Showcasing true leadership

Published 7:14 pm Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The History Channel broke free from its obsession with ancient aliens and Project Blue Book, to deliver a very good documentary series on World War II.

“Presidents at War,” looked at presidents Eisenhower, Johnson, Kennedy, Carter, Nixon, George H.W. Bush and Ford, if I remember correctly, and their service in World War II.

Eisenhower’s and Kennedy’s stories are well-known, or should be.

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Gen. Dwight Eisenhower was the supreme commander of allied forces in World War II, and had a tremendous job that few men could have handled. He was responsible for carrying out the destruction of the German Army, but he also had to fight a diplomatic war with the allies.

Whether it was dealing with the egos of British Field Marshal Montgomery and Gen. Patton, or the pouting and complaints of French Gen. Charles DeGaulle, who trusted no one, and the push and pull of politics from both sides of the Atlantic, Eisenhower had his hands full. It’s a wonder he didn’t lose his mind. That he was able to keep the coalition together, and defeat the Germans is a wonder.

Lt. j.g. John Kennedy volunteered for duty despite illnesses that legally could have kept him out of the service, and then went to the South Pacific, only to have his P.T. boat rammed by a Japanese destroyer. His effort to save himself and most of his crew is a great story and one of true courage.

President Bush’s story is also one of legend. Shot down while making a bombing run on the Japanese Island of Chichi Jima, he and his crew were forced to bail out. He was rescued by an American submarine. Had he been captured by the Japanese, his fate would have been worse. The book, “Flyboys,” which discusses the raids on Chichi Jima, indicated that Navy pilots and crews who ended up on the island were executed.

The story of other presidents who served in World War II is not as intense as Kennedy’s and Eisenhower’s or Bush’s.

Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Lyndon Johnson all served in the Navy. Nixon served in the Solomon Islands. Johnson probably had the shortest military tenure of the group. A lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve, he spent some time in the Pacific, where he flew as a passenger in a B-25 bomber on a bombing run. He received the Silver Star from Gen. Douglas MacArthur after the flight. He later returned to Congress before the war’s end, and wore the Silver Star lapel button the rest of his life.

“Presidents at War” is the type of program the History Channel used to provide in its earlier years, and the type of program I always enjoyed. In this case, because it shows many of our leaders were willing, like many others, to make to commitment during a time when their service was needed. And while some of them, like Kennedy, could have legitimately backed out, they didn’t.

That’s courage and leadership.

John Surratt is a staff writer at The Vicksburg Post. You may reach him at

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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