AUGUSTA, Maine — Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s choice of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate creates the likelihood that, for the first time since 1932, neither major party’s ticket will include a veteran of military service.
Congress abolished the military draft in 1973, three years after Ryan was born and before President Barack Obama reached age 18, the mandatory age of conscription.
The Selective Service granted Romney four draft deferments, first for being a college student and then for doing missionary work in France for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to The Associated Press. When Romney became eligible for the draft, he drew a high lottery number and was not conscripted at a time when U.S. military leaders were reducing troop levels at the end of the Vietnam War.
After five student draft deferments, asthma disqualified Vice President Joe Biden from military service after he received a draft notice in 1968.
None of the four men who top the Democratic and Republican party tickets enlisted in any branch of the military, meaning that for the first time since 1932, no veteran will appear among the two major parties’ choices to serve as commander in chief or “one heartbeat away.”
In 1932, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt and his running mate, John Nance Garner, wrested the presidency away from incumbent Republican President Herbert Hoover and his running mate, Charles Curtis. None of the four could claim past military service, although Roosevelt had served in the civilian position of secretary of the Navy.
Since then, every presidential election has featured at least one veteran on either the Republican or Democratic ticket.
Maine veterans asked to share their reactions to the absence of a veteran on the major parties’ presidential tickets proved generally reluctant to comment. More than 10 veterans contacted by phone or email for this story chose not to reply or to speak on the record.
Citing their organization’s charter mandate to be apolitical, representatives of the American Legion Department of Maine in Waterville declined to comment officially on the likely 2012 major party presidential tickets. However, one legionnaire who asked not to be identified said that “it’s too bad we don’t have more veterans making decisions for this country.”
Representatives of the Veterans of Foreign Wars did not respond to an email seeking comment.
“We do have a concern,” said Brandon McKinney, supervisor of the Disabled American Veterans Department of Maine in Augusta, noting a decline in the number of veterans serving in federal office.
“It’s our goal to educate them about us,” McKinney said of the DAV’s efforts to reach out to nonveterans in Congress. “It is a concern in that we don’t want them to lose touch with what we stand for.”
One Maine veteran says he believes that political leaders in Washington have lost touch with constituents.
“It does not make much difference to me that none of the candidates have military experience,” Bath resident Bruce Gagnon, a member of Veterans for Peace and coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, wrote in an email to the Bangor Daily News. “The real question is who runs the country and makes foreign policy these days. My view is that the military industrial complex [that Eisenhower warned us to beware of] makes the policy and holds the Congress and the White House as captives by their massive campaign contributions. I will be voting for the Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.”