Lautenberg Was Last

The Last of Their Kind: World War II Heroes in the Senate (PHOTOS)

With the death of Senator Lautenberg, the Greatest Generation has left the building. See photos of Senate giants when they were in uniform.



The Greatest Generation has left the building. With the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), there are no World War II veterans serving in the U.S. Senate chamber for the first time in a half century. The milestone represents not just the inevitable passage of time, but also the reduction of veterans serving in Congress overall. Today the Senate has 18 veterans—that’s down from a peak of 81 in 1977. The House has 88 veterans, down from a high of 347 in 1977. While veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are starting to populate Capitol Hill, the overall downward dynamic is a reflection of America after the military draft. The last veteran to serve in the White House was George H.W. Bush. Veterans Bob Dole, Al Gore, John Kerry, and John McCain were all defeated in their presidential bids, and in 2012 neither party offered a veteran on either ticket. In honor of the military service of the past generation of senators, The Daily Beast has compiled a look at some of the U.S. Senate giants when they were in uniform, fighting on the front lines of World War II.  —By John Avlon

Sen. Frank Lautenberg/AP

Frank Lautenberg

Frank Lautenberg enlisted in the Army during World War II and served in the Signal Corps overseas. He subsequently rode the GI Bill into Columbia Business School and a successful career before entering electoral politics.

442nd Veterans Club/AP

Daniel Inouye

Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) was a hero before he ever set foot in Washington. He won the Medal of Honor for heroism on the Italian front, almost singlehandedly destroying multiple machine-gun nests while wounded and protecting his platoon. Inouye was a member of the legendary 442nd Regimental Combat Team, made up almost entirely of Japanese-Americans.

Anthony Camerano/AP

John Glenn

Before he became the first American to orbit the earth, Maj. John Glenn Jr. was a Marine pilot. He enlisted after the attack on Pearl Harbor, flying 59 combat missions in the South Pacific. During the Korean War, Hall of Fame player Ted Williams was his wingman for a time. Selected to be one of the seven Mercury astronauts, Glenn became a national hero and then a U.S. senator from Ohio from 1974 to 1999.



Strom Thurmond

South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond is best known today for being the oldest U.S. senator ever to serve and for his odious pro-segregation Dixiecrat presidential campaign in 1948. But he served with distinction in World War II, landing on D-Day in the Battle of Normandy and winning 18 decorations, including the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart. Here is shown here taking ROTC training at Camp McClellan in 1922.


Bob Dole

Kansas Senator, Republican Majority Leader, and 1996 presidential nominee Bob Dole was an authentic American war hero. He enlisted while a student at the University of Kansas and became a second lieutenant in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division. He was badly wounded in 1945 during combat in Italy. For his service he received two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star. In elected office, Dole became a champion for veterans—a role he still plays in retirement. 

Dakota Wesleyan University Archives

George McGovern

In 1972, George McGovern was attacked as the candidate of peaceniks by Nixon’s campiagn for opposing the Vietnam War. But the South Dakota senator was a decorated war hero, volunteering for service after Pearl Harbor. He flew 35 missions over Nazi-occupied Europe in his B-24 Liberator, winning the Distinguished Flying Cross. He’s shown here having a medal pinned on his chest by his wife, Eleanor.


Mark Hatfield

Mark Hatfield represented the citizens of Oregon in the U.S. Senate for decades while also representing the centrist Republican tradition. He enlisted in the Navy during World War II, seeing combat in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. He also witnessed the aftermath of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, leading to a lifetime of work in the cause of nuclear nonproliferation.


John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy. PT 109. ‘Nuff said.