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Religion of Veterans

This information about the religion of military service members in 2001 comes from the Population Bulletin for December 2004, page 25. It states that “Jews, Buddhists, and Muslims are underrepresented in the military relative to their share of the civilian population.”


When sociologist Morris Janowitz
reported on the social origins of soldiers
in 1960, he was able to identify
general patterns and trends in their
religious affiliation, albeit from fairly
poor data. He found an overwhelmingly
Protestant majority, disproportionately
Episcopalian, but with an
increasing representation of Catholics
and a small percentage of Jews. Soldiers
were less likely to be Catholic
than the general public, but the military
reflected the general range of
religious diversity in America.33
While Janowitz was writing about
the conscription-era military and his
data on religion were weak relative to
other variables, his findings provide a
baseline for studying the religious
affiliation of today’s volunteer military.
There are few comprehensive
statistics on religious affiliation in the
civilian population, in part because
the principle of separation of church
and state precludes federal statistical
programs, such as the decennial census
and current population surveys,
from collecting data on religion. We
do know the civilian American population
has been moving away from
the traditional Christian religions and
toward other religious groups or
eschewing any religious affiliation.34
This latter trend is particularly pronounced
among young adults, exactly
the age groups most likely to enter
the military. In general, the armed
forces show lower religious affiliation
than the civilian population, even
among civilians ages 20 to 39 (see
Table 5). A larger share of military
than civilians reported they are Christians
but are not Roman Catholic/
Eastern Orthodox or Protestant, or
do not specify a denomination. This
category includes such Christian
groups as Mormons, Seventh Day
Adventists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses,
as well as the Christian and Missionary
Alliance, Church of God, Seventh
Day Adventist, and Assemblies of
God. Smaller Protestant groups have
been increasing since the 1960s,
while the older, larger Protestant
denominations such as Presbyterians,
Episcopalians, Lutherans, and
Methodists have declined. But religious
affiliation data are often inconsistent
because of the different ways
the data were collected and analyzed:
Religious affiliation for military personnel
is recorded regularly by the
Department of Defense, while religious
data for civilians is obtained
from surveys such as the results from
the 2002 General Social Survey (GSS)
conducted by the National Opinion
Research Center reported in Table 5.
About one-quarter of the American
population considers itself to be
Roman Catholic, according to the
GSS survey. Catholics are slightly
underrepresented in the armed
forces, as are almost all other traditional
There have been indications of
increasing religious diversity in the
armed forces, including growing
numbers of Muslims.35 However,
Jews, Buddhists, and Muslims are
underrepresented in the military relative
to their share of the civilian
The number of American
military personnel who claimed to be
atheists or to have no religion was
slightly higher than the GSS estimate
for civilians ages 20 to 39, the age
range for about 80 percent of military
personnel. About 11 percent of military
personnel did not provide religious
affiliation data or claimed affiliation
with other religions, almost
four times as high as the GSS data for
the 20-to-39-year-olds. Other recent
surveys also have reported greater
identification with no religion or
other nontraditional religions than
the GSS, but results vary greatly
depending on how data are collected.
Recent data suggest that military personnel
generally have a lower affiliation
with mainstream religious
groups than the general population.”

Jews Served in Greater Numbers in World War II

Although the above article indicates that Jews currently serve in the military in numbers smaller than their general share of the American population, they appear to have served in greater numbers in World War II.

A Jewish publication,, states that Jews served in World War II in greater numbers than their portion of the general population. The article says:

“Approximately 550,000 Jewish Americans served in the armed forces during World War II, about 4.23 percent of the total number of troops. Both Roosevelt and General Douglas MacArthur praised their bravery specifically. During the war, 52,000 Jewish soldiers received an award or decoration of some kind and 11,000 were killed.”

Another article says:

“When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the United States declared war on Japan and Germany, American Jewish men and women responded to their country’s call for the armed forces. More than 550,000 served in the Armed Forces of the United States during World War II. About 11,000 were killed and more than 40,000 were wounded. There were three recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, 157 received the Distinguished Service Medal and Crosses, which included Navy Crosses, and 1,600 were awarded the Silver Star. About 50,242 other decorations. citations and awards were given to Jewish heroes for a total of 52,000 decorations.

“Jews were 3.3 percent of the total American population but they were 4.23 percent of the Armed Forces. About 60 percent of all Jewish physicians in the United States under 45 years of age were in service uniforms.”

From a JTA article about Jewish veterans buried in Arlington Cemetery:

Poch, a conference planner who has made it his hobby — and mission — to chronicle the cemetery’s Jews, has cataloged the location and history of the 2,500 Jewish dead buried at Arlington.
Poch, who twice crisscrossed the cemetery’s 250,000 graves looking for Jewish veterans, frequently returns to the cemetery with interested Jewish tourists.
“For Poch, who performed two years of non-active, stateside duty during the 1960s, this has become an imperative.
“‘There’s a myth that Jews don’t fight and don’t serve,’ he said during a recent visit to the cemetery.
“‘I want to know who these people were,’ he said, pointing to one of many graves he has catalogued.”

It’s not scientific,but 2,500 Jewish graves of 250,000 total Arlington graves is only 1%, half of the 2% of the population that is Jewish.

However, a page on the Arlington Cemetery web site says there are 1996 Jewish veterans buried there; the other 500 or so are apparently family members of veterans. More than 300,000 people are buried at Arlington, according to the web site. Again, it looks like less than the 2% of the general population.

Another Jewish web site lists 1,633 Jewish veterans of World War II buried in American cemeteries overseas run by the American Battle Monuments Commission, and 519 veterans of World War I. The Commission says its cemeteries hold about 125,000 total war dead. This would be almost the 2% general Jewish population (about 1.7% of graves versus about 2.2% of population).

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