Ronald Reagan was the 40th president of the United States. He was also a Hollywood actor. But did he ever serve time in the military?
Ronald Reagan was in the military. Reagan has served as various ranks and within various units of The United States Army.
Let’s explore what the ex-President got up to during his time in the military.
What did Ronald Reagan do in the military?
After studying Army Extension Courses at home, Ronald Reagan enlisted in the Army Enlisted Reserve as a private. In 1937, when he was 26 years old, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Officers’ Reserve Corps of the Cavalry.
It was in 1942 that he was ordered to active duty, during the second world war. However, Reagan is nearsighted, meaning he was excluded from duty overseas.
He was assigned, instead, to San Francisco Port of Embarkation at Fort Mason, California, where he worked as a liaison officer of the Port and Transportation Office.
Reagan transferred the same year to the Army Air Forces (AAF), where he worked in AAF Public Relations. Still the same year, he transferred again, to the First Motion Picture Unit (FMPU), in Culver City, California.
The FMPU was a film production team of the AAF. It was a military unit made up of actors and other professionals from the film industry. The FMPU produced over 400 training and propaganda films, and are remembered as being both informative and entertaining.
In 1943, Reagan was promoted to first lieutenant and was called to duty for a few months in Burbank, California, to be a part of the musical production, This Is the Army. He returned to the First Motion Picture Unit, where he was promoted to captain.
Watch Ronald Reagan in this excerpt from an American fighter pilot training video, “Recognition of the Japanese Zero Fighter” (1943).
In 1944, Reagan went on temporary duty in New York City to help with the campaign to sell war bonds but soon returned to the FMPU where he served the rest of his time in the military.
Regan starred in and narrated many videos and feature films during his time in the FMPU.
Notably, he narrated Wings for this Man, a propaganda film produced in 1945 about the Tuskegee Airmen, which was the first unit of African-American pilots in the US military formed during the second world war.
The film begins with an airborne conflict between an outnumbered American squadron and a Luftwaffe formation. Once the victorious American pilots land, they are revealed to be African-American.
Although there is no explicit reference to the racism that African-Americans faced in the military, Reagan comments in the film, “one thing was proved here: that you can’t judge a man by the color of his eyes or the shape of his nose” and that “these men were pioneers, and pioneers never have it easy.”
At the end of war, with his active duty no longer required, Reagan settled back into civilian life.
At some point, while serving in the FMPU, Reagan saw and held onto a film of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, wanting proof of the atrocities in case of holocaust-deniers.
What did Ronald Reagan do after the military?
As we know, Ronald Reagan went on to become the President of The United States, but before that he held various other jobs.
With the war won, Reagan returned to his job as vice-president—not of the United States, but of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). He was eventually made president of the SAG, the role for which he was re-elected six times.
Reagan tried to get back into acting but was less successful in Hollywood than he had been before the war, when he was in his most successful film, King’s Row. In the film, he plays a double amputee who poignantly asks “Where’s the rest of me?”
This line was later made the title of Ronald Reagan’s 1965 autobiography.
See what you think of the then future-president’s acting.