note he was, in addition to being a naval officer, still a member of congress at this time. This may have had something to do with the Silver Star. Any rate, winner of the election, not the real war hero.
1968 Richard Nixon served in the US Navy, as a logistical officer in Ottumwa, Iowa, (Navy. Iowa. Ok, what ever). Then went on to be a logistical officer in the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command, part of the Guadalcanal campaign. He won vs Herbert Humphrey, who never served. While not exactly a war hero, he was the vet.
1972 Nixon vs McGovern. McGovern, of course was a real war hero, being a bomber pilot. The war hero lost. Granted he was running as as the peace candidate.
1976 Gerald Ford vs Jimmy Carter. Both served (well, Carter was in the USNA during the war, which means he gets a * by his name for war time service) Gerald Ford served on the carrier USS Monterey which one of the ships hit by the Typhoon Cobra. His action in leading fire fighting teams was credited was the saving of the USS Monterey. So, he war hero lost again.
1980 Reagan vs Carter. Wash. Both were "under arms" in WWII, but Carter was a cadet at USNA and Reagan was making movies for the Army. First post war election where neither could be called a war hero, by any terms. For what it's worth, Reagan was not medically fit for combat duty, Carter was. If the war had gone on for another year, it's a near sure thing Carter, as submarine officer, would have seen combat. Reagan, not so much.
1984 Reagan vs Mondale. Mondale served in the US army during the Korean war, to earn GI Bill money to go to law school. He spent his tour of duty in Fort Knox. His claim to fame, so to speak is that he was the first post war candidate that was not an officer. He made E-4 in two years. Just for what it's worth I made E-4 in 18 months and E-5 in two years. Just saying. Another wash on the war hero thing. At least the both did serve, and Mondale did serve during the time of shooting war. Not his fault he was sent to Ft. Knox
1988 GHW Bush vs Dukakis. Dukakis spent 2 years drafted in the Army, after the end of the Korean war. He did spend 16 months on the DMZ. Bush, of course, was a real war hero, being the youngest naval pilot at one point. In this case, yeah, the war hero won.
1992. Let's not even start about Bill Clinton and the military. Let's just say he didn't not serve and beat the war hero, GHW Bush. Of course if the Texas Gnome has stayed out, he would not have, but that's neither here nor there.
1996 Robert Dole vs Bill Clinton. Rear honest by God wounded in action infantry platoon leader and decorated war hero vs a draft dodger. Dodger wins.
2000 GW Bush vs Gore. Gore was a SP/4 news reporter for the The Castle Courier (the news paper of the 20th Engineer Brigade) in Viet Nam. Members of his paper staff were in fact killed in action. Personal side note. One of my sections chiefs in my first tour in German was in the 20th Brigade during the same time frame as Gore. (SSG later SFC Panfile. aka the Skinny Ginny He was the highest decorated member of the battery when I was here, having a Silver Star, 2 Bronze Stars a 3 awards of the Purple Heart. He also had 4 Arcoms. Some of the Arcoms were post his moving to ADA I'll grant ) GW Bush was a F-106 Delta Dart driver. I'll let my Nike back ground show here, but the Delta Dart isn't a fighter, it's a missile that in theory lands after it's mission. It was steered by controllers on the ground using the SAGE system, which, BTW is exactly what the Nike Herc did as well, with out risking a pilot. Bad system, inflicted on the US by Robert McNamara and the Wiz Kids, but I digress. Again, the one that came closest to seeing the elephant lost.
2004 Say what you will about Kerry, he was over there. Bush was not. Of course Kerry's actions after he returned and the fact that his awards were of the classic Viet Nam Cracker Jack box type awards doesn't help, but again, Bush's MOS, with out even raising the issue of him actually doing it, could have been done by roughly 15 vacuum tubes and large oil filled resister element. Let's just say the one closer to hero status lost.
That brings us to Obama vs McCain. War hero vs some one that hasn't served. Doesn't look good. Only time the Vet won was Nixon and Bush 41, and Dukakis at least served on the Korean DMZ, back when that was 100 percent safe. 11 election. One war hero wining and one vet vs non vet winning, but when the supply officer went up against a bomber pilot, the REMF won. Aside from GHW Bush, we haven't elected a warrior since I have be aware of the concept of the presidency.
My brother, Random Dafyyd, will point out that that I'm not mentioning JFK vs Nixon. Why? while I was alive in 1960, I was less than a year old. Doesn't register on me at all. Even including that we have two serving officers, and the winner's claim to fame was he got his PT 109 boat run over by a IJN destroyer. His action after being t-boned might have been heroic, but it was his bad seamanship that got him there to start with.