Presidents during war time

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 15, 2006

Many of you may have watched news reports this week of President Bush’s surprise trip to Iraq to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and assure him of continued U.S. support.

It is not the first surprise trip our president has made to the Iraq since war began there.

You may recall that in 2003 he made a covert trip to Iraq on Thanksgiving and was photographed visiting with troops while they ate their holiday turkey.

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Of course, Bush is not the first president to visit troops in a war zone.

President Lyndon Johnson met with troops in Vietnam.

Franklin Roosevelt was said to have held a rendezvous with Winston Churchhill off the coast of Newfoundland during World War II. Of course, the oceans during World War II were susceptible to submarine attacks, making the meeting risky, according to a 2003 article by the Associated Press.

The same article said that in 1952, President-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower

made a flight to Korea to try to bring an end to that war, which he would inherit.

During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln visited Antietam just after that battle.

Again, presidents are not the only ones who make trips into war-torn countries on behalf of the United States.

According to “First Ladies,” a book by first daughter, Margaret Truman, some presidents’ wives have found themselves in war zones.

Dolley Madison actually didn’t visit a war zone, she just refused to leave the White House when the War of 1812 came to her.

According to the book, the British had landed 4,500 troops in Maryland, “less than a day’s march from the capital.”

Troops assigned to the White House actually left it unprotected. She had the servants prepare dinner, during which two horsemen arrived with orders from her husband, the president, to flee.

She finally left, but not before packing up items she believed to be of national value.

During World War II, according to Truman’s book, Eleanor Roosevelt “wore out military aides as she plodded through miles of wards full of wounded.”

She visited GIs on all fronts, coming back with notebooks full of names and addresses, then would write the soldiers’ parents or wives.

Pat Nixon also visited troops during the Vietnam Conflict. She, too, visited with soldiers, “flying over 18 miles of jungle rife with potential Vietcong sharpshooters to an American evacuation hospital,” according to “First Ladies.”

Like Eleanor Roosevelt, Pat Nixon took names and addresses and wrote letters to the parents and wives when she returned to the White House.

Like Dolley Madison, Mary Lincoln lived in a war zone, with the Union Army camped on the Potomac. And, perhaps no first lady suffered so much during a war. Mary Lincoln was from Kentucky, and so she had mixed allegiances during the war. Two of her brothers, and her sister’s husband were all killed fighting for the South.

While Bush’s trips to Iraq are noteworthy, they are certainly not historic. In reviewing our country’s history, there have actually been few presidents – or their wives – who have not been faced with making similar trips.

Tammy Leytham is editor of The Times-Journal.