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Lautenberg’s Death Continues Sharp Decrease in Military Veterans in Senate

The death Monday of Frank R. Lautenberg, the five-term Democratic senator from New Jersey, brought the number of World War II veterans in the Senate to zero, the first time the Senate has been without a World War II veteran since the war itself.

Mr. Lautenberg’s death also continues the decline in the Senate of military veterans generally. The number of senators who had served in the military has been dropping since the late 1970s. In the 95th Congress, which convened in 1977, 81 of the 100 senators were veterans. That was a record high at least since 1945, which is as far back as the Senate Historical Office data goes.

In contrast, only 16 current senators have served in the armed forces.

When Mr. Lautenberg was first elected to the Senate in 1982, he entered a body that was still dominated by members with military experience. The Senate of the 98th Congress — which first convened in 1983 — had 76 veterans. But fairly quickly that number began to erode. Within 10 years it was down to 59. And as more veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam grew older and retired, the number of senators with military experience fell more and more rapidly.

There has been an especially large drop in veterans in the Senate, from 25 to 16, just since the 112th Congress ended in December 2012. And the decline in military experience among federal elected officials has also been apparent at the presidential level. In 2012, there was not a military veteran on either party’s ticket for the first time since 1932.

The Senate lost its last few World War II veterans in just the past two years. Senator Daniel K. Inouye — who was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2000 for his World War II service — died in December 2012 at 88, after representing Hawaii in the Senate for almost five decades. Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii’s other long-serving senator and also a World War II veteran, decided not to seek re-election in 2012.

The first World War II veteran arrived in the Senate on Nov. 14, 1944 — William E. Jenner of Indiana, said Donald A. Ritchie, the Senate historian. There had been a World War II veteran in the Senate ever since, Mr. Ritchie said.

There are still two World War II veterans in the House of Representatives: Ralph M. Hall of Texas and John D. Dingell of Michigan.

In all, 115 World War II veterans served in the Senate, according to the Senate Historical Office. Those veterans are being replaced in part by veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 2012 elections brought the largest crop of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans — 16 — to the Senate and House since those wars began.

Micah Cohen is FiveThirtyEight’s former managing editor.