Saturday, May 27, 2017

Commander Richard M. Nixon and World War II

LCDR Richard M. Nixon

Richard M. Nixon (Jan. 19, 1913-April 22, 1994) was the 36th president of the United States. It was the culmination of President Nixon's political career that he would serve as the chief executive of the United States from 1969-1974. 

President Nixon was a breed of president the likes of which is not seen much anymore. He was a successful lawyer, in private life, who was courted by some of the countries leading firms. Yet, at the beginning of World War II (1941-1945), when he was already a government lawyer and could have been exempted from military service, he requested and was granted a commission in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a lieutenant junior grade.

U.S. Navy commander insignia
President Nixon was born in Yorba Linda, California. After completing his bachelor's degree at Whittier College, he went on to attend, and graduate from, the Duke University School of Law, in 1937. While attending Duke, President Nixon did so on a full academic scholarship. Aside from his normal academic life there, President Nixon was elected as president of the Duke Bar Association and inducted into the Order of the Coif.

The future president of the U.S. did apply to the FBI upon his graduation from Duke. However, he never heard back from his letter requesting application. Years later, President Nixon would find out that he was, in fact, hired by the FBI but his appointment was nixed at the last moment by budget cutbacks.

President Nixon married the former Patricia Ryan in 1940, and the couple would go on to have daughters Tricia (b. 1946) and Julie (b. 1948).

In 1937, though, President Nixon was admitted to the California bar. His first job as a lawyer was with the firm of Wingert and Bewley, in his hometown of Whittier. Mostly, President Nixon worked on commercial litigation for local petroleum companies, but he also worked on some corporate matters. President Nixon was evidently successful as a young attorney because, in 1938, he opened up his own branch of Wingert and Bewley in La Habra, California and was made a full partner in the firm by 1939.
U.S. Naval Reserve Lt. Richard M. Nixon

There is some historical controversy about what happened next. Some historical accounts say that President Nixon received an appointment by the Federal Office of Emergency Management, while others offer that President Nixon took a job at the Office of Price Administration. In either case, he is reported to have been in charge of correspondences, which was a job that did not suit President Nixon.

So, with the war gearing up following the attack on Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 7, 1941, President Nixon did what he thought the right thing was, which in his case was to request a commission in the U.S. Naval Reserve. Not only was he employed by the government as an attorney, which could have precluded him from military service, but he was also a Quaker and, as such, could have received a deferment on that basis. He chose to serve his country, as so many others were doing, as it was being thrown head-long into a two-front war, separated by thousands of miles and several continents. This came at a time when, as a successful young lawyer with a new wife, he could have avoided the whole thing altogether.

President Nixon received his commission as a lieutenant junior grade on June 15, 1942 and was assigned as the aide to the commander of  Naval Air Station Ottumwa, Iowa. Though President Nixon excelled at his duties and learned a great deal about the machinations of the Navy, he wanted to get closer to the action of the war. So, President Nixon requested sea duty and, on October 1, 1943 was promoted to the rank of lieutenant and reassigned as the naval passenger control officer for the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command. This command was vital to the war effort and supported the logistics operations throughout the South Western Pacific Theater.
World War II Victory Medal

The future president dedicated himself to his work and became the officer in charge of the Combat Air Transport Command at Guadalcanal in the Solomons in March, 1944, thereafter at Green Island (a.k.a. Nissan Island), just north of Bougainville. His unit prepared manifests and flight plans for all C-47 aircraft operations and supervised the loading and unloading of aircraft.

For his service, President Nixon was awarded the first of two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals he would receive uniform.

In January, 1945, with the tide of the war decidedly turning in favor of the United States and its Allies on all fronts, then-Lt. Nixon was ordered to return to the United States and transferred to the Bureau of Aeronautics Office in Philadelphia. There he helped to negotiate the termination of war contracts for the United States Navy. His efforts were noted and, for the balance of the year, President Nixon traveled around the country negotiating the termination of war contracts. In October, 1945, his efforts were again recognized when President Nixon was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-commander.

President Nixon was very successful in his negotiations and was made an offer by the Navy to remain in uniform and serve as a Regular Navy officer after the war's conclusion .However, the future president turned down the offer and decided to return to private life with the war's end.

U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal

On October 3, 1947, LCDR Richard M. Nixon departed Active Duty and became an inactive officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve. On June 1, 1953, he was promoted to the rank of commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve, a branch of the military he retired from on June 6, 1966.

What makes a patriot? This is something that can be argued all day long. However, to my view, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and swims like a must be a duck. President Nixon had no incentive to become a military officer. He was already the partner of a successful law firm and a U.S. Government attorney by the time the war broke out. He had a young wife and a world of promise was set before him. However, like millions of Americans before and since, he took his Oath of Allegiance to serve this nation during times of war. For me, the definition of patriotism means performing acts of citizenship not only when it is convenient, but when it is inconvenient...even dangerous.
World War II Asiatic Campaign Medal

Not many presidents recently have served in the United States Armed Forces, and I think our nation is the poorer for that lack of experience. As someone so integrally involved in the Pacific war effort, President Nixon gained invaluable knowledge of the military and how it works from a first-hand view; experience that would help him later as vice president, under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and then as president.

Some people remember only the scandals of the Nixon Administration, but not its successes -- some of which can still be seen today. It was President Nixon who opened up China to the West, who ended the terrible Vietnam War, who stood toe-to-toe against Russian aggression around the world and created the foundation of America winning the Cold War. Richard M. Nixon was a man of many parts, and like all of us, some parts were better than others. Still, during the dark days of World War II, it can be said that when his country called, Richard M. Nixon answered.


  1. I liked the idea of posting his good aspects and not the bad. The worst thing he did was being loyal to the people he should not have.

  2. An informative article and well-written. Good job!
    I appreciate the objective natrative of Mr. Nixon's military service. I remember seeing his photo in uniform during campaigns, and fleeting mentions of his service, but never hearing details. The specifics of his service as well as the context of serving in war and declining available deferrments, certainly enhance your clear, unbiased portrait of the man, complete with his attributes & flaws. Thank you.

    1. Thanks very much. I think there are some people who judge President Nixon only on his last months in office. But, he served the nation very well in times of war, and for many years afterward in government.

  3. LBJ was the 36th president. The presidents are not counted by the term, but by the number in session.

    1. You are absolutely right. Thanks for the input. I made the appropriate changes. All best.


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