From home-study to commander-in-chief
In 1935, the gathering storm that Adolph Hitler would eventually bring down on Europe in September of 1939 was of little concern to most Americans. Our concern was finding a way out of The Great Depression. And who, in 1935, would have imagined the Japanese would attack our fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941?
There was no draft law in 1935 that would induce young men to enlist for active duty or the reserves. But a young sportscaster working at WHO Radio in Des Moines, Iowa, decided to enroll in some U.S. Army correspondence courses. In fact, he was so interested in these Army home-study courses that he completed 14 courses within a year’s time.
Then, in 1937, he enlisted to serve in Troop B of the 322d Cavalry, a unit of the Army Reserve. We know he was an excellent horseman because there is a lot of film footage showing him sitting tall in the saddle. In fact, he and his wife owned several horses after World War II and riding was one of his joys until late in life.
Because he was a college graduate and it was difficult to find college graduates who were interested in military service in 1937, he was offered a commission as a second lieutenant of cavalry in the Officer Reserve Corps. Later that year, he made a career change that took him to Hollywood, California. But he continued to serve in the Army Reserve while in California.
Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he volunteered for overseas service but was turned down because of poor eyesight. Instead, he was put on active duty in the rank of captain at San Francisco’s Ft. Mason where he served as a personnel officer until May of 1942.
When Warner Brothers Studios and the Army Air Corps decided to make a motion picture to be entitled: "Air Force," he was selected to play the leading role and was transferred from the Cavalry to the Army Air Corps.
That film led to a full-time assignment making military training films. In all, he took part in the making of over 400 films for the Army Air Corps. In addition to making training films he was asked, like many people with Hollywood backgrounds, to take part in public rallies to get more people to buy war bonds. He was enormously successful in getting people to buy war bonds.
In 1945, after three years on active duty, he was discharged. But, instead of taking a complete military discharge, he asked to be placed in the Army Reserve. He served in the reserves from 1945 to 1953 and was recommended for promotion to major. But, before a major’s vacancy opened up, he reached age 44 and, by law, was discharged in the rank of captain. So, in 1953, after over 16 years of military service (to include three years on active duty), he was completely, and presumably, out of the military forever.
But that would not be the end of his service to his country. In 1981, he became our Commander-in-Chief. During his eight years as Commander-in-Chief, he presided over the restoration of a military force so powerful that it forced an end to the Cold War without firing a shot, and later, was used by President George Bush to defeat the armed forces of Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War.
In sum, he performed 24 years of national service. Not bad for a radio sportscaster who started taking Army home-study courses back in 1935. His name, of course, is Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th President of the United States. "And now," as Paul Harvey would say, "you know the rest of the story.”
William Hamilton is a nationally syndicated columnist and a featured commentator for USA Today.