With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Presidents Who Have Visited War Zones

On Thanksgiving Day 2003 President Bush visited Baghdad on a surprise visit to the troops occupying Iraq. Below is a list of several other presidents who have visited war zones.

 Lincoln visiting Antietam.

On October 3, 1862 President Lincoln visited Antietam. A famous picture shows him standing with General McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac. Lincoln staged the surprise visit to put pressure on McClellan to press the attack on Robert E. Lee's forces. McClellan had been criticized for failing to follow up his victory over Lee at Antietam.

On April 4, 1865 Lincoln, protected by a bodyguard of about 100 men. visited Richmond just 48 hours after Jefferson Davis had fled the capital of the Confederacy. The visit was considered dangerous. Some parts of the city were on fire.

In January 1943 Franklin Roosevelt rendezvoused with Winston Churchill in Casablanca to decide on a strategy to appease Joseph Stalin, who was complaining that Britain and the United States were delaying an invasion of Europe. Northern Africa had been conquered by General Eisenhower in the fall of 1942 in a campaign dubbed, Operation Torch.

FDR and Churchill at Casablanca.
Ike eats with the troops.

During his 1952 campaign for president Dwight Eisenhower had famously declared, "I shall go to Korea." The statement gave Americans, tired of the war, hope that Ike could end it. In early December 1952, while he was president-elect, Ike made a surprise 3-day visit to South Korea. As Stephen Ambrose notes in his biography,"The trip was carried out in great secrecy--while Eisenhower was gone, daily bulletins were issued ... announcing Cabinet appointments and giving the impression that Eisenhower was busy making the selections." Ike met with combat troops and flew a reconnaissance mission."He studied an artillery duel with his bionoculars, chatted with the troops, ate outdoor meals from a mess kit, and came to the conclusion that the situation was intolerable."

In 1961 Johnson, then vice president, visited Saigon. He assured the South Vietnamese the United States would stand by them. Memorably, LBJ called South Vietnamese leader Diem the "Churchill of Asia."

On October 26, 1966 Johnson visited Vietnam on his first trip as president. The week before anti-war protests had been held in 40 cities in the United States.

At the end of December 1967 LBJ worked in another trip to Vietnam while traveling to Australia for the funeral of Prime Minister Harold Holt, who had died in a drowning accident. Visiting Cam Ranh Bay, LBJ urged the soldiers to"nail that coonskin to the wall."

 LBJ pins a medal on a soldier in Vietnam.

On Thanksgiving Day 1990 President George Herbert Walker Bush visited the troops stationed in Saudi Arabia. A week later the UN Security Council authorized the use of force against Saddam Hussein if he did not leave Kuwait by January 15, 1991.

Bush is mobbed by US troops in Saudi Arabia 1990.